|LONDON — Each Olympics entails abounding fanfare and meticulous preparation in "going for the gold" and "winning the prize."
Pause to think of the energy expended by athletes as they strive with tremendous effort to obtain the highest level of recognition within their field. Consider their devotion to their respective sport as they fix their gaze on winning the gold medal. Many have trainers and staff to help them. They take tremendous care to prepare their bodies through years of effort and endurance.
They practice, practice, practice and practice some more. They endeavor with great discipline and effort to reach their goals.
The Apostle Paul used the symbolism of running a race to capture the idea of how to live out the Christian life:
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:24–27, NKJV).
He expressed running the race with the "prize" in mind, but the prize for the Christian is not one that will pass away. It is one that is imperishable.
For the Christian, the crown is not visible in this life but is invisible and more valuable than the gold medals of the Olympics. Christians are running a more important race for a much more important and everlasting reward.
It's not to be confused with working for salvation — the gift of salvation is a free gift. But out of gratitude for the gift, Christians serve Jesus Christ. Paul likens the daily walk of the Christian as striving to pursue the rewards of service because it is a crown that never withers, fades or rusts. It won't be forgotten; it will be an eternal prize.
What if more Christians made a genuine shift in thought? What if they lived as though their daily Christian walk was an eternal race with massive rewards and tremendous eternal potential for blessing?
Some evangelists like Mark Cahill and Ray Comfort have challenged others with the idea of thinking about how many more times Christians would witness to unbelievers if they knew they would receive one thousand euros/dollars/pounds/etc. for each witnessing encounter they engaged in.
Would you do more witnessing? Would you read the Bible more? Pray more? I imagine many people would probably have incredible outreach ministries and vibrant walks with Christ. If you were given an immediate reward here and now, would that stir you to begin to think clearly about the practice of disciplining yourself spiritually?
Replace the concept of monetary reward with the love of Christ for you and a desire to love Him because He has loved you and you've got the eternal fuel that will keep the fire burning.
In his book "Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life," Don Whitney explains that the reason for engaging in the spiritual disciplines is based on 1 Timothy 4:7: "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (NASB).
In addition, he wrote that while we may tend to think negatively toward the idea of "discipline," nothing we do well is usually ever done instantly or without some form of training.
Anything worthy of doing takes effort to master. We don't put on a pair of military boots and go out to compete against other Olympic athlete runners. We must have the proper equipment and training.
How much more important is the Christian race which Paul talks about? How much more vital is the practice of "disciplining" ourselves to engage in the Christian walk? It is for a much more important crown — yes, even more important than the wildly popular Olympic Games. While many eyes are focused on the Olympics, think about fixing your eyes on the prize of heaven. Think about being transformed by Jesus Christ. Run the race, and consider the practice of the "spiritual disciplines" as a guide toward gaining rewards that far exceed anything you could ever imagine.