Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Running to Win or Running Amok?

Photo by Donna Tallman

"Back in the day" I ran track. I wasn't any good at it because I mostly ran track to stay in shape for basketball and tennis, which were my true loves. One day we were forced to train inside the school because a Colorado snowstorm was too much to compete with. Once inside, my coach could see that I needed more motivation besides running laps inside the school building. She put three hurdles in front of me and dared me to run the gauntlet. In the process, my coach inadvertently unleashed a monster.

The rhythm, strides, precision, takeoff, and landing all made me feel like I was flying. I loved it. Hurdling gave me a chance to compete against other racers, the clock, and against myself. It was a perfectionist's dream come true, and birthed the competitive streak in me that still exists to this day.

I'm not much of an athlete anymore, but I am still very competitive. I hate to lose ~ at anything. I can be wrong, know that I'm wrong, and still try to win an argument. For years, I was convinced that being competitive was a good thing until the day I was given a "time out" at a women's retreat for aggressive behavior. I was playing a game of double solitaire and trouncing an 80 year-old woman who was thrilled she could even be at the retreat.

"Just how badly are you going to beat her?" a friend whispered in my ear as she wrested the cards from my clutched hands. I was just about to unload everything on the table and go in for the kill, but my courageous friend gently pushed me from my seat and dismissed me from the game.

"But I'm winning!" I protested quietly, and then with one of her famous false front smiles she hissed at me through her clenched teeth, "But you're the speak-er, Dear. Don't you want to set a better example for the women than this?"

Oh, oops.

Knowing what we're tying to accomplish in any given situation is vital to living deliberately, so the next key to being intentional in 2014 is:


Competition, the right kind(!), is a good thing; in fact, it's a great thing. A properly focused competitive streak can bring out the best in us, and in those around us. It can also propel us into doing unimaginable things we've never even dreamed of. I thrive on the benefits of healthy competition because I know it strengthens my weaknesses.

Paul did too. He has a lot to say about competition in his New Testament epistles, the most famous one being found in 1 Corinthians 9:24: "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."

In order to "run to win" according to Paul's model, HOW we run is just as important as THAT we run.

Athletes are bound by a lot of "hows." In order to compete in something they love, athletes willingly submit themselves to specific, outlined criteria. They contend with rules, equipment specifications, and drug testing to name just a few. An athlete could win, and win big, but if they violate the rules, they will be disqualified from victory. So all compete, some will cheat, but only one will win.

When Paul says, "Run to win," in 1 Corinthians 9, he's talking about fulfilling the purpose for which God called him. Paul is talking about living deliberately ~ intentionally choosing to participate in God's plan for his life. The "how" of running, then, is every bit as important to the Believer as it is to the athlete. Just like athletes, Christians willingly submit themselves to the criteria outlined in Scripture that ensures our race will end with victory.

We do this because of our deep love for Jesus, not out of a sense of duty or religious obligation. Rules and regulations don't motivate us; our love for Jesus does. True faith in Jesus is the result of His invitation to us, and of our eager response to enter into an intimate relationship with him. It doesn't come through force, obligation, or external pressure; our journey with Jesus is a joy.

So, here's an opportunity to apply one of Paul's "hows" of running. Let's just look at one character quality that is important to incorporate into our lives. 1 Corinthians 9:25 says, "Everyone who competes in the games exercises SELF-CONTROL in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable."

If I am running to win this "race" of life, I want to finish strong and finish well. To do that, I need to exercise SELF-CONTROL IN ALL THINGS according to 1 Corinthians 9:25. Bummer: I want to do what I want, when I want, for as long as I want. Physically, I'd like to run amok, but spiritually controlling my behavior, tongue, temper, attitude, service, competitive streak, etc., will ensure that I become more like Jesus and less like the world around me.

Here's where I'm challenged ~ According to Galatians 5:22-23, the spiritual realm and the physical realm are connected. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, SELF-CONTROL; against such things there is no law." I'd rather they not be connected, but they are. I'd rather compartmentalize my life, but I can't; not if I want to be like Jesus.

Photo by Donna Tallman

So, if the spiritual and the physical are connected, isn't it logical that my physical life will show evidence of my spiritual condition? Spiritually, I run to win. That metaphorical race should spill over into the physical arena at some point whether I like it or not. Let's say I never exert self-control over the things I put in my body (ie. food, alcohol, medication, drugs, etc), and I neglect exercise so I am in poor health. If my lack of self-control over my diet and exercise prohibits me from accomplishing the purpose God has for me, then there's absolutely no way I can live deliberately this year. My body will stage a mutiny and prevent it. That's not okay. In this example the physical arena is controlling the spiritual, and that never ends well. Gaining spiritual control over the flesh and its desires is one of the most common reason people fast.

Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, "But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." Everything we do impacts ourselves, those around us, and even impacts the gospel. If we are walking in the Spirit, we WILL exercise self-control; it's one of the fruits of the Spirit. If we do not exercise self-control, we cannot possibly be walking in the Spirit. So, then, to live with intention as one who loves Jesus means that as we surrender to the Spirit, His power will increase in our lives, and the influence of our flesh will decline.

How do we do that exactly?

Photo by John Lee

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,FIXING OUR EYES ON JESUS, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

To live deliberately this year, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, for even Jesus had to master his humanity in order to finish well.

(c) Copyright, 2014 by Donna Tallman.
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