I’ve been participating in a fitness challenge at a gym nearby. I thought it would be kind of a fun motivation to get in shape. It is a point system, and you can win points in all different ways, from general attendance to keeping a food journal. There are three different “general” point levels that will win you either a bronze, silver, or gold level prize, depending on your score at the end. And anyone who achieves that will win them without limit. But there is a grand prize that the single person with the most points will win. I had no hopes at first of winning this grand prize, but as I mapped it out, I decided it was worth a try. I began waking up really early to try to go to the gym and be back again before my kids were up. I signed up for a class and scheduled in all of the “extra” things to try to accumulate as many points as possible. I even ran two 5k’s in one month (and believe me, I am not a runner). The more points I got, the more excited I became that the grand prize was within my reach. I knew there were a few others who were vying for it, but I thought I had a pretty good chance.
But then they posted the half-way scores. And I was pretty far out from first place. When I saw the scores of two or three others who were significantly ahead of me, my spirits fell. What was all of this for? I was trying so hard, being so dedicated, and I don’t think I even have a chance. My first thought flitting through the back of my mind was, Maybe it’s not worth it… maybe I shouldn’t try anymore. But I immediately began to feel convicted by that thought. Throughout the day, I meditated on the spiritual correlation, and there were two verses that continually came to my mind:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the found and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
In my fitness challenge, when I was keeping my focus on that grand prize, I was excited, motivated, diligent, and self-controlled, doing the best that I could to obtain it. But as soon as I saw the standings, that others were doing better than me, all of that motivation went down the drain in an instant. I wanted to give up. If I were to carry those thoughts out, what would happen? I would slip into laziness … not worrying about waking up early to run or being watchful of what I ate or thinking missing classes wasn’t such a big deal. Then, even if I still had a chance of winning before, it all would go out the window completely.
Spiritually, we have a race that is set before us. When our eyes are focused on Jesus alone, we don’t grow weary. We are determined, no matter what the cost, to “obtain the prize” as it says in 1 Corinthians 9. And we are joyful in it! But when we begin comparing ourselves to others, seeing all the ways we fall short, our spiritual motivation wanes. We are tempted to give up in the fight to live out a Gospel life, thinking we could never be where they are. To cave to this mindset is deadly. We open ourselves up not only to discouragement, but also to the trap of thinking it’s not worth it. That maybe we’re ok being mediocre, and spiritual laziness is not such a big deal. Pretty soon, we find ourselves in a very sad, dangerous state. We’ve lost sight of the prize that is found in Christ Jesus, and have turned our gaze to the temporal meaningless things of this world.
Sometimes the race that is this Christian life can be hard. We feel our own strength grow very weak. But it is in those moments we can rely the most on the strength that is found in Jesus. He ran His race here on earth perfectly, and never gave up, even in the midst of the most excruciating trial anyone has ever been through – the Cross. (See Hebrews 12:2.) Because of this, we have all we need to joyfully endure, giving our very all until we reach the finish line!