"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:10
For most of us, our athletic careers read like a Greek tragedy, but the Winter Olympics always revive the spirit of the champion in all of us. It is a hard heart that is not moved by seeing a young person stand on a podium and weep at the sound of the playing of their country's national anthem. I admit to a fondness for the American version. Can I get a witness?
Paul was aware of the competitions that took place between the athletes of his day. Those who read his words or heard them preached were equally aware of the concept of running a race and staying focused on the goal. They knew the prize was always presented at the end of race, not in the middle of it. Only those who pressed "toward the goal" received the prize.
Paul references this concept of the prize in another letter to the Church of Corinth. It refers to the receiving of a Heavenly reward for running the race with Christian character on earth.
"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." I Corinthians 9:24
Mr high school track coach, Mr. Marvin Goldberg, was a fine Christian man, a scholar, a student of the Apostle Paul, as well as a Long Island coaching legend. His cross country and track & field teams dominated the Ivy League for years. He took training seriously, and was a stern disciplinarian, running us in all kinds of weather conditions.
I recall a two-foot snow storm that hit Long Island on the first day of spring, March 21, 1967. I thought practice would be canceled. It was not. We met at the track and shoveled until we cleared two lanes of snow off of a quarter mile oval, and then the running began. I am pretty sure the first steps to winning the 1967 Ivy League Championship were taken that day. But I digress.
Coach Goldberg often reminded us that we were competing against ourselves. Runners who would discipline themselves to defeat the enemy within, would not only finish the race, but would finish well ahead of those who unprepared to press themselves THROUGH the finish line.
Coach urged us to run through tape, not to it. He had a keen eye and a stern word for the runner who slowed down at the finish line in practice. He wanted to see the best at the end of the race, when it counted. For Coach Goldberg, the finish always counted, rain or shine, practice or race day.
Note to self: Christian character always counts, even when it appears no one is looking, and there is no reward in it.
Paul understood what it meant to press on, in spite of persecution. He passed through hostility with an intense pursuit of intimate companionship with Jesus. This companionship developed the character of Jesus in Paul. He did not focus on the enemy chasing him, but The Savior
leading the way. The harder the race, the tighter the grip Jesus had upon Paul.
Paul prayed that he would never lose sight of the goal. This is an unusual word, and can mean an observer or watchman or a distant mark. It is only used one time in the New Testament. It is the root form of the word "scope." It is found in the English language in words like telescope, and microscope, and episcopal. In one sense it is a destination, and in another it is a person. Paul pressed towards Jesus. He sensed His eyes upon his every step of the race.
For Paul, the prize was the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He had reached the point in life that anything that hindered his walk with Jesus was to be thrown down. He held onto earthly honors with a light touch, but he sought the eyes and the tight grip of Jesus upon his life. The prize for Paul would not be found on earth. His focus was on Heaven. Paul sought to run towards Jesus on earth, but longed to be with Him in Heaven.
The race transforms our character on earth, by keeping our eyes on Jesus. Prayer keeps our focus on Him, and not the crisis of the day. Focusing on the crisis is like looking over our shoulder at those who are chasing us. Praying focuses our eyes on the leader of the race and the prize all at the same time... Jesus. TALK LESS! PRAY MORE!