1 Corinthians 9
24Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. 25All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27I 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)
The Daily DAVEotional
A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about spankings and discipline that included passages from Proverbs 23 and 1 Samuel 3. I also included a related story about a box of Lemonheads. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, you can read about it here.
The big idea was about discipline and how we tend to think of discipline as punishment, but the broader idea behind discipline is the idea of training.
In today’s reading, Paul provides the classic passage regarding discipline as training.
Paul compares the Christian life to a race that we run. But this race is not a sprint or a relay; it’s more like a marathon.
I have twin boys who were distance runners in high school. In the Fall, they competed in Cross Country and in the Spring, they ran track.
For distance runners, training is year-round. Even in the off-season, they are still running 5-6 days a week.
Some sports require a lot of what I call “skill acquisition.” Think about baseball and the hand and eye coordination needed to hit a 90 mile per hour fastball.
Or think about a golfer who has to learn the exact right mechanics of his or her body to be able to hit a golf ball off a tee in order to make it fly 250 yards down the green. These are not easy skills to acquire. It takes time and patience and repetition. But if you get injured and have to take several weeks or a month off, when you resume, you can often pick up right where you left off. You haven’t lost the skill.
But this isn’t the case with a distance runner because their success is not so dependent on acquiring certain skills as much as it’s dependent on developing their level of conditioning. To miss a week of training means your conditioning suffers and when you resume, you will not be able to pick up where you left off. There is often ground that needs to be made up to get back to where you were.
This is the idea Paul is presenting when he says we should train like an athlete. He’s talking about training like an endurance runner. This kind of training takes focus, intentionality and consistency. There are no short-cuts and it is hard work.
Can you imagine a distance runner who only trains one or two days a week? Or how about an Olympic marathon hopeful who rarely runs 26 miles in a week, let alone 26 miles in one race! What kind of results would you expect for the person who approaches running with this kind of mentality?
And yet, many Christians approach the Christian life by investing in their personal spiritual development only once or twice a week. This kind of haphazard approach will never yield the kind of conditioning necessary to compete in and finish the race.
For the distance runner who is not properly conditioned, one of two things will generally happen when they run in a race. He or she will fall so far behind the rest of the group that functionally, they are not even in the race. There is ZERO measurable impact.
The other potential outcome is they may give up and drop out of the race altogether. Paul equates this with a person who ultimately abandons the faith, walking away from the Lord.
This was Paul’s biggest fear. You probably know people who once called themselves Christians but who have abandoned the faith, forsaking the person and the cause of Christ.
If we don’t want that fate to befall us, we have to discipline ourselves, training and conditioning ourselves spiritually to be able to handle whatever course we run with whatever obstacles we may encounter.
What kinds of activities or hobbies have you engaged in that required discipline (sports, music, mental, etc.)?
When is a time you engaged in an activity where you didn’t have adequate conditioning? What were the circumstances? What were the results?
What has been your practice for training yourself spiritually?
What are some steps you could take to develop a more focused, intentional and consistent approach to your spiritual development and training?