Summary: A sermon on running the race of life, using the Tour De France and the life of Lance Armstrong as illustrations.
Today’s message is entitled "Running The Race." This morning, we’re going to see from the Scriptures that all of life is a race to be run. Now, I realize that you may not feel much like running, at eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning in July. In fact, you may not ever feel much like running. But this kind of running doesn’t involve a cardiovascular workout, nor does it give you blisters. Instead, it gets us from where we are spiritually to where we need to be. And so today, we’re going to look at five principles on how to run that race well. The illustrations I’ll be using come from cycling, and specifically from the Tour De France, which is actually going on right now. In fact, even as we speak, the riders are competing in the eighth stage of the race, which is 136 miles from the town of Sallanches to L’Alpe d’Huez. And hopefully, if anyone here actually speaks French, you will forgive my pronunciation of those names.
But I digress. If you’re not familiar with the Tour De France, it is a 2,126 mile bicycle race through the country of France, conducted in twenty stages over a period of three weeks, an average of over a hundred miles a day. Just for comparison, that’s about the same as riding a bicycle from Richwood, Ohio, all the way to Orlando, Florida, and then back again. The race includes a bit of everything: all-out sprints; long days traveling through the French countryside; agonizing climbs over the Pyrenees mountains; and then terrifying descents from those same mountains, in which the cyclists reach speeds of over seventy miles an hour. The athletes have to contend with all kinds of hazards: narrow streets, blown tires – even small children darting out into the road. And they ride in all kinds of conditions: heat, wind, rain, even hail. In short, it is one of the most grueling athletic contests ever devised by man. And that’s why I chose it as an illustration, because the Tour De France is a lot like our lives. At times our days feel like a sprint, and at others they seem more like a long, slow, painful climb up a mountain. At various times, they can be exhausting or exhilarating; tedious or full of surprises. They can be full of hope and joy, and also discouragement and suffering.
But there is one important difference. In the Tour De France, there will be only one winner, only one man who can stand at the finish wearing the yellow jersey. But in life, every one of us has the potential to win the race; every one of us can receive the victor’s crown and hear the words of our Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant." And that’s what we all want, isn’t it? To please God and receive His praise? Listen to the apostle Paul:
"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
Here, then is the first principle of running well. Training. In every other area of life, we accept the fact that we must train in order to do something well. If you want to become skilled in medicine, or law, or computer programming, or carpentry, or preaching, or anything else, you have to prepare yourself through discipline and study, perhaps years of it. And the same is true when it comes to the practice of Christianity. Becoming spiritually mature; gaining wisdom; discovering and developing our gifts for ministry – these things all require sustained, intentional effort. That’s just the way it works. If we want to grow in Christ, we have to discipline ourselves. We have to pray, and read, and study, and labor to put our faith into practice. Paul, in this passage, uses the example of an athlete in training for the Olympics, because of the intense commitment that athletes need in order to win. They give themselves completely to their sport, training their minds and bodies for excellence. And his point is this: If they are so dedicated and determined; if they are so willing to sacrifice and suffer, when all they are striving after is a little tin trophy, or a yellow jersey, or a few moments of glory – things that last for only a moment – shouldn’t we be just as dedicated and determined in seeking after Christ? Isn’t an eternal weight of glory worth far more than a gold medal or a Super Bowl ring?