The Apostle Paul reminds us that we're in a spiritual race. What kind of runner are you?
Joggers, or "pavement pounders" as I call them, put me to shame. I had lunch one day with a runner who is so good that I didn't even feel guilty. Max Hooper is a serious runner—a world-class ultra marathoner. Max has a unique will to win, as you will soon find out.
After knee surgery (on both knees) Max was told he would never run again. Three months later he ran a 2:47 marathon and qualified for the Boston Marathon. Since then he's run in four additional Boston Marathons. He has competed in six Pike's Peak Marathons—I get lightheaded even thinking of driving up there!
He was one of 410 men who qualified for the world championship for ultra-marathoners, The Western States 100 Mile Trail Run from Squaw Valley, Utah, to Auburn, California. Only 210 finished the race due to extreme temperature changes, rugged terrain, and altitude sickness! He prevented dehydration by consuming more than 50 pounds of liquid during the race.
And he has run in a 52-mile race called the "Double Rim-to-Rim Run." Got any idea where that might be? Just thinking back to one summer vacation and standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon makes me weak in the knees. But Max ran from the south rim, down, down, way down to the Colorado River and then up, up, way up to the north rim. Then back to the south rim. Without stopping. If you want to ask someone what the Grand Canyon looks like ask Max—he's been across it 10 times!
Are you beginning to understand why I didn't feel guilty at lunch with this bionic runner?
But Max's ultimate race was completed on his 40th birthday in some of the most hostile environments planet earth could offer any runner. The start: Badwater, California, in the oven of Death Valley, 282 feet below sea level—the lowest point in the United States. The finish: the summit of Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet—the highest point in the contiguous United States. Total mileage: 146 miles.
Hooper and a Marine buddy started the race in the 100-degree desert floor of Death Valley running by moonlight. They began by hurdling sidewinders and ended scrambling on all fours up a glacier (the last six hours of which they ran above 10,000 feet) to complete the task in 63 hours and 12 minutes—an American record. He wore out three pairs of running shoes and his feet were swollen two sizes by the time he reached the summit. Yes, they did sleep. They took two, eight-hour rest breaks. Incredible, huh?
Max said that he was able to do it because he didn't run alone.
What kind of runner are you?
Like Max, you and I are in a race. A race that God has set before each one of us. A course of extremes. There's the agony of the valley of the shadow of death, contrasted with the summit of joy because of the birth of a baby. And there are miles of rugged terrain and climate changes in between. Life is a race for every Christian. It is a race you and I must finish ... and win.
How are you running today? Winning? Losing? Did you know that the omnipotent God of the universe has instructed us on how to avoid losing and ensure winning?
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Notice verse 24: "all run." What about you? Did you know you're in a race? What kind of runner in the race are you? There are at least five kinds of runners:
The casual runner. He runs when he feels like it and when conditions are perfect. For these Christians the sacrifice demanded by the race is just too high.
The cautious runner. He thinks a lot about the race. But instead he plays it safe and seldom leaves the starting blocks.
The compromised runner. Unwilling to lay aside present pleasures, he has given into temptations to run outside his prescribed lane. His life is filled with short cuts—and dead ends. Few convictions. And no costly stands on issues at work. He just blends in with the pack!
The calloused runner. This is a veteran runner who's become a cynic, or sarcastically critical of people. Scared by the puzzling, unfair circumstances of life, the calloused seldom see God in their every day circumstances. Preoccupied with their injuries, their hearts have layers of thick tough tissues made of bitterness, envy, or apathy.
The committed runner. One who knows where the finish line is and is determined to win. In training at all times, they know that victory will never be achieved by the fainthearted—they have decided to run to win. What's my point, you ask? Well, if you're in the race and running, don't let anyone hinder you from running well. But beware—look at Paul's warning at the end of verse 27—you and I could be disqualified.
The danger of disqualification
What does Paul mean by "lest ... I myself should be disqualified"? Well, for one, he is not talking about losing salvation. The Bible doesn't teach that we can be "un-born" from the family of God. I don't think he's talking about disqualification because of one mistake (although there are examples in the Scriptures of that), but a repeated rejection of God's leading in life. Willful, deliberate disobedience.
Look around at the human debris of those who have been disqualified from their ministry. Do you know a Christian leader who is no longer in the race? A solid Christian layman or woman who used to walk with Christ but no longer does? The landscape surrounding my life is littered with the lives of those who are no longer running. Casualties. I don't condemn those who fail—my humanity is off the same bolt of human cloth. They have become examples. Living exhibits, warning me that I too could be disqualified and be declared "no longer usable" by God.
There are two ways to end up disqualified: Never start and don't finish. Neither seem appealing to me. How about you?
Could you be disqualified? Absolutely.
May I ask you a very important question: Is there anything in your life right now that could disqualify you? Something you're trying to hide? Something you're keeping from God? Don't mess around with sin—don't play patty-cake with evil—it's deadly stuff.
Running to win
So how do you run to win? Here's the Apostle Paul's rules for the race:
Self-control (verse 25). The discipline of our desires is the backbone of our character; know what tempts you and avoid it. Augustine, the great Christian philosopher, lived a licentious life before his conversion. One day, shortly after becoming a believer, Augustine encountered a young woman with whom he had sinned. Augustine turned immediately and began running away with the woman crying out, "Augustine! Augustine! It is I! It is I! It is I!" But Augustine just kept on truckin', and yelled back over his shoulder, "It isn't I! It isn't I! It isn't I!!!"
Careful aim or direction (verse 26). Paul says that a runner intending to win must know where he is going. The finish line for the Christian is the Person of Jesus Christ. Keep your eyes on Him. Know Him. Grow in your love for Him. Be pleasing to Him. One of the reasons we indulge ourselves as spectators and have so little desire to give up our rights for the race before us, is because we have lost our focus on the glory of God.
Sacrifice (verse 27). The Christian life will cost you your life. You and I must die to ourselves—deny our rights. Anything, any prize, any relationship, anything of value costs. You may find that working through a problem in a relationship is harder than walking out. But walking out may result in God being through working through you.
When Max and his running partner were about halfway through their race to the summit of Mt. Whitney they realized they could set a new American record. Together they decided to go for it. A friend who followed them the entire way said of them, "You could see the pain in their eyes—they looked like corpses after 40 miles of continuous running. But at the finish there were tears in our eyes—it was something to be proud of."
The pain was worth it! And for you and me, the pain is worth it! I've decided not to turn my Reeboks in early—By God's grace I'll wear 'em out! How about you: Are you going for it?