I read through 1 Corinthians not long ago. It's one of my absolute favorite books in the Bible, because it has so many really challenging ideas in it (Some of which I'd like to write about on here, but as I said before, I'm lazy and don't write near as much as I should). Just as I tend to be a little lazy with my schoolwork, it's really easy for me to get lazy in my spirituality. And I imagine the same is true for many, many Christians, at least in America. We go to church on Sundays, get our sampling of Jesus for the week, and relax on the easychair of mediocrity until the next Sunday. Here's what 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
This is probably my favorite passage in 1 Corinthians. It brings to my mind the numerous sports movies where the main characters really suck at their sport until they enter a musically accompanied montage of push-ups, sit-ups, jump rope, and stair-running. It doesn't allow for a weak, easygoing Christianity. It demands discipline. It demands commitment. It demands growth. It demands maturity. We get so content with having an ankle-deep spiritual life. We don't put forth serious effort to know about Jesus and God's Word. We tolerate the same old sins and don't reach out for holiness. We'd rather watch another re-run on TV instead of tell our hell-bound friends and family about Christ. How many of us "run aimlessly"? We're alright with our lives being the same old thing with no vision to moving closer to God. In word, we coast.
My house is situated on a hill with a pretty slight incline. When I was in fourth grade, I would ride my bike to the end of the street, which was the top of the hill, and then I would peddle as hard as I could for a little bit, then stop peddling and see how far I could get just by coasting, and it was usually a pretty long ways. One time, however, I peddled and peddled, but as I began to coast, I decided to pull into my driveway instead of go all the way down the street. Unfortunately, I was going so fast that my turn into the drive way was a little wider than I anticipated, and I slammed full speed into my basketball pole. I had the entire driveway at my disposal, but fate directed me to that five-inch diameter location. Upon impact, my body stopped at the spot while my bike slid several more feet before I gingerly limped into the house with a very sore bum.
Another time, I was in high school, and I was at Ozark for one of their high school events. Ozark is also built on a hill, though much steeper, and Charlie and I decided that it would be a good idea to have a race by rolling down the hill. We didn't anticipate the vast quantity of sticks and walnuts that would be laying on the ground, and we soon both discovered that rolling down that hill was a bad idea. But neither of us could stop, so we both painfully let gravity take its toll on our bodies.
The point of these unfortunate memories is this: when you start coasting, it's hard to change direction. You can't just stop on a dime. Once we recognize our own spiritual obesity, training ourselves into fitness is hard. It requires discipline, endurance, and purpose. With God's help, we force our bodies and our minds to become subject to our wills as we align our wills with Christ's. We get off our lazy duffs and move. We progress. We move forward. We stop being bums and start being athletes. We feed ourselves instead of just letting others force food down our underworked gullets. We "press on toward the goal" as Paul writes in Philippians 3:14.
It's normal to accept an easy life. No one likes pain or hard work. But sometimes, that's what makes us healthy. A body never gets stronger unless some stress gets placed on it. So don't coast. Sprint toward God. It might be an uphill run, but it's worth the effort. As Paul said, the prize waits for us at the ends of the race. Everyone who has effort dumped out an entire box of cereal just to get to the trinket at the bottom knows that a prize is worth fighting for. And I'm confident that the prize that awaits us is better than a decoder ring or a plastic top, any day.