The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Running the Race" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 26, 2009.
I Corinthians 9:24, 26a - 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. ... Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;
In our day and time, there's a lot of discussion about race relations. In reality, when you "boil it all down" we are all more alike than different. Have you ever thought how appropriately we are named the "human race"? In our 21st century society, there is not a more fitting title for our species as we consume a great part of our day getting from point A to B and all points divergent. Some prefer to call it the "rat race" to better typify our seeming mindless behavior as we attempt to "one up" the Jones' next door. It seems as if many of us continue running and running throughout our respective days to finally collapse in the evening with a feeling of complete exhaustion. Furthermore, there is the haunting reality that nothing more than a series of similar days have been stacked one upon the other in our past and for our future. The "American Dream" has turned into the great American re-run as many seek solitude and a bit of reconciliation with themselves regarding why they continue to do what is not giving their lives a sense of fulfillment.
Jesus knew the hearts and lives of those in ancient Palestine just as He knows ours today. He did not mean for life to be a continual burden or a chore but that we "... may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). Paul recognized this as he described to the Corinthian church that life is within our grasp -- it is right here for the taking. However, it must be prized and sought after, even as a runner runs after the glory of victory. Paul was careful to point out that it was not merely skill and prowess that allowed the Grecian Olympian runner to win, but that it was strategy. Twice, within the space of two verses, Paul uses the phrase "run in such a way". When the Holy Spirit repeats Himself through Paul in the same metaphor about running, it would behoove us all to understand the wisdom behind this admonition. As a learning vehicle for this lesson, I believe the Holy Spirit has given us the acronym RACE to provide understanding of what He requires for us all to be successful on the journey as believers in Christ.
Resolve - Probably nothing is lacking in a greater degree in the Body of Christ today than the on-going resolve to follow Christ no matter what the cost. Olympic athletes, once they set their minds and hearts on the goal of their training never look back. They have become resolute in their goal and unflinching in their resolve to conquer their sport. For a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, there is no greater goal than to hear Jesus say on that glorious day when we stand before Him, "Well done good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your Master!" (Matthew 25:23). Paul proclaimed to the Church at Philippi that there was nothing more for him to do than to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). This is the resolve and drive that God requires of us all -- to be so passionately desirous of Christ and His calling in our lives that we balk at nothing that might stand in the way.
Aim - Paul gives us one of the ways to run "in such a way" stating that we should run "not without aim". To run a race without running straight toward the goal is foolish, as we would all agree. What runner would run the course, zigzagging as he or she goes? What a waste of energy and direction to not head directly toward the finish line! Often times, we hear about believers who seek to run the race as a solo runner without any proverbial "coaching". These are those who think they always know better and are of no need of pastoring or shepherding. They think they have it all figured out. Unfortunately, they often "burn out" and become exhausted because they have not relied on the wisdom of others that know the course for them to follow.
Character - It is a common occurrence to hear of modern athletes using growth hormones, steroids, and any number of doping agents that would give one the perceived advantage to be the best. One can be resolute and be aiming toward the finish line of life, yet if their character is not sound then it will not bring them in a winning way to the end of the course. Paul warned the church at Corinth that they might be driven for the things of God, yet they lacked holiness of character which would ultimately allow them to be winners. In I Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul is desirous that his brethren not be mislead to think they can live one way on this earth, expecting entrance to the Kingdom of Light: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. It is one thing to say you are a Christian and a follower after Christ -- it is another to live it out daily with integrity and honesty.
Endurance - Once a runner has done all that they can do to prepare body, soul, and spirit for the race at hand, they must then draw upon their inner reserves to complete the race ahead. Very little of our "daily racing" is sprinting, where we get the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of our labors day to day. On the contrary, most of our daily (metaphoric) racing is part of a marathon where the daily achievements are more often just keeping pace with what God has in store for us on any given day. Personally, I see this metaphor played out constantly between the young and the old. Youth is impetuous and will burn up a track, running 400 and 800 meters with speed, joy, and abandon. However, I would bank on an older runner with the wisdom to "hold back" in a longer race, rather than a youngster who has not learned the strategy to pace oneself through the contest. Likewise, endurance will only come through experience -- doing the next right thing day after day and not expecting immediate dividends. Endurance is ultimately the fuel in the tank of the engine of Resolve that drives us to the finishing tape.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to not be entangled by the cares of this world or the sin which would so easily "trip us up" on life's race course, but to run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). As we set our affections upon the Author and Perfecter of our faith through our resoluteness, aim, character and endurance, we find that the race set before us is not a burdensome chore. We further find that life is not meaningless but the course is laid out for each and every one of us in the way of wisdom by our Creator. Once we understand the race before us, then we can take up Paul's admonition to run in "such a way" as to not only win, but to be more than conquerors through Him who set us on this glorious course of life. It is not a rat race -- it is our human race and it is simply an amazing one which He has given us all the grace and ability to win!
Holy Father, thank you for your words to us that we are all in a spiritual race. You would not have called us to this endeavor without the ability and grace to finish. And, to not only finish but to win. Thank you for making us victors in you, Lord, as we all pace ourselves toward the finish line in such a way as to bring you glory. In Jesus Christ's Precious Name, Amen!
Your Barefoot Servant,