May 6, 2013

Run to win…

The Christian life is no walk in the park; it is a race, sometimes a sprint, but more often a marathon.
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 Corinthians 9:24)

Even though this verse speaks of only one winner, in the Christian life every runner is urged to win the prize. That means this race unlike the normal race, but more like the modern charity run where each runner is sponsored and winning is about finishing (not placing first), and the prize is earning that reward pledged to my cause.

For the past few weeks, my life has been a mass of temptations and spiritual battles. I’ve won some and lost a few. At times, the finish line blurred. Distractions took my mind off what I should do and lured me away from the track, away from my commitment to Christ, even away from other commitments.

Now that my current eight-week module of studies is finished, I can look back and see how it was like being in a race. For me, the challenge was not about getting high marks, but experiencing the enrichment of the journey and putting into practice what I was studying.

The study intensely focused on the identity and work of Jesus in seeking and saving the lost so we become God’s children and Christ’s Body, His ambassadors here on earth. It was incredible, yet these eight weeks have felt like struggling through an obstacle course. The world, the flesh, and the devil threw temptations and distractions at me the entire route. Some of the writing required was enormously difficult and required great concentration and effort. When I pushed that “submit” button for the final exam, I could feel the weight lifting off and the sense of breaking a ribbon at the finish line.

Yet being a Christian involves far more than one course of studies (I have 12 more to go) for this run is about life, not formal theological classes, for all of my days involve learning about God.

That being said, today’s devotional makes a point that I need to hear and remember. The author is John Bunyan, an amazing Christian and writer who spent many years in prison persecuted for his faith, and penned “Pilgrim’sProgress.” He knows about the race and the battle to run it and win.

He says to beware of bypaths, those distractions I’ve already mentioned. He says most travelers go down those paths, yet all who run must take “care you do not beguile yourself with a fancy.” Even though something may “seem ever so pleasant,” there in the middle of the side trails the Gospel is written in the blood of Christ, warning me to shun that way.

Bunyan says runners are easily turned aside to bypaths “daubed over with a few external acts of morality” because we so easily fail to realize our own insufficiency. We are too bold, proud, presumptuous, and self-conceited. Not only that, we hear and respond to the call of others saying such things as, “Do not go too fast and you will have my company with you.” These calls come from sin, this world, worthless company, pleasures, profits, esteem in human society, ease, pomp, pride — and cry out, “Do not leave me behind.”

Bunyan lived 1628-1688, yet what he says is true for all generations. The Christian life, like a race, requires a commitment to press on, to keep our eyes on the goal, to put aside all that hinders, and most of all, to remember Jesus and that none of this will happen aside from His mercy and grace. The Redeemer and Savior was there for Bunyan and others who have finished their race. He also is here for me.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1–4)

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