Would Paul have watched the Olympics over the past two weeks? My sanctified imagination occasionally takes me to interesting places. Sometimes I wonder whether the Apostle Paul enjoyed athletics. I occasionally wonder whether he participated in athletic contests during his young years.
I don’t know if Paul was an athlete himself or whether he enjoyed athletics, but I do know that he used the athletic imagery in his writings. So at minimum, he knew that people in his culture cared about athletics. Frankly, our culture cares about athletics too.
So when Paul writes,
“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” (1 Cor 9:24), we know exactly what he is talking about.
But what race is it that we are running? What is it that we are trying to win?
Just one chapter later Paul says, “Whatever you do, do for the glory of God.” We are living for God’s glory. We are his representatives on the earth designed to proclaim how good God is (1 Peter 2:9). It is that race that we are commanded to run so that you may win.
First Corinthians 9:26-27 explain two primary ways:
Live with purpose
Time always passes, but that does not mean that we use it
purposefully. Sometimes we can spend hours toying around with something and realize that yet another day has slipped by without doing anything related to our purpose. The Olympic athletes have spent the last four years preparing for their event – an event that in some cases lasts just a few seconds. Their eating, their training, their thoughts, and even their work were focused on their purpose … to win their event.
Here are a few suggestions to help you live with purpose:
- Memorize portions of Scripture that focus primarily on purpose (1 Cor 10:31, 2 Cor 5:9, 1 Pet 2:9).
- Record what you do over a one week period and evaluate how each activity helps or does not help you fulfill your purpose.
- Say “no” to things that would necessarily distract you from that purpose – even if you happen to like them (e.g., choose to watch 1 football game each weekend as opposed to 3 or 4 and use that additional time to focus on purpose).
- Make a list of 10 things that if accomplished would really help you accomplish your purpose (e.g., communicate in a more godly way, attend a class focusing on helping others, add a family serving project each week to your schedule … )
It is hard to be disciplined. It requires that you give only a certain amount of time to certain activities. It means that you might neglect some activities altogether. This might be hard at first, but the payoff is worth it in the end. I am sure that the athletes we watched in the Olympics would have enjoyed eating whatever they wanted, they would have enjoyed taking days off their practice schedule, and they would have appreciated rest for their aching muscles. Yet, in many of these moments the athletes disciplined their time and their desires to focus on winning.
Here are a few suggestions to help you live with discipline:
- Write out how you spent your time during a two week period in fifteen minute increments. The goal is to find some time that you were burning or wasting.
- Write out a schedule for how you are going to use your upcoming week.
- Embrace the pain that comes with more discipline. For example, I don’t know any way to get in shape without going through a period of being sore. Nor do I know how to lose weight without the feeling of hunger for a season. While those relate to physical things, the truth applies to other areas of discipline as well (e.g., spending less and giving more, being entertained less and serving more, etc.).
- Give thanks to the Lord for any steps of growth that you take.
By God’s grace, focusing on purpose and being disciplined will help us indeed run the race to win.
We would love to hear some of your suggestions on living with purpose or with discipline.