My youngest opened his hand and inside was a purple star patch. The boys had just finished a session at Tae Kwon Do.
“What’s it for? Why did you get it?” I asked.
“It’s for discipline. I had good discipline today.”
In Tae Kwon Do, good discipline is standing still while waiting for the Master to give instructions, with hands behind the back. It is also demonstrated by listening to the Master and speaking with respect.
“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.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
In this passage, Paul uses the analogy of athletics to explain the Christian journey. Just as an athlete needs self-discipline to train in order to excel in their sport, we too need self-discipline to run the race of faith. For the Christian, our goal and prize is not an earthly treasure like a trophy or medal or the accolades of adoring fans, rather it is the heavenly rewards we will receive in eternity.
Paul here speaks of self-discipline in training ourselves spiritually. We need to keep our eyes focused on the goal: Christ and eternity with Him. In Philippians 3:14, he says:
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Self-discipline for the Christian is pressing on and staying in the race because we know what awaits us in eternity.
Just as an athlete has equipment they use in their training, we do as well. The tools we use in our training is the Word of God and prayer. Staying in the Word, reading it, meditating on it, believing it, trusting it, and saturating our heart with it’s truth is part of our daily discipline. Also, keeping an ongoing conversation with God all day in prayer is a crucial aspect to our training.
In athletics, when an athlete doesn’t commit to their training, their muscles become weak and flabby. The same happens to us spiritually when we don’t stay focused on the truth of God’s Word and stay connected to Him in prayer. Our spiritual strength weakens and we become vulnerable to distractions, to sin, and to despair. We can wander off the path and get turned around from our goal and destination.
But we are never alone. God is always with us. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Just like an athlete’s trainer is there to encourage and push an athlete to stay in the race, the Spirit prompts us when we wander. He reminds of God’s Word and points us back to the path. Even when we fail in our self-discipline, God’s grace always leads us back to Him.
May we remain focused on our future hope in Christ and run to win the race. May we be strengthened by God’s Word and remain connected to Him in prayer. And when we wander, may the grace of God pull us back in the race and push us forward to our heavenly goal.