Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! Everyone who competes for the prize is disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Therefore, I run not with uncertainty. Thus, I fight, not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and I run with purpose in every step. 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27
When you look at the word race, it comes from the Greek word agon, which is where we get the word agony. It is no surprise that a race might be considered agonizing. In a race, endurance and determination must prevail over difficulties. Races are often excruciating, heartbreaking, and distressing. Much training and discipline by athletes are required to compete in a race. Many times, the athlete experiences physical pain due to injuries or intensive physical training. However, to win the prize by winning the race, the athlete must make purposeful sacrifices that include pain. The phrases “No pain, no gain!” and “Know pain, know gain!” represent this common understanding among athletes. Athletes understand what is required of them to obtain their goal, to win the race. They complete their training with excellence to win the race. You can do this in your life. You can win your life’s race by setting end-goals and training with discipline to accomplish them.
Superstars! Legends! Hall of Famers! Failures???
We can learn how to win through aspects of failure from the best athletes in the world. Take baseball legend and Hall of Famer Babe Ruth. He struck out almost two times as many home runs that he hit. Yet we refer to this legend as “The Sultan of Swat” because of how many home-runs he hit, not how many times he struck out.
Holding 60 NHL records including the most goals, Wayne Gretzky is considered by many to be the greatest hockey player of all time. Yet, he didn’t score the most goals because he was on the best team. He scored the most goals because he did not let a fear of failure inhibit his success. He said that “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Former professional soccer player, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion, Mia Hamm knows how to win. Yet, she teaches us that “Failure happens all the time. It happens every day in practice. What makes you better is how you react to it.” This is further emphasized by football Legend Vince Lombardi who said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get up.”
Lastly, another legend teaches us about discipline to training, and willingness to take a risk. The NBA superstar Michael Jordan had this to say about his career: I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Defeat and failure can be agonizing. All athletes experience failure. But not every athlete gets to win the prize. It’s critical to push on and run the race in the face of failure. Run with purpose. It is the only way to win your end-goal.
My Eternal Prize
The passage from 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27 teaches about the importance of prioritizing life’s goals to pursue victory in the Kingdom of God, the ‘eternal prize.’ Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, however, all of us can learn from this philosophy. This passage can be used to help us prioritize the big things that matter to us in our lives. Maybe we want a promotion at work, or to buy a home or a new car. Maybe we want to start a non-profit business or write a book. Maybe we want to be great parents or community leaders. Whatever your prizes are, you must make them a priority. When we start with our ‘eternal prize,’ or those big end-goals that we have for ourselves, we can begin to establish the discipline necessary to achieve them. While we know that it might be agonizing to put forth so much time and effort in training, we can take joy in knowing that we are racing towards our prize! With every bit of pain, we experience, we take one step closer to winning. It is critical to keep putting forth the effort, even in the face of adversity, to be victorious, to win!