Ten years ago, a scrawny 17-year-old struggled in his last year at Milliken Mills High School in Markham, Ontario. In addition to being in with the wrong crowd and dabbling in drugs, his low grades didn’t promise a bright future. While he was athletic and loved sports, enjoyment of his favorite had been stolen when his school cancelled its basketball program that fall. His final year of high school, if he was even able to graduate, was shaping up to be a disaster.
A couple of his friends were involved in a regional track and field meet, and with nothing better to do, he joined them. With no running experience or training, he came in second in the championship race. That’s when someone noticed this wayward teen and saw potential in him. Tony Sharpe, a former Olympian turned coach, saw Andre De Grasse run that day and knew he had discovered a winner. He invited the lad to join his track club, and a decade later, Andre De Grasse had earned the title of “Canada’s Fastest Man” and a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on August 4, 2021, recognizing him as one of the fastest in the world.
Following his gold-medal run, Andre said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment; I’ve been training hard for this moment.” He told another reporter, “I knew I had it in me.”
I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.(Philippians 3:12-14 NLT)
Unlike De Grasse’s competition, when Paul talked about pressing toward the goal for the prize in Philippians 3:14, he wasn’t referring to crossing the finishing line and getting a medal. The prize for Paul was the call itself: being able to run the race as God’s partner, doing the work of His kingdom. As believers, we are in this race too. What a privilege we have, like Paul, to be God’s feet in this world!
This is not the only New Testament book where Paul talks about our race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-26, he says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.(ESV)
When Paul talks about self-control here, he is talking about training. Roman athletes had to train for at least ten months before they were allowed into the games. Paul tells us to run as athletes who really want to win. This involves effort: effort in training before the race and effort during the race.
During the pandemic, Andre De Grasse wasn’t eating chips and binge-watching Netflix. He told a CBC reporter that while his children napped, he trained. In addition to jogging around the block – “to the mailbox and back”, he said he was “basically just doing a lot of core: push ups, sit ups, pull ups – those types of things.” I love that he used the words “basically” and “just”, as if the rest of the world was daily doing those things too. That’s why he’s the one displaying the gold medal in his house and you and I are not!
When Andre ran, he set his eyes on the highest goal. He admitted to being “a little bit disappointed” in only earning the bronze medal in the 100-metre run in Tokyo. He knew he was capable of WINNING the race, not just coming in third place.
Paul tells us to do the same. Run to win! The difference is that our prize is an eternal one. An “imperishable” heavenly reward that will never pass away.
So, how do we train for THIS race? What sacrifice and commitment does God require of us? Jesus summed it up in two commands:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”(Matthew 22:36-40 ESV)
As we train in the area of LOVE—love for God and love for others – we prepare for God’s race. When we set our eyes on the highest goal and compete to win, it’s not only family and friends who stand on the sidelines. People who don’t know Jesus watch our race too and see the effort we put into it. They take note of our godly living. They hear our speech that reflects our Father. They see God’s joy when circumstances don’t seem to warrant it. As we run the race, we build His kingdom. That’s why Paul felt that the call to race was the prize. What an honor to be chosen to run!
Father, thank you for the privilege of running in Your race. Help us to train properly as we spend time with You, praying and studying Your Word. Use us to win the lost so they will join us in the race. We look forward to our eternal reward, but for now, we pray for Your strength and endurance to set our eyes on the prize of the call to run. Make us worthy. Amen.
[Sources: Articles by Paula Nichols and Jonathan Yue on http://www.olympic.ca/2021; Erin James-Abra on http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca; an interview transcript on http://www.cbc.ca; and David Guzik’s Enduring Word Commentary.]
Do you continue to train for God’s race? Each one of us has something that prevents us from being perfectly prepared. What is your stumbling block? Give it to Jesus.
Here’s the hardest part: