As I write this, the 2020 Olympic Games—held in 2021 because of the pandemic—are winding down. Soon all the athletes will be home and either contemplating retirement or thinking ahead to their next big competition.
The Bible often describes the Christian life as being like a race. We can learn some things from the sports world that will help us do a better job of living for Jesus.
First of all, participating in competitive racing requires some training. This involves watching what you eat and exercising vigorously. At the beginning of this year I set a goal of losing 10 pounds. As of this morning I have 14 pounds to go!
1 Timothy 4:12 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Exercise does us some good. Let’s take care of our bodies, since, as followers of Jesus, our bodies are a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Lift some weights. Just get moving! It will do you some good.
But this verse emphasizes training for godliness even more than physical training. Every time we say a prayer, read Scripture, worship God, do a good deed or witness to someone about Jesus we exercise our spiritual muscles. Every time we exercise spiritually we get stronger and become better equipped to run our race for Jesus.
Hebrews12:1-3 describes our race: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Many great heroes of the faith—like those listed in Hebrews 11—have gone before us and shown us how to live for God, trusting in him no matter what happens in life. They taught us by their example that we should never give up.
In order to run for Jesus, of course we have to throw off any sin that could entangle us. Don’t be tripped up by trying to live according to worldly values rather than the holy life that God calls us to live. As a matter of fact, it is not only sin that impedes us. We are to throw off “everything that hinders”. It is possible to be distracted by things that are not necessarily sinful, such as our career, our family, our hobbies, pleasures and other pursuits. Don’t let anything keep you from running your best race for Jesus.
This Hebrews text also calls for us to fix our eyes on Jesus. A passing glance is not good enough. Fix your gaze on our perfect example—Jesus. He showed us how to live. And he endured far more suffering than any of us ever will. Consider what Jesus went through so that you will not lose heart.
Finally, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 9:24-27—“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Only a few Olympic runners receive medals, but everyone who finishes the race for Jesus receives the prize of eternal life! So don’t falter! Don’t give up! The Bible offers no rewards for those who used to follow Jesus, but then gave up. But for those who persevere, God promises an eternal home in heaven!