Most of us have competed in some kind of race whether it was the hundred-yard dash or it was a twenty-six-mile marathon. And we all know that the training for one is completely different than the training for the other! So, what would happen if you trained for the hundred-yard dash and found out you actually entered a marathon? Sure, you’d do great at the start, and you “might” eventually cross the finish line, but everyone else would have already gone home.
You and I are in a race. And our race is not just a hundred yards, it is a marathon. And “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor 9:24). But how, in a marathon, do you run so that you win the prize? Well, you must set a pace. And you must be consistent in your speed; you do not want to walk or sit down and rest or give up altogether, but you must continue to run till the end. But how are we to maintain stamina?
In the book of Philippians Paul uses this marathon language as a metaphor for what our “race of faith” is to look like as we follow Jesus. Regarding this, my pastor said something that caught my attention this morning. He asked, “if everyone followed Jesus the way you do, what would Christianity look like?” And it was his sermon that motivated this post. So, those who train their bodies to run a marathon, if they seek to win, must make daily decisions which “reflect” they are seeking the crown. They intentionally discipline themselves by following a daily fitness routine, plus good nutrition, and adequate rest. But they don’t just say “I will exercise, eat well, and get enough rest,” because that is not a “plan”, that is only an idea. If that idea is not followed by a “disciplined” schedule and plan, then they will most likely end up training for the hundred-yard dash instead of a marathon. In other words, their idea will only last as long as they are currently motivated. And because our race for the Kingdom of God is no “quick sprint” but a long marathon, we must discipline ourselves. For we know that “every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable” (1 Cor 9:25). And because this crown has eternal and not temporal value it is so much more necessary that we train well and properly in order to win. And this is where the knowledge of our “identity in Christ” is so crucial. Let’s look at that. Remember, Paul, sets the tone for us in Philippians. He says of himself that every “crown” that he was previously going after before being saved, every “worldly pursuit” and prior goal, is now worthless to him. Saying “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8). Paul is “laser-focused” on that crown BECAUSE (and here is the key) because compared to KNOWING Christ: His person, His value, His love, His grace, His joy, His power and worth, His glory (meaning His beauty beyond comparison) and His reward, every other goal and meaningful thing is now vanity, worthless, and empty.
Paul has “exchanged” the glory and praise that comes from this world for the glory and praise that only comes by faith. Meaning “that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” And what “exactly” does he mean by this? He means, “— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:9b-11). I believe Paul is saying that through faith in Christ, he now lives in the power of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of the resurrection) and that he seeks to live a servant’s life just as Christ did in this world and to lay aside all hindrances to that mission. So that through his metaphorical “death” of self and to this world, he would be “perfect” (meaning complete) walking on earth as if he were in heaven, as Christ did after His resurrection through the power of the “Spirit of Holiness.” And though Paul recognizes he has not achieved that goal, he has set his gaze there. And he says we should too. Why? Because our race is an eternal one, with eternal rewards that do not perish, and because we are running after a heavenly country since “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20a) and not on earth.
We must remember in this “race of faith” that distractions come in many forms. And anything that causes us to look to the side or behind would be considered a distraction because it affects our running “form” and our “pace.” So, any “thing” that takes our eyes off the prize should be avoided. For us, these are the things we take into our eyes, ears, and minds, and ultimately that flow into our hearts and that weigh us down. Regarding this the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [those who have faithfully ran before us], let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1-2). I know you have read this many times, but I have intentionally emphasized the training manual here so that we might follow it. It includes the encouragement that many others have gone before us who have already set the pace (and for their example simply see the previous chapter, chapter eleven of Hebrews). Next, we must shed the added weight, the weight of sin and of hindrances (meaning anything that does not equip us for the race, those things we watch, read, listen to; how we think, where we go, and what we do that belong to the flesh and to the enemy). Then, with eyes “fixed” on Jesus, let us set the pace for endurance. This means looking straight ahead. And this takes place through intimate fellowship with the Holy Spirit, through daily time in prayer and study of the Word. This must include quiet spaces and solitude so the Holy Spirit can search our hearts (Ps 139:23) and so that we can search God’s heart. Also, in order to endure to the end, we need the encouragement that comes from the spiritual “high-fives” that take place in godly fellowship! And lastly, just as Jesus was looking intently at the prize so are we too. Jesus was looking to the joy of the prize of “sitting” (reigning) with all power and authority, glory and dominion, and blessing and honor which comes with being highly honored with God. I have heard it said that “the joy Jesus was looking to was us” but scripture does not say this. But what scripture does say is that “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your “right hand” are pleasures forevermore” (Ps 16:11). “Jesus” (Savior) could not wait to be crowned “Christ the Lord” (Anointed Son of God) at God’s right hand. That’s right. If you have never picked up on this, it is an exciting study! Jesus was crowned “Jesus Christ the Lord” through the cross, by His resurrection and His ascension. And now, in truth, we too are striving for a crown. And just as Jesus sits enthroned, so too will we with Him … if we endure to the end. For Jesus says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev 3:21). There is no greater crown than that which the Lord gives. It is priceless and there is no gold, ruby, or diamond on earth that compares to its beauty!
Now, if this post discourages you, I want you to know it is never too late to get back in the race. And thankfully, our Lord is full of mercy and grace, and always ready to forgive! And remember, no matter the spiritual condition we are in, it is the Holy Spirit alone that gives the grace and power for our spiritual training. So, get training, look up, and go after the prize.
I want to end this by sharing something from A.W. Tozer. He says that “if God knows that your intention is to worship Him with every part of your being, He has promised to cooperate with you. On His side is the love and grace, the promises and the atonement, the constant help and the presence of the Holy Spirit. On your side there is determination, seeking, yielding, believing. Your heart becomes a chamber, a sanctuary, a shrine in which there may be continuous, unbroken fellowship and communion with God. Your worship rises to God moment by moment!” I have added this here because it is a concise summary of this entire post. According to the Bible, “worship” does not mean simply “singing songs to God.” According to the Bible, worship is this race of faith that we run daily, moment by moment, one foot in front of the other until we cross the finish line and obtain the crown. Also, I want you to remember that God “knows you.” And in knowing you He knows “exactly” how much help (or grace) you need in order to finish well. For we are individuals, and God has taken our individuality into account here.
So, how is the training going?