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Many of our eyes in recent weeks have been fastened on Atlanta — and the 1996 Summer Olympics. The sight of some of the world’s greatest athletes from 150 countries displaying their finely-honed skills has left us filled with awe and amazement. Any involved in sports well knows that these performances are products not just of natural God-given ability, but also of months and years of rigorous discipline and training.

The Olympics are not new. Dating back to centuries before Christ in Greece, they long predate even the apostle Paul. Living and working in Greece and Asia Minor on his missionary journeys, Paul likely shared the widespread knowledge and interest in the Olympic games. They were the World Series and the Super Bowl of his day. Victory in them meant instant honor and fame, just as it still does today.

Small wonder the apostle uses the striking illustration in 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.” The alluded-to race of our life is really the race for life — with eternal life as the prize.

How sad that so many, unaware of and unmotivated by the importance of this race, run “aimlessly” (v. 26) — without purpose or goals. Lured by the temptation of “perishable crowns,” their time and energies are consumed in futile pursuits, and their “victories” are spiritually and eternally empty. “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and yet lose his own soul?” ( Mk. 8:38)

A Difficult Race

Yet even for the Christian on the “right track,” the race for eternal life will be a struggle. One gets the impression that the Olympic race to which Paul is comparing life is not a sprint or 100 yard dash, but rather the marathon.

Running the marathon requires a completely different approach. Qualities required for long-distance running are stamina, endurance, persistence, and a good dose of self-discipline and self-sacrifice (v. 27). For into each life-race there will come hills of spiritual obstacles to climb and overcome, weighty burdens and spiritual “crosses” to carry, the aching muscles of stress and pressures, and indescribable fatigue as we sometimes “hit the wall,” feeling we cannot go on.

At such times nothing within us will keep us going. Only a Spirit-implanted faith in the promises and assurances of God and His Word will work:

* There we receive a refreshing splash of the Water of Life on our

dehydrating souls;

* There we are rejuvenated with a spiritual “second wind”;

* There we are strengthened to carry on;

* There we are assured the race has already been run — and won —

for us and we need only follow in faith;

* There we fix our eyes on Jesus — His atonement, His resurrection,

and His victory;

* There we are encouraged to “run with endurance the race that is set

before us” (Heb. 12:1).

Yes, run for your life — eternal life. The race is run and won only in Christ, the Author (Starter) and Finisher of our faith, to whom alone be all glory. He will present us with the victory prize as we cross the finish line — not a perishable Olympic gold medal, but a priceless, imperishable, heavenly crown of righteousness and glory, whose Christ-lustre will never fade or tarnish. And unlike the Olympic marathon which has only one winner, this heavenly crown awaits all who live and die in the Lord.

As we run the race of our lives and go for the heavenly “gold” in Christ, may each of us one day say with the apostle as we approach the finish line: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge will give to me on that Day, and not to me only, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

— Pastor David Schierenbeck