“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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
There’s something about watching runners cross a finish line that makes me cry every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s the professional runner breaking the tape and winning first place or the first time runner who struggles over the finish line; every runner gives tremendous heart and effort to accomplish their goal, and it’s worth celebrating. Even thinking about Stumblers gets me teary–what a cool picture to see so many campers and staff choosing to wake up early, push their bodies, and engage with others.
Paul uses the idea of running a race to talk about our spiritual lives in 1 Corinthians 9. In the same way that athletes discipline their bodies through exercise and health, it takes work and intention to grow our faith. While winning a prize can be great, as Christ followers, we get a greater prize: salvation, sanctification, and the steadfast presence of Jesus. Paul tells us that we should “run that [we] may obtain” this great prize, and he tells us there’s one great way to do so: exercising self-control.
Self-control can sometimes feel like suffering. We practice restraint and not giving ourselves every single thing we want because it keeps us close to God.
It makes me think of Romans 5:1-5, which says, “[…] we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
As we build our spiritual muscles through self control, we grow in character and endurance. And these traits push us towards hope because we are able to experience God’s love in deeper ways as we depend on Him.
Whatever race you find yourself running today, remember that perseverance, self-control, and hope are growing in you.