Only this I want, but to know the Lord and to bear His cross so to wear the crown he wore. Please repeat these words except this time read them out loud. “Only this I want, but to know the Lord and to bear His cross so to wear the crown he wore.” These words, “only this I want” captured in the song of the same title written by Dan Schutte are incredibly powerful, but are they true in our lives?
The Bible tells us to run after the prize of Jesus Christ and to run to win. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 says:
“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. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
Are we driven to make Christ first in our lives? Like an Olympic athlete trains, do we train spiritually each day through prayer and study of Scripture? Is living for Christ the most important thing in our lives? Is Jesus all we want?
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve, sin has caused us to stumble and fall. Sin creates barriers and obstacles in our race for the Lord. But we must press on with athletic zeal keeping our eyes fixed on the prize.
Let’s examine another verse by Paul. Again he uses a sports analogy to make the point of how important it is to be focused. In 1 Tim 4:7-8 he says:
“I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance…”
I love Paul’s sports analogy. In high school I participated in many sports and I was average in most. Track and Field was the one sport in which I excelled. In 1973 when I was a sophomore in high school and my older brother was a senior we shared our 5 minutes of sports fame. Our team had just won a track meet. What made this victory special is that he and I both participated in the maximum number of events and our combined score exceeded that of the entire other team and together we won the meet. We were both clearly focused that day with our eyes on the prize of victory. So much for my walk down memory lane, what does this have to do with you and me and our relationship with Jesus Christ?
If keeping our eyes on Christ is the most important thing in our lives, why do we all have such difficulty doing so? What gets in our way? Somehow we manage to put all kinds of obstacles in the way.
Thomas à Kempis in his book Imitations of Christ expanded on Ecclesiastes 1:2 when he wrote:
“Vanity of Vanities and all is vanity, except to love God, and serve Him only. This is the highest wisdom, by contempt of the world to press forward towards heavenly kingdoms.”
“Vanity therefore it is to seek after perishing riches, and to trust in them. Vanity also it is to hunt after honours and to climb to high degree. Vanity it is to follow the desires of the flesh, and to long after that for which thou must afterwards suffer grievous punishment. Vanity it is to wish to live long, and be careless to live well. Vanity it is to mind only this present life, and not to foresee those things which are to come. Vanity it is to set thy love on that which speedily passeth away, and not to hasten thither where everlasting joy abideth.”
Let’s look at another track story. One day while running hurdles my brother, who was a much better athlete than me, caught his foot on one of the hurdles and he landed sprawled out on the track. In those days we did not have rubberized track surfaces, this was an old time cinder track. He was a bloody mess. He ended up in the hospital where they worked for a few hours picking out cinders from his hands, legs, arms and knees. For several weeks afterwards cinders were still working their way out of his wounds. To this day he still shows some of the scars from his nasty fall.
It occurred to me when contemplating on Paul’s analogy of running a race that the obstacles in a track and field competition are like the litany of vanities listed by Thomas à Kempis. For a high jumper and pole vaulter the bar is the obstacle. For a long jumper it is the stretch of asphalt between the launch board and the sand, for the long distance runner the obstacle is the sheer distance itself and of course as I stated for the hurdler the hurdles are the obstacles. Of course in our everyday life it is the vanities listed above plus other temptations and sinful habits that distract our eyes from the prize of Jesus Christ.
Paul goes on to emphasize the importance of being focused on Christ when he states things this way in Philippians 3: 7-8
“But whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ. More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ”
And further in that verse he says this: Philippians 3: 13-14
“Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.”
My brothers and sisters, when we take our eyes off the prize of Jesus Christ we stumble and fall. Sin is real. Sin seeks to see us fall. When we are distracted by sin and fall we can end up, like my brother did when he stumbled, one big bloody mess. When this happens we need to let the great healer, Jesus Christ, remove the stones of sin from our wounds and allow His caring caress to heal all of our scars. After He has cleaned us up we must re-enter the race knowing this time He runs with us to the finish line.
With just over a week to go in our Lenten journey, let’s spend some time today reflecting on our race. What are our obstacles? What is likely to trip us up? Then with the focus of a world class athlete, let’s remain focused on the Lord and winning the prize of eternal life. Now with the Holy Spirit at our side, with the training of prayer and scripture study, and with an unending strong faith in Jesus Christ let’s stretch forward to the finish line a winner.
Lord, help me to always know you are at my side in the race we call life. Help me always to have the courage to get up when I stumble, to accept your forgiveness and to always strive forward to the finish line of eternity with you.