What does it mean to “run in such a way as to get the prize”? (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Whatever it means, it is not just talking about the race. While the race is the focus and the ultimate goal of one’s training and attention, the race is simply the part of the athlete’s life that is seen by all. The race is much more about the preparation coming beforehand.
Ever since I’ve started taking up distance running as an amateur pursuit, and not just as an accessory to basketball and soccer training, I’ve been struck by how much my race times are predictable once I take a look back at my training log. There is so much truth to this that if I’d truly understood this in high school, I’d have been a much different–and much better–track and field athlete. (I would have been an excellent 300m/400m hurdler, or a decent 200m sprinter). This is because I’d have taken much more care to steward my training and my body very carefully. The goal would be the peak at the conference and regional championships (as a sophomore or junior) or regional and state championships (as a junior or senior). Every moment before then would be taken in light of the ultimate goal of winning one of these races.
In the middle distance events, I found that there is still much more variability than in distances exceeding 10k. Between 1500 to 10,000m, there is a delicate balance between tactics and talent that reveals what is in the heart of the most talented runners. If you are one who is head and shoulders above the rest of the field–and believe that is true–then you can run a fast, honest pace from the gun. This reminds me of Genzebe Dibaba and Sifan Hassan racing to break the world record at 5000m. They knew the race was among only two runners, and from the gun ran with such confident assurance. However, when the best racers equivocate, it leaves room for the less talented runners to steal a victory. As much as I love Leo Manzano, he has no business with an Olympic bronze medal at 1500m. In this case, the less talented runners race with grit and faith, while the more talented runners race with doubt and fear. At its essence, this is what makes a tactical race fun to watch–despite the often pedestrian paces.
For the longer distances, however, it is very much like the sprints. Everyone knows the one or two individuals who will have a real shot at winning. This is because there is very, very little room for error. While these races are given somewhat to tactics, they are principally determined by the condition of the physiological systems of the racers. Therefore, the training is an accurate indicator of the fitness and race capability of the racers. For sprints and distance events exceeding 10 miles, there is very little left to chance barring injury or other accident.
This is where we return to the statement above: “run in such a way as to get the prize.” You cannot run to get the price starting with the gun. The racing begins in the training so that the athlete is transformed into one who is able to get the prize. Your physiological systems must be different when the gun goes off than they were when you started training towards the event. World class athletes know this, and approach their training with the same methodical precision as a world class researcher. While the effort is not the same in each session, every session has a purpose. Each moment has a place in the athlete’s teleological transformation. This is how our lives with God should be viewed. Each moment is not the same. However, we must approach each of our days with God intending to be transformed into one who thinks His thoughts and knows His ways. We do not run the race once we enter His presence, because that is the end, the peak, not the race itself. The race is to be transformed into Christ’s likeness by having our minds renewed daily through interaction with Him, His Word, and His people.
We must run the race so as to win the prize. How will you run your race for the glory of God today?