1 Corinthians 9:24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.
I watched a video of the ending of a prestigious college track & field meet held in 2015. This race ending has received considerable attention being viewed by millions of people who would normally have no interest in such races. The video shows the ending of the 3000m Steeplechase, a race of 7.5 laps of an outdoor track with obstacles such as hurdles and even water hazards. The race went as expected, with a strong University of Oregon runner having a comfortable lead with only the straightaway remaining. Sensing the victory, the lead runner slows down and waves his arms in the air encouraging the crowd to cheer him on, but what he does not realize is that the University of Washington runner has not given up and is bearing down on him. With only a meter left, the startled Oregon runner sees the Washington runner pass him, but has no time left to react. A sure victory ends in defeat for the Oregon runner because he let his guard down. He is later seen lying on his back with his hands covering his face. This certainly must have been one of the worst moments of his life. He had run the race so well. Why did he not simply finish well?
There is a moral in this story for all of us as believers. The start of our Christian walk is important, but it does not end there. We need to continue to keep our eyes on the prize and not let our guard down, because we can very quickly lose the race. If you have ever participated in a running race, you will know that many can sprint out and be winning the race initially, but only a few will be able to maintain the pace necessary to win the race at the finish line. This takes training, and it takes discipline. Paul recognized this and therefore instructs us to “Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24b).
We also have to ensure we do not become arrogant or careless. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 10) he writes of the Israelites who were led by God and Moses through the desert, but who sinned in numerous ways and did not reach the promised land. Paul says these things were written down to us as warnings. “So if you think you are standing firm, be careful you don’t fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
When interviewed after the race, the Oregon runner said: “I’m not proud of myself right now, but it’s a good lesson for me, I think, not to do this in the future. Next time I’ll just run the whole final stretch and celebrate in the victory lap.” While this was hugely embarrassing for him, it also does not have near the importance of running the race of our life. This runner lost a gold medal, but when we as Christians finish poorly, we can leave devastating consequences in our wake (usually many hurt people). I have been so saddened by prominent Pastors and Evangelists who have finished poorly and caused so much pain and suffering. I pray that the Lord protects me and nudges me to remain humble and recognize that I am a sinner saved by his grace and nothing I have done. My prayer for all who read this is that you run the race of your life with the same determination and care from the start to the finish. May we all be able to say, as Paul did at the end of his life: 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4: 7-8)