Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." I Cor. 9:24-27
The apostle Paul was fond of using a race as a metaphor for living the Christian life. He wrote this passage urging Christians both then and now, to run the race in such a way as to win the prize. Everybody runs, he wrote, but only one wins the race.
So what does it take to win a race? First, we must have a GOAL: the prize we are contending for. In the case of runners in a race it is a victor's crown, or a blue ribbon, or a gold medal. All of these are corruptible, they are temporal and will not last. In a Christian's race, however, the prize is the crown of life: incorruptible and eternal.
Second, we must have a PLAN to reach our goal. We must look ahead to figure out exactly what we will have to do to win the prize. For the Christian, God gave us His plan, in His Holy Bible. It tells us everything we need to know to be able to finish the race and win the victory.
Next, we must start TRAINING, and must make that training a daily part of our life. No athlete can win a race by training only one day a week; it takes day after day of dedicated effort to be able to stay the course and finish the race. Training for Christians includes a regimen of daily prayer and Bible study, as well as worship attendance and fellowship. It isn't something we can do one day a week and think that we will be able to finish the race.
Then, we have to learn to FOCUS on the goal; we have to learn not to get sidetracked, or to run uncertainly, or aimlessly, as Paul wrote. We have to learn not to waste time and energy on useless endeavors that will not help us to reach our goal. This applies in every area of our lives, but most especially in our walk as Christians. Satan will throw many obstacles in our way to try to cause us to stumble or even to give up. It's just too easy to get bogged down in the problems of daily life if we don't remain focused on the main goal. We have to learn to stay focused if we expect to win the race.
We must also learn SELF-CONTROL, or temperance. Paul writes that every man striving to win is temperate in ALL things, and that he himself brings his own body into subjection. No one else can make us do these things ; we have to have enough self-control to do what we know we should in order to win the prize. God isn't going to do for us the things we need to do for ourselves! We have to be controlled enough to root out anything in our lifestyles or habits that hinders us from reaching our goal.
Another thing we have to learn is OBEDIENCE. We have to follow the rules, so that we may not be disqualified, or castaway, as Paul wrote. God gave his people rules to live by when He first established His covenant. (see Ex. 9:5) These rules weren't made to restrict our lives for no reason, but rather so that we may have the full and abundant lives He has planned for His children. Those rules aren't going to change; we needn't think that our circumstances are different, so the rules don't apply to us! God is the same yesterday, tomorrow, and forever; the only thing He wants from us is our whole-hearted obedience.
We also have to learn HUMILITY. The preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; this should be a lesson to us not to be puffed up in our own pride. (see Eccl. 9:11) We cannot do it in our own power; we will be doomed to failure if we do not learn to humble ourselves before the Lord. James 4:10 tells us to "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up." God will give us the victory if we learn to rely on Him, rather than ourselves.
PATIENCE is another thing we have to lean if we intend to win the prize. Hebrews 12:1 & 2 tells us to lay aide every weight, or hindrance, and the sin that so easily besets us, and run with patience the race set before us. The victory does not happen overnight; no athlete wins the first time he tries to compete. It takes time and effort on our part, and we shouldn't get discouraged and want to give up. We have to learn to be patient, knowing that the final victory will be ours! This passage also indicates that we need to be humble, not arrogant or prideful, when it tells us to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
The last thing we need to learn in order to win the race is PERSEVERANCE. We have to realize that Satan will put stumbling blocks in our way, but we can't just give up whenever we hit a few bumps. Even if we fall, we need to get back in the race by confessing our sins and letting God cleanse us. Galatians 5:1 tells us to "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.' In that same chapter, verses 7 and 8 tells us exactly where our opposition comes from: "You did run well; who did hinder you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion does not come from Him that called you."
Finally, if we learn all of these things, God gives us the PROMISE of victory. We are promised in II Timothy 4: 7 & 8: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all of them also that love His appearing." We know He will keep His word, and will give us the victory if we remain faithful and obedient.
And interestingly enough, we will find that these things apply to every area of our daily lives, as well. These are a wonderful blueprint for success in anything we do. If we learn these things, we will experience many, many victories in our lives along the way to the final victory, that of eternal life. God wants His children to live victoriously, now and forever! Run the race so as to win the crown of victory, and enjoy all the benefits and blessings God has for us along the way!