Run to Obtain the Prize: Take All of the Spiritual Exercises Seriously

by Ellen Buchanan - May 11, 2011

While reminiscing about my years on the high school track team, a specific memory of a monotonous exercise brought to light the danger of ignoring spiritual exercises.

Some of my most treasured memories of athletics are from my years of competition for my high school’s track team. The coaches were strict and held very high expectations for us, but they also exercised great wisdom with us, making sure that our workouts were designed so we finished practice plenty exhausted, but never so exhausted that we would run the risk of injury.

I still vividly remember the daily workouts we did as a team. One of our workouts involved circuit training in the weight room. Each station would isolate and work a system of muscles that contributed to the running process. This made sense because a runner needs all components of the run to work efficiently, and it is easier to address each component in isolation before putting all of the components together.

Some of the stations had apparent objectives that clearly tied into the various races and field events. Others, however, were strange, monotonous and flat-out boring.

The epitome of monotony

There was one station I remember distinctly because it was the epitome of monotony. It was a station consisting of several benches where we had to sit and move our arms.

That’s it.

Move our arms.

While sitting, we had to focus on keeping our arms at 90 degree angles and swinging them back and forth to the tempo shouted out by the coach. We had to do this while lifting the opposite heels to simulate taking strides. The team had a hard time taking this exercise seriously because, in honesty, how hard can swinging your arms be? Perhaps it gets slightly more complicated when you coordinate an arm swing with raising an opposite foot, but the difficulty is negligible. So, long story short, no one cared too much about this particular station.

But we had to do it. Why? Because swinging our arms correctly helped us run faster, and faster runners won races. And we wanted to win races.

Paul and the spiritual prize

While writing to the Corinthians, Paul related our spiritual journey to a race: “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” (1 Corinthians 9:24, English Standard Version).

As I reflected on this scripture and my experience as a runner, I realized that the same apathy shown toward certain exercises by the members of the track team could seep into our spiritual lives. Are there spiritual exercises that we disregard because of their supposed monotony? What is the eventual impact of this?

Paul establishes three facts about running races in his analogy:

  1. A runner’s primary objective in a race is to obtain a prize.
  2. Many people run, but only one runner wins the race and receives the prize.
  3. The runner who receives the prize receives it because of the way she runs the race.

He then tells the Corinthians to “run” in such a way that they may obtain the prize.

So, if we are running a spiritual race to obtain a prize, but only the runners who run a certain way obtain the prize, then we have to train ourselves to run the race in a certain way.

Thorough spiritual training

So, we have to undergo thorough spiritual training. Our spiritual training has to be rigorous, making sure every single component is working properly. We have to work on the apparent things, the “strides,” such as following the spiritual law, Bible study and prayer.

But we also must take seriously the spiritual exercises that may seem irrelevant, boring or monotonous, perhaps the meditation, the expression of gratefulness, the recognition of blessings or the exercise of patience with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These exercises are easy to ignore because of their simplicity, but their impact on our spiritual race are substantial. Disregarding them would be detrimental to our objective: running the spiritual race to obtain the prize. If we ignore the required small exercises, we will not obtain the prize.

When we train to run our spiritual race, we have to make sure that we do our due diligence in undergoing all of the spiritual exercises and work all of the spiritual muscles. By doing this, we will run the race and win the spiritual prize.

Ellen Buchanan is a member of the Houston North congregation of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, and is currently studying accounting at Houston Baptist University. She loves playing sports and creative writing. 

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