Running The Race (Part 11) The Prize

    Recently, Krista had quite an experience. She had an opportunity to visit an assisted living place where she encountered a man who was struggling with his mortality. He confessed to her that he did not have long to live, and he did not know where he was going. In essence, she shared the Gospel with him, and that if he confessed his sins and received Christ, he could be assured of being with Him forever. But, the man could not really claim that assurance. Before she left him, she asked him if he would like her to pray with him about it, upon which he agreed. She led him through the sinner’s prayer and when it was over he had tears in his eyes. The next day the man’s son shared how his father told him he would be leaving, but he knew where he was going. The following day the man passed into eternity with assurance. However, he made one statement to Krista that should cause each Christian to consider why they are here. “I have been waiting for someone to come and talk to me about this very matter.” If salvation was the essence of Jesus’ death on the cross, why did He simply not take each of us home as soon as we were saved? Why did He leave His church behind? The answer is found in the man’s statement.

      In past articles I have been writing about running the race. Scripture shows that the race is in relationship to carrying the torch of the Gospel through the world. This torch is not just any torch; it is lit by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Its light is meant to penetrate the darkest places in the world by parting the darkness in man’s very soul. I know this is true because this wonderful message parted the great darkness in my soul, and I have met people who make the same claims. (See Acts 1:4-11; 2:1-4; 1 Corinthians 9:16-27; 2 Corinthians 4:2-6).

      If you were to ask me about the people in my life who stand out the most, they are the ones who had a part in my salvation. I still can see the face of the woman who gave me Chick tracks with the Gospel, the dental assistant who cleaned my teeth while sharing the Gospel, and the two cousins who shared the Gospel with me, as well as took me to church. These are the ones who were carrying the torch whose light penetrated my soul with the hope of Jesus, the hope of being saved from my miserable state, the hope of eternal life. As Romans 10:14 reminds us, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

      Then there are those individuals who were a part of my spiritual growth. Perhaps they taught me an important truth, dropped heavenly wisdom into my soul through some statement, or lifted my arms in prayer; and, there are those whose godly actions left indelible impressions upon me. Each of these individuals reminded me that as a Christian I have been entrusted with something of great importance, something that is a matter of life and death. It is a legacy, one that becomes part of a growing cloud of witnesses in heaven (Hebrews 12:1).

      As Christians we must ask ourselves, “Why are we here?” Is it just to be like the rest of the world, supporting some lifestyle promoted by the world while tacking on Christ or some religious exercise, or trying to survive the demands of each day, or maybe it is leaving a nest egg behind for our children, which is commendable, but will have no real lasting effect in light of eternity?

      Today there are busy people who are trying to leave some type of legacy in this world, but there is only one real legacy that will leave an eternal impression in this world and the age to come, and it is associated with the Gospel. The whole reason Christians have been left behind is to carry the torch of the Gospel, while the Church is responsible to ensure that the torch is lit and remains so.

     The Church is a body of believers, whose head is Jesus. Ephesians 4 is clear about the makeup and purpose of the Church. It is for the edification of others to come into the stature of the fullness of Christ. As a body we are to grow up into Him in all things, bound by love, working for the benefit of the body as a means to reflect the life of Jesus’ light to the rest of the world ((Mark 16:15-16;Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). I am not here to debate the technicality of certain Scriptures, the commands surrounding the Great Commission or the latest methods. Scripture is consistent that believers, the Church, are responsible for sharing the Gospel, promoting the Gospel, and ensuring the furtherance of the Gospel in whatever arena its members are placed. We who belong to this body have been given the great commission to further the Kingdom of God in hearts and minds, which clearly points to the fact that the Church is not here to entertain Christians into some lulled state of false happiness in our pews, but to challenge them to obtain the real prize of heaven.  The Apostle Paul stated, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Larry Spargimino in the “Prophetic Observer” gave this illustration in light of the parable of the wineskins found in Matthew 9:15-17, “Those who are new wineskins are on the move. They are obedient to the Great Commission. New wine will inflame a sense of mission and purpose. Old wineskins will sit within the confines of the church buildings and complain about all the bad people ‘out there.’”

      As a ministry, our goal is two-fold: to keep the Gospel message at the forefront and to equip saints to be those runners who will faithfully carry the lit torch of the Gospel. Through the years, the Lord has provided us with team members who have been faithful to lift up our arms in support through friendship, prayers, and financial provision. I have not only had a great sense of appreciation for these silent partners, but I have been in awe of how God shows His faithfulness through His saints. They have taught me that regardless of whether my particular platform or calling is visible or not, I must always resolve to be faithful, with whatever arena God establishes me in, to do my part regardless of how small or insignificant it might be to others. These precious co-laborers believe in our mission and have entrusted us to carry it out. What we often do in this ministry is our “reasonable service,” but what our silent team members faithfully do behind the scenes is the sweet savor that reaches heaven, for there is nothing as sweet as the unseen faithfulness of a saint in the matters of His kingdom (Luke 16:10-13).

      As Christians we must face the inevitable: our time on earth is short and we must redeem the time in light of our great commission to ensure we do not squander our time, energy, or resources. One day life as we know it will come to an end, but for Christians this present life points to the fact that the completion of our particular walk through this world was actually ordained before the foundation of the world, and the finish of this great marathon race that each of us are to run actually started over 2,000 years ago (Ephesians 2:8-10; 5:15-17).

      As believers we were given a new life along with marching orders that required us to walk in faith, and provided us with “footwear” that would allow us to run the race carrying the torch of the Gospel of Peace. As a church we know that we have been given the dispensation of grace to carry out our commission, effective gifts and talents to carry out our responsibilities, and the authority and power of His Spirit to be victorious in the end (Matthew 28:18-20; Romans 12:4-11; 2 Corinthians 5:7; Ephesians 3:2; 6:15).

      As I wind down this topic of what it means to run the race, I must admit in all the years I have been involved with this world, I have never known a serious runner who did not run to gain the prize, a competitor who did not do his or her best to win the awards, and teams that did not give their all to win the ultimate trophy. In fact, those who did not have the heart to give their all, a disciplined mind to remain focused on the prize, and the will to see a competition through to the end were eventually weeded out.

      I say all of this to challenge every Christian. My challenge is simple: are you running the race, and if so, is it to gain the prize? Salvation is a gift, but the prize is given upon finishing the course. First Corinthians 3:13-15 tells us that our works will go through the fire to prove their quality. A person still can be saved, but their works consumed in the fire. I have always believed that what is left of our works will be offered back to the Lord. I don’t know about you but it would be a point of shame to offer back to Him ashes in light of what He did for us on the cross.

      I have met many Christian runners through the years. Some were obviously running with great urgency, but others were pacing themselves. There were other runners who were dealing with injuries, but still limping along, while there were those who were barely advancing forward due to weariness from the hardness they encountered, and occasionally I encountered those who needed to rest for a while before continuing on. Some were confused because there were mixed signs, others had become lost because they got off the path, and there were a few who were sitting in the middle of the path until they were encouraged by other runners to get up and continue the race.

      There are various reasons why the runners are at different points in their life. First of all, Christians are in different places because they are at various spiritual levels. Others are struggling because their church and mentors failed to prepare them to be runners and some runners are faithful to move forward even when confused and unsure, trusting that the Lord will get them where they need to be. But, the one reality is that such runners are not on the sidelines or playing armchair quarterbacks in old wineskins; rather, they are in the race. They may not be out in front and they may not be seen by men, but the Lord sees them being faithful in small ways, while entrusting them with being part of the greater picture while supporting other runners along the way. But, what is important is that these runners know their place in the race. They are not trying to run in someone else’s lane nor are they trying to gain someone else’s prize. They understand their place because they understand their high calling, and whether it is significant to others is not important because their vision is focused on the prize.

      The real virtue each runner possesses who finishes the race is something I have already mentioned: faithfulness. As a runner, I can tell you there are many obstacles to overcome, and at times I could not see the finish line, but I always knew it was there. There were times when the real reason for my being here became clouded, but I knew the Lord would faithfully get me back on track. I lost my way at other times and the Lord used circumstances or people to put me back on track. At times He would even remind me of the importance and urgency for me to run the race.

      The truth is we as believers are all part of this great race against death, the death of souls. I don’t know about you but when I pass people, I wonder what path they are on: the broad path or the narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14). I wonder if they are prepared to face God in eternity or whether their death will be a door that opens to the great abyss. I wonder…. I would like to know everyone I pass is saved, and as Christians that should be our main concern. I can’t save people, but I can avail myself to be a vessel, and instrument of God in whatever arena and capacity I might find myself in.

      Availability is the key issue when it comes to being used of God. Whether it is family, friends, associates, enemies, or the masses, our main heart desire should and must be to see people saved. I am not just here for those I like or think are worthy: I am here for God to reach the unreachable and save those who are lost and seem hopeless. I am available not because I am noble, but because I love God and God loves humanity. While I was yet in the loins of my forefathers, destined for a tormenting eternity, God commended His love for me and offered up His Son on my behalf (Romans 5:8).  While I was yet lost, He found me, and when I was the most hopeless, He gave me hope.  Although harsh, writer David Daniels made this statement, “It is hate to let the lost perish unforgiven and go to the lake of fire.”

      We often have an unrealistic concept of love. As we read in 1 Corinthians 13, godly love is active, committed, pure, true, and faithful. It is hard to remember that the opposite of love is, in most cases, indifference. Indifference is a type of hate. Granted, it is not touting anger or vengeance, but it is saying, “I don’t care what happens to you.” True love cannot remain indifferent when life and death is the issue. True, godly love wants to see people saved; it wants to see people win the great race of life.

      The question is what prize are we as Christians trying to gain? We already know it is not eternal life for we have been given that at our new birth experience. In Philippians 3:8 the Apostle Paul talked about winning Christ. He went on to spell out what he hoped to gain in Philippians 3:10, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” It is clear that the Apostle Paul’s main goal was to gain Christ, and a greater identification to and in Him.

      In Colossians 1:27, the Apostle Paul made this statement, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” On earth the glory of God is veiled, but as Christians we have been touched by His glory, are called to reflect His glory, and to always walk in light of His glory, but in the world to come, we will live in His unadulterated glory forever.

      The Apostle Paul stated that there was more awaiting us in the next age to come. In Ephesians 1:13 he talked about believers being sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, and then he went on to say in Ephesians 1:14, “Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” We are redeemed and we are identified to an eternal inheritance by the presence of the Spirit in us, but when we finally come into our inheritance, we will receive the fullness of our redemption. In other words, our redemption will be completed in the future.

      According to Ephesians 2:6, we have been positionally raised up in heavenly places in Christ, but 2:7 states, “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” God has shown each generation grace, but we will experience grace in greater measure when we reside in the midst of the Lord Jesus Christ who is grace and truth (John 1:16-17).

      In 2 Timothy 4:7, the Apostle Paul made this declaration at the end of his life, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” And, what reward was he looking for, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” When you finish your course will you be able to make the same declaration that you will receive a crown of righteousness because you ran the race in light of Jesus coming again?

      In Hebrews 11:35, it talks about those who desired a greater resurrection when it came to the next age. Did these individuals of faith see this as a great reward for being faithful? The reality is we will only gain that which we prize the most and eagerly pursue. If we do not prize our heavenly rewards, we will never put the type of effort in to run the race and finish the course. This has and always will be the great test of every runner and remains so for the Christian runner. What do you value most, Christ or this world? What do you desire most: to please Christ or yourself? What causes you the greatest concern, maintaining the riches of this world or losing sight of the value God has put on souls? What do you want to possess in the end, an earthly inheritance or a heavenly legacy?

      We could try to imagine what the reward, prize, and crown is that is awaiting us as believers. No doubt the fullness of eternity will unfold before us in the next age as to the untold riches that we have in Christ. But, the Apostle Paul put it best in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”

      There you have it. We can’t begin to imagine what is awaiting us in the age to come, but I know one thing, Christ is waiting for me and I do not want to face a loving Savior and a committed Lord who is ashamed or disappointed in me because I did not love Him enough to run the race and complete it. In essence, my reward would be to hear Him say, “Well done.”