I stood in line at the Customer Service desk at the grocery store. I studied the man in front of me. He looked rather disheveled. His sneakers were old and tired; there were rips in his jeans. He had a scruffy beard and a tattered shirt. I could tell by his friendly banter with the customer service gal that he came here often. Calmly, he laid down twenty five dollars in cash for lottery tickets. I know the odds of winning the lottery are a zillion to one, but yet he regularly played.
When I was a teen, without me knowing it, my aunt somehow entered me in a beauty pageant. I don't even recall which pageant it was - I just thankfully remember there was no swimsuit contest. I do remember having this "push me, pull you" reaction to being entered. I had always poked fun at these silly contests, but now that I was in one, I secretly hoped to win. Isn't that crazy? I appreciate my aunt's confidence in me, but once I got to the actual pageant, I realized that there were seasoned veterans of pageants there. These girls were competitors and they were in it to win it.
I had the wholesome looks of the "girl next door", but I was no rare beauty. I was Miss Congeniality material. Total aside here, but I love it when Gracie Lou gives her answer in the namesake movie. When asked why New Jersey is known as the "Garden State" she sarcastically replies, "Because the oil and petro-chemical refinery state wouldn't fit on the license plate." Love that line! Much to the disdain of some of the seasoned girls I finished in the top ten finalists. I have a dust covered trophy, buried somewhere in the attic, to prove it lol.
But, is there a contest that we not only have a shot at winning, we can actually be assured that we will win the prize if only we persevere?
"Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3: 13-14)
I am a studier of words. In the Greek, the words "press on" are translated as "dioko" which means to pursue, or strive, or chase. Dioko can also be translated as "to persecute"...hmmm...interesting. Might it mean that we pursue the prize though persecuted along the way? I wonder? And what is this prize? In those days it was laurel wreath crown...a prize for winning a footrace.
Many times in scripture, our journey of faith is compared to a footrace.
As Paul is waiting to die, he writes to the young Timothy: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) and what does Paul tell Timothy that awaits him for his fight - his finishing the course? "The crown of righteousness".
My daughter has been training to enter and run her first half-marathon race. When I asked her what her goal was, she said she was not in it to win it, but wanted to finish the race in a respectable time and also to be able to say that she completed it. (I can see the 13.1 sticker on her car now). My husband, a cross country competitor in high school and college, in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, will tell you that those races took dedication and perseverance.
But, what if the prize has already been guaranteed? What if we knew for sure, that if we persevered, we would surely win the prize? Is there a chance at winning this race?
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16)
What if the "prize" is actually a gift that we just need to receive? What if the ultimate race has already been won by Christ on the cross, and we need only to believe and we will receive the crown of eternal life?
What if our job is to simply finish the race?
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who Love Him. (James 1:12)
Jesus stands at the door of our heart and knocks. He does not force His way in. We must be the one who opens it.
We may not like the rules
We may not want to relinquish control
We may think we are doing just fine on our own
But, what if we just believe Him and love Him? What do the scriptures promise?
Not only a chance of winning, but the guarantee of the prize.
Now there's a race I want to run. Not only is there a sure chance at winning. Not only is there eternal life guaranteed, there is grace, peace, mercy, forgiveness, joy, and all the fruits of the Spirit. To me this is a no-brainer!
What kind of love says, "Here, the ultimate sacrifice has been made. It is finished! The race has been won. Just finish the race and love Me and the prize is yours for the asking?"
The answer is...God's kind of love...
Lord, I am overcome with gratitude for your radical kind of love. Thank you for the sacrifice you made, so that if I believe, persevere, and finish this race of life and faith, the prize is mine. Though I may lose battles along the way, the ultimate victory is mine because of what you did for me. Thank you for loving me enough to die for me. Let me graciously accept the gift of eternal life, the crown of righteousness that you freely offer to me. Blessed be Your name. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
ps. Update on Redeemer Christian School: Please pray for the safety of the director, the teachers, and the children. Just recently a young boy lost his battle for life after he was burned alive in the streets of Lahore, Pakistan because he confessed to being a Christian. Now, more than ever funds are needed to help this small, but mighty school win out with its message of love in the epicenter of evil.
Send contributions to: Bev Rihtarchik/RCS
103 Silver Lining Lane
Cary, NC 27513
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