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On Faith: Running the Christian race

"Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one." 1 Corinthians 9: 24-25

Since sports both locally and nationally have been really ramping up in the last few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate to have a sports-themed column for this week. I find these two scripture verses from St. Paul to be very helpful because he is using a sports image to evoke a comparison to what our life of faith should look like.

In the verses cited above, St. Paul is writing to the Corinthians, who were Greek, and sport and races were very important to them. For example, the Olympic games originated in 776 B.C. in Olympia, Greece.

Thus, St. Paul uses an analogy that would have resonated very well with the Corinthian mind and culture in order to teach the Corinthians about the level of devotion and discipline that they should strive for in regard to their Christian faith. He is basically saying that all of the athletes who run in races train vigorously so that they may have the best chance to win. And they do this for a crown of leaves, which withers and wastes away.

How much more then, should a Christian "run the race so as to win" in order to attain the crown of everlasting life in heaven, crowned as one of God's saints?

The really neat thing is that this sports image is just as applicable to us today. Many of you play sports, or have kids or grandkids who do. And you know firsthand just how much money, time, training and effort goes into preparing for game day. And as much fun as sports can be, both to play and to watch, they are temporary, and they are, after all, just a game. They last only for a time. And while they may produce lasting and cherished memories, they don't have eternal value.

However, the spiritual journey of this life, living the Christian faith and challenging ourselves to grow deeper in our relationship with God and to live a virtuous and upright moral life does have eternal effect.

I know that this is challenging, but it's an important question that we need to ask ourselves: If we spend a lot of time, money, effort and energy on a sport — or musical instrument, hobby, interest, etc. — that produces only temporary effects and has no eternal significance, how much more time, energy, resources and effort should we spend on our spiritual development and relationship with God, which has tremendous eternal significance?

It's a good point, and one that we have to courageously consider. Are sports, music, hobbies such as hunting and fishing, or any other recreational activity, more important to me than my relationship with God?

If the answer to that question is "yes," then the solution is not necessarily to quit our recreational activities — they are an important and necessary part of a healthy human life — but to take time to reorder our priorities. This life is just a temporary pilgrimage to an eternal one after we die. What we do here in this life determines where we'll be in the next.

In that case, let's run the race of life so as to win the imperishable crown of glory that God longs to give to us in heaven.

God bless you!

"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.