By Jessica Van Roekel, Crosswalk.com
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. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable wreath.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, ESV
I feel a little like Peter. Hot and cold. Back and forth. Brilliant and not so brilliant. Bold and timid. Peter stepped out on the water in a storm with waves high and low to go to his friend and Savior, Jesus. Onward he lurched, up the wall of water and down again. Then, he saw the waves. He began to sink and immediately Jesus was by his side, holding onto him, and preventing him from drowning. I wonder what caused Peter to look away from Jesus. Did he realize he couldn’t leap back into the boat and he was out of reach of the lifeline of the oars?
Throughout a single day, I waffle between bold faith and the temptation to quit. Life holds so many uncertainties with ministry, outcomes of relationships, and unanswered prayers. I want a guarantee that my efforts in spiritual practices, commitment to God and ministry, and my abiding in Christ will not be wasted. Paul Tournier writes, “Faith demands uncertainty, confusion. The Bible includes many proofs of God’s concern—some quite spectacular—but no guarantees. A guarantee would, after all, preclude faith.” And there lies the challenge: to walk by faith and not by sight, trusting God despite the wind and waves my eyes may see.
The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians about many issues in his letters to them. In this passage, he references running a race. The Corinthians were familiar with races because every other year, they held games called the Isthmian Games, second in importance to the Olympics. The games took place on a narrow strip of land between two larger bodies of land. The athletes competed for a single prize: a wreath, which obviously did not last.
Paul uses this imagery to demonstrate the commitment and determination these athletes had to win a perishable prize. In contrast, Paul tells us we have an imperishable prize when we finish our race—eternity with Christ, which is our ultimate victory. Finishing the race means remaining faithful to Christ throughout our lives. We can demonstrate our faithfulness by exercising self-control, self-discipline, self-denial, and love in our relationships.
To exercise self-control is to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart...” (Matthew 11:29). Gentleness is power under control. It takes a great deal more control to choose gentle responses when our tempers flare. It takes control to still our raging hearts when disappointments pierce them.
Self-discipline can be defined as putting into practice gentleness and patience. It’s applying biblical wisdom to our lives. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us. It’s clothing ourselves with kindness, humility, forgiveness, and compassion. We become active participants in our transformation when we apply discipline to our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.
Denying ourselves means we place obedience to God as our top priority. If he says go, we go. If he says stay, we stay. If he says forgive, we forgive. If he says rejoice, then we rejoice. Obedience sometimes calls us to step out of the boat into a storm, and other times to rest beside still waters. But overall, it requires faith.
Love binds it all together. Our love for God compels us to surrender to him and to seek him. It pulls us toward living a life of faith, with all its uncertainties, and trusting God to finish the work he began in us. Peter is a great example for us—to live boldly for God, even if it means making a few mistakes along the way. In the end, Peter faced uncertainties with an unshakable faith.
Let us lean into the uncertainty faith requires to grow stronger. Let’s run the race with certainty toward our God, knowing his love sustains us.
You are mighty to save, and you reach your hand to me when I feel as though I’m drowning in life’s uncertainties. I put my hand, my heart, and my trust in you. Lead me to a greater depth of faith in you as I walk with you. I commit to finishing the race.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Paul Bradbury
Jessica Van Roekel loves the upside-down life of following Jesus as she journeys to wholeness through brokenness. As an author, speaker, and worship leader, she uses her gifts and experiences to share God’s transformative power to rescue, restore, and renew. She longs for you to know that rejection doesn’t have to define or determine your future when placed in God’s healing hands. Find out more reframingrejectionbook.
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