I am not a runner. I tried. I tried really hard to like it and to train. Halfway through my first 5K I decided that I truly had zero interest in running. I may not run, but I’m super competitive any time competition arises. I play to win and am not too pleased when I don’t. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved the verses in the New Testament that compare ministry to a race. I’ve always viewed it as a challenge to win.
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24
As I’ve studied those verses more in recent days, God has opened my eyes to my wrong perceptions. In looking closely at 1 Corinthians 9 and Hebrews 12, I’ve discovered that there are three ways we can run this ministry race:
1. Aimlessly – We can live without intentionality. We can show up, check the boxes, and get the required work done. We can get through each Sunday and Wednesday. We can get by. I don’t believe that is in anyway what God is calling us to do. Verses 26 and 27 say, “So I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
God calls us to be disciplined. He calls us to be intentional. He calls us to excellence and to do ministry well. We are called to do so much more than just show up. We are to run with diligence, trying to be the very best that we can be for the glory of God. The work is way too important to not be taken seriously.
2. Hindered – Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” Too many people in ministry are running hindered and no one even knows. We are wrapped up in pride or selfishness or laziness or jealousy or numbers of other secret sins that we think we have hidden away. We don’t realize how ensnared we are.
We can never be all that God has called us to be when we are wrapped up in sin. Even if no one else knows, God knows. Even if we wear a happy face and look like we have it altogether, God knows. And eventually that sin will trip us up in one way or another. We will stumble. Our efforts in the race will falter. We will not be running in such a way to get the prize.
Friend, do what this verse says. Lay aside whatever is slowing you down. Lay aside whatever is ensnaring you and inhibiting you from running the ministry race God desires for you. Repent. Turn away from whatever it is and run towards the One who heals.
3. For endurance – For most of my twenty years in ministry, I have been full-steam ahead. I believed that running in such a way to get the prize meant I needed to give 150% 24/7. And I could get away with that in my 20’s and 30’s. This year I hit a wall. And in His faithfulness, God showed me the second half of Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.” Run with endurance.
I don’t know much about running, but my understanding is that you can’t start a marathon running your very fastest and expect to maintain that pace for the next several hours as you run 26 miles. You can’t run at 110% for four or five hours. Your body can’t do that. My friend, Jim Wideman, has said many times, ‘Ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.”
God calls us to run with endurance. He isn’t calling us to kill ourselves as we run this race called ministry. He isn’t calling us to just sprint for a little bit. He’s calling us to run this race in a way that we can endure.
I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like in my life, but here’s what I know it doesn’t look like: working 60 hours a week, having ministry on the brain 24/7, not taking time for my own physical and mental health, or prioritizing ministry over family.
While I don’t know exactly what that looks like, I know it looks different than what I’ve been doing for 20 years. And I know that the only “magic answer” lies in Hebrews 12:2, “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The only way to run the race as if to get the prize is by keeping Jesus in our focus. We must not focus on ourselves or on others’ opinions or on any other distraction. By keeping the gospel at the center of every motivation and inclination, we can serve well and finish well.