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The Key to Success



I spent this past weekend at the State Track Meet.

I saw a lot of incredible performances.

Watching athletes run is almost a spiritual experience for me. I think the Apostle Paul was kind of like me, too.

The Apostle Paul seemed to be a fan of Greek Athletics and made a lot of spiritual applications of running in particular.

The Apostle Paul used a racing metaphor in I Corinthians 9:24-27 which makes a lot of sense since Corinth was home to the Isthmian Games every 3 years. Athletics were very important in Greek society.

1 Corinthians 9:24
24 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.

What do we learn from this?

Excellence is a virtue.

It seems we have become a people who celebrate mediocrity and teach young people that—if they just show up—they deserve a participation ribbon.

Each day we all have the same opportunities that everyone has to increase into more or decrease into less.

This teaching from Paul is a picture of more than a race; it’s also a picture of life.

In life there are winners and losers.

College student Daisy Rush, from Southern Wesleyan University, listed five truths that our entitled society needs to hear.

1. Every injustice is not a personal offense against who you are.
Stop seeing excuses in everything. If you didn’t get the part, or the position, or the A+, it is not because you are …..whatever, or the coach hates you, or you’re boy or your’e a girl. Maybe you didn’t get it because you weren’t good enough. By allowing people to see everything as a direct insult, we are not holding them accountable.

2. We raise our kids to be protected from failure.
Failure is not a bad thing. You need failure in order to be successful. You need failure in order to be humble. Making mistakes and messing up is a part of being human, and sometimes it is the best part. Losing every so often won’t scar you for life; it will teach you to appreciate the things that you work your butt off for. And…for Young People…if you never fail when you’re a child, you won’t be prepared to fail as an adult, when it matters.

3. We treat every graduation as a huge accomplishment.
As the school year comes to a close, Facebook is flooded with kindergarten graduation photos, middle school graduation photos, and endless high school graduation celebrations. And sure, congratulations are necessary. Congratulations on making it through the easiest part of your life! Yes, graduating elementary and secondary school is an accomplishment. I’m going to an 8th grade graduation this week. But, moving on to another grade in every grade before college is also free and required by law. Don’t celebrate just making it through. Celebrate when you have overcome, or gone above and beyond.

4. We give second chances. And thirds. And fourths. And fifths.
When did it become okay to settle? There is no reason to keep letting unhealthy things – and people – back into your life. By burning bridges, you are not being unforgiving. You are being strong.

5. It is okay to not be the best at something.
You know what happens when you win everything? You stop caring. And now, with every young player getting a trophy or medal regardless of the outcome, coaches and parents take away the feeling of accomplishment. It also teaches kids that they deserve a reward, no matter how they act. This is not an attitude we want to carry with us as we grow up. There are no gold stars in the real world. You may fail but try harder, run farther, and pull through. Don’t just coast on easy success, but see an opportunity and give it your all. It is okay to not be the best. But, it is not okay not to try.

God expects us to be the best at running the race we are running.

God expects us to run to obtain it.
“You mean God expects something of me?”

Build the boat and He’ll send the flood.
Put it all on the altar and He’ll send the fire.
Walk around the walls and He’ll tear them down.
Run the race and He’ll give you a prize!

You may get uncomfortable, but you must keep running.
You may get sore, but you must keep running.
You may get hurt, but you must keep running.
You may fall down, but you will get up, because you must keep running!
You may get knocked down, but you’re not going to sit there on the ground and whine, are you? No, you’re going to get up and keep running!

It’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it!

Your momma can’t run this race for you!
Your Grandma can’t run this race for you!
Your spouse can’t run this race for you!
I can’t run this race for you!

We all have to show up, suit up, sweat it up, and keep running until Jesus shows up here, there, or in the air!

Run to win! The prize is going to be worth it.

He mentions the prize in the next verse.

1 Corinthians 9:25
25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

The early Olympic athletes were not motivated my money, but by the opportunity to wear a crown and the crown they won was only made up of twisted vines.

It was perishable, but God offers us a prize that is imperishable.

Definition of Imperishable:
Enduring Forever

Do you know that there is a prize that will endure forever waiting for everyone who finishes the race?

Or—in other words—everyone who gives their life to Christ, will receive the prize of eternal life.

Paul mentions this prize in 1 Corinthians 15. (Whenever you read the word “imperishable” I want you to say out loud, “enduring forever.”)

1 Corinthians 15:50-58
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

How? How can we run the race so that we will win the prize that will endure forever?

Paul told us the key in verse 25. Let’s read it again.

1 Corinthians 9:25
25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.

The key to winning the prize is: Self-Control.

The key to success in life: Self-Control.

Do you have self-control?

This dog does! Click here: A Dog with Self-Control

This dog has a lot more self-control than some of the people I know.

Which is sad because…we are not animals!

Did you know?

Giraffes are known for using their tongues to clean out their noses.

Jackals scarf decomposing or diseased flesh, even if it’s been rotting for days. When lions and tigers are done with their kills, jackals will gladly move in for the sloppy seconds. They pass this practice along to their pups, teaching them to not let anything go to waste by putting food on the dinner table via their gag reflex. Yes, jackal parents actually feed their young with their own throw up every few hours to prevent starvation. If the pups get full, no worries — the jackals will just re-eat their regurgitation.

Cows can expel a half-gallon of gas every minute.

And my dog decided it would be appropriate to poop in my bedroom floor, my daughter’s floor, and then proceed to eat all of the cat poop in the litter box!

Why? Because my dog—unlike that freak of nature that can keep doggie biscuits on his nose—has no self-control.

Do you have self-control?

If you’re a Christian, you should?

Galatians 5:22,23
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.

As I wrap this post up and finish this passage, we see some of the characteristics of someone who has self-control.

26 So I do not run aimlessly;

People with self-control run with purpose.

Do you remember this scene from Alice in Wonderland?

Here’s how it reads in the book?

Cheshire Cat: Where are you going?
Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Where are you going?

In track, you get disqualified if you leave your lane or step on the inside lane. One of my athletes ran 2 miles in record time, only to find out that he’d crossed over too soon to the inside lane.

Running aimlessly leads you off course.
Running aimlessly may also trip others up.

Mothers and Fathers, are you concerned that your lack of self-control might cause your kids to stumble?

Parents, are you so lacking self-control that you are incapable of teaching your children to have self-control?

Do we realize how vulnerable we leave our children when we don’t teach them to have self-control?

Proverbs 25:28
A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Let me write it this way:

A child without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Are you concerned that your lack of self-control may cause another Christian to stumble?

Running straight is so much easier when your focus is on something straight ahead of you. My high school track coach, Coach O’Brien, taught me to focus on the old oak tree just beyond the finish line. When I was tired and starting to waiver and wander, I’d focus on that tree–just beyond the finish line–and run to it.

I have something, or someone, you can focus on.

Hebrews 12:1-3
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Fix your eyes on Jesus!
People with self-control run with discipline.

1 Corinthians 9:26, 27
I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

This year, my coaching staff and I worked really hard to teach my athletes discipline.

We taught them the importance of controlling each and every step.

We taught them the importance of eating properly.
Early in our season, my relay teams struggled with handing off the baton in the exchange zone. They would drop it and get disqualified. They’d hand it off outside of the exchange zone and get disqualified, so we practiced and practiced and practiced.

They had to measure and mark when they would take off running.

They had to have the discipline to leave—not too late and not too early—but at just the right time.

A couple of questions:

Is your body under your control?

Edmund Hilary the first man who conquered Mount Everest was asked by an interviewer about his passions for climbing mountains. He gave this reply: “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”

Are you conquering yourself?

In the book, The Three Edwards, Thomas Costain described the life of Raynald III, a 14th century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”

After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room.

This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight. But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter.

When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for ten years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year… a prisoner of his own appetite.

Do you eat as one who has his/her body under control?
Do you drink alcohol as one who has self-control?
If you are single and dating, are you exercising self-control sexually?
If you are married, are you demonstrating self-control as you honor your marriage vows.

If we aren’t disciplined enough to control ourselves, we are going to limit the potential we have to be used by God.

Hugo Grotius, the Dutch scholar said it this way, “A man cannot govern a nation if he cannot govern a city, he cannot govern a city if he cannot govern himself, and he cannot govern himself unless his passions are subject to reason.”

Peter the Great of Russia said it this way, “I have been able to conquer an empire, but I have not been able to conquer myself.”

And, the Apostle Paul said it this way,

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. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

In his book, When God Whispers Your Name, Max Lucado writes:

I choose self-control …

I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control. (Max Lucado found in God’s Treasury of Virtues (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 1995), 433.)

What are you going to choose?

©2017 Arron Chambers

Read more about Eats with Sinners.

Read more about Devoted Discipleship.

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