“Train yourself to be godly. Physical training is good, but
training for godliness is much better, promising
benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
(I Timothy 4:7-8)
Thoughts… I like the way The Message renders this verse: “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”
Paul must have been an athlete, or at least a big sports fan. Just think about the variety of sports analogies Paul uses in his writings. He talks about wrestling…“we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood,” he says in Ephesians 6:12. He talks about boxing in I Corinthians 9:26…“I don’t fight like a man beating the air.” In the next verse, he talks about physical training… “I discipline my body like an athlete.” (v. 27) But the sports analogy that Paul uses most often is that of a runner. In Philippians 3:14, Paul pictures himself as a runner leaning into the tape to get the prize at the finish line: “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
Paul was quite deliberate in ridding his life of spiritual flabbiness and training for godliness. He wasn’t passive about his spiritual fitness; he didn’t leave it up to chance. Nor should you! Looking at Paul’s training regimen, here are four training tips that you too can follow to achieve the spiritual fitness necessary to excel in your Christian race:
Training Tip #1: Don’t forget who you are running for! If you want to run strong and finish well, remember you are running for a heavenly prize: The approbation of a previous running champion, Jesus Christ! Remember the great cost in the race he won to pave the way for you.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Training Tip #2: Don’t look back! Philippians 3:13-14 says, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
You might remember the inspiring true story of missionary Eric Liddell in the movie Chariot’s of Fire. He ran in the 1924 Paris Olympics. One of the athletes comes close, but loses his race, so the coach shows him a picture of the finish, which reveals why he lost. The runner took his eyes off the finish line and looked to the side at the other runners. That’s the cardinal rule of running: don’t look back; to run a fantastic race, focus on the finish. Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”
What are the weights and sins that entangle you and keeps you from running your race? I Corinthians 9:25 says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.” Paul says you’ve got to shed those pounds if you are going to pursue the prize!
Training Tip #3: Train with champions. Who are you training with? Who are you hanging out with? Who is speaking into your life—and what is the message they are speaking? Who and what are influencing your life and your walk with God.
Paul knew the reality of good and bad influences upon the race, and he talked about it in Philippians 3:15-19: “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.”
When Don Shula first began coaching the Miami Dolphins he showed film of the then NFL champion Baltimore Colts. The Dolphin not only watched the Colt execute plays with precision, they saw how the Colts encouraged each other between plays. They’d help each other up…pat each other on the back. Shula challenged the Dolphins to imitate the Colts during the play and after the whistle was blown. “That’s the way to become champions,” Shula said. And they did—becoming the last team to go undefeated in a season and win the championship.
Find a find spiritual champion and learn from them. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you…”
Training Tip #4: Keep your eye on the prize. Philippians 3:20-21 reminds us, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
There is nothing wrong with envisioning the reward at the finish line. We’re all motivated by the thought of a reward; God designed us that way. I Corinthians 9:25-26 (LB) says, “To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best…but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.”
If you’re going to make it to the finish line, you need eternal motivation. That’s why you’ve got to fix your eye on Jesus. His rewards never fade or perish.
You are in a race—the race of your life—so train yourself to be godly! Keep your eye on the prize. Train with champions—get some good people on your spiritual fitness team. Don’t look back—forget yesterday’s failures and successes. Remember the One you are running for.
And by all means, run strong and finish well!
Prayer… Father, the prize at the end of my spiritual race is worth every effort I can make now to get fit, run strong, and finish well. I will press on to win that prize. Strengthen me for my race in such a way that I will hear you say, “well run, good and faithful servant.”
One More Thing… “For a small reward, a man will hurry away on a long journey; while for eternal life, many will hardly take a single step.”— Thomas A` Kempis