"I always loved running…it was something you could do by yourself, and under your own power. You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs."—Jesse Owens
"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."—1 Corinthians 9:24-26
I love how Paul sees the spiritual life and the spiritual race as he communicates the importance of discipline to the Corinthian church. His comparison is obvious, but how do we do it?
One | Get A Goal
It's a given. Few athletes would train for or compete in a race if there's no goal at the end—no prize for winning. In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul encourages believers to run the race so that we may obtain not a perishable prize, but an imperishable one. Back in his day, winners of races received wreaths (rather than brass trophies or cash purses) that eventually would wither and dry up. It's a great metaphor, but what is Paul really talking about? What was the imperishable prize he had in his sights? Consider the context. Just a few lines earlier in his letter, Paul writes:
"What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge…"—1 Corinthians 9:18
He goes on to write:
"I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings."—1 Corinthians 9:22-23
So yes, we train and discipline ourselves to grow in righteousness and in our relationship with God, but beyond that, Paul's ultimate aim was to spread the gospel and win people for Christ.
Two | Get Self-Control
"Every athlete exercises self-control in all things," Paul writes. So the comparison to an athlete training for and competing in a race continues. The athlete consumes a healthy diet. And we, as Christian men, nurture our hearts and minds with God's Word. The athlete works out. And we meditate on Scripture and drop to our knees in prayer. The athlete maintains sharp mental focus. So we focus on the Lord in everything we do. The athlete makes personal sacrifices to keep his eyes on the prize. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9 that he sacrifices his rights as an apostle to eliminate "any obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:12).
What is your regimen of spiritual disciplines? What are you willing to sacrifice for the sake of the gospel?
"But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."—1 Corinthians 9:27
Three | Get Perseverance
None of this is easy. Athletes train for a race and run it with dogged determination. We, too, must be doggedly persistent. We must persevere. Our spiritual muscles may burn, and we may have to take a punch or two, but do we quit? Nope. Instead, we lean in. We don't give up. We pace ourselves. Among our most significant challenges along the way, perhaps, will be to achieve a healthy balance in our lives. Think about your typical week. If you're like a lot of guys, you work a minimum of 40 hours a week; you commute to your job, you run errands, you tend to a few chores around the house, you spend time with your family, you eat, and, oh yeah, occasionally you sleep. How do you squeeze in any spiritual discipline?
I have two words for you: intentionality and planning.
But don't forget that as believers, as brothers in Christ, we have the best cheering section ever‚—better than any athlete's biggest fans. We have the Lord. Like Paul says:
"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."—Philippians 4:13
Amen to that, brother!
Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God's Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men's Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest book and small group study Called to Act: 5 Uncomplicated Disciplines for Men.
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