I’m not sure that I ever quite caught on to the significance of Paul comparing discipleship with running a race. He writes in 1st Corinthians, “don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)
I knew that the image of a top level athlete, and the amount of training that goes into becoming such an accomplished athlete, was just as vivid 2000 years ago as it is today. And it makes a fabulous visual. I’ve had that scene from Rocky going through my head this week – that one where even if you never actually watched a single Rocky movie you still know the scene. The one showing all the different shots of Rocky training for whatever fight was coming up this time, all the hard work (which of course in movie time only goes on for like 45 seconds) and ends with him running full speed up the 72 step entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and jumping up and down at the top with his hands held victoriously high.
(It’s also the theme song behind several envelope stuffing tasks at work).
But it’s an iconic scene because it resonates with people. It makes us stand up and cheer when we know someone who has trained that hard, laid everything out on the table and sincerely gave it everything they had. It’s something that not everyone does. And it’s something that people admire and are often simultaneously jealous of. It’s been something I could admire, be inspired by…. but didn’t quite appreciate they way I should have… and it left me wondering why if I look closely at what it actually means to be in training..that kind of intense training, and compare it to my personal walk with Christ, I come up so severely deficient in so many ways.
I think in my own world, I’ve sat through so many “trainings” for jobs and other things that I have come to associate that word with a two hour, mind numbing, information overload session. But when athletes are training, especially those competing at the very highest levels in the world, they are all in, all the time. The physical conditioning, proper sleep, medical treatment, active recovery, nutrition, supportive relationships…it all plays a part. They arrange their entire lives according to their training and are careful to not be distracted and weighed down with useless things. In the book of Hebrews we’re told that “since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (hebrews 12:1 NLT)
And I wonder again, what would happen if I truly lived that way.
What would happen if I trained like Rocky and made the most of every opportunity. I don’t think that it means I would never hurt, never trip, never struggle. If you don’t remember what happened in the Olympic Race when Heather Dorniden fell more than halfway through the race and quickly got back up and actually won. It was absolutely incredible. But here’s what I noticed: She didn’t take her time getting back up. She just did and kept going (and kicked butt I might add).
What would happen if instead of trying to pick up my damaged pride off the ground when I fall flat on my face, I just left it there are kept running after Jesus? What if I were able to keep running after Jesus instead of worrying about the insecurities trying to grip my heart over what may be said or what people may have thought when I did fall on my face? I bet that after that olympic race, Heather Dorniden wasn’t insecure, I hope she was as inspired as I am by her tenacity.
I don’t want to be able to look at any athlete in the world and know that they have more passion, more perseverance, more heart, more discipline to chase after an earthly crown than I do for the Savior of my soul and for His purposes.
So here we go….