At the beginning of a new year, people often set goals and plan ahead. Maybe you are as well. Maybe you want to eat better or get in shape. Maybe you want to invest more time in your marriage or spend more time with your kids. Or maybe you want to get closer to God and grow in your faith.
If so, know this: Not much good happens by accident. Even less without hard work and discipline. Of course God is sometimes just so gracious that he moves in our lives without our participation! But we can’t live expecting this and slip into laziness. As I have written before, we need to live our lives with “Grace Empowered Effort.” We ought to be disciplined with “Habits for Life” that enable us to be “Redeeming Your Time.”
Some of you want to start running this year to help you get into shape. To do so, you are going to need to be disciplined. But whether your goal is actual running – or running in terms of striving after God – we all need to Run with Discipline. This is what God’s Word exhorts us to in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Run with focus. In a race, everyone is running; but not everyone has their heart and mind engaged (v. 24). Run with your focus on the prize. At a track meet, the runner who wins gets a wreath or a ribbon. But eventually this will rot away or be lost. As Christians, we are running and striving toward something eternal! All good things worth running after have eternal value. Whether you need discipline with personal health, spiritual growth, work life, or family time – keep eternal life with Christ as your focus. Let’s say with the apostle Paul, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Run with control. All elite athletes know that winning requires self-control. To run with excellence you need to control your calories, energy, time, body, mind, and heart. As Christians, we also need to discipline ourselves and exercise self-control so we are not disqualified (v. 27). But here is the thing: self-control doesn’t only mean suppressing unhealthy desires – it must also mean stoking godly desires. You must not only control your lazy desire to vegetate on the couch; you must stir up your desire for exercise and physical health. You must not only control your lustful desires, but stir up your passion for God and your spouse. You must not only control your desire for feel-good entertainment, you must grow your desire for time in God’s Word. “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24-25). Holy Spirit, stir our desires!
Run with purpose. It would be stupid for a runner to run around aimlessly off the track. It would be a complete waste of essential energy for a boxer to just hit at the air (v. 26). An athlete can’t win like that; neither can those who are running after Christ! All our energy, all our time, all our actions must be aimed squarely at Christ. We can’t live haphazardly, just taking life as it comes, without intentionality. We must live on purpose. We must take initiative. We must not waste our time or our energy. Being disciplined means that every moment has a purpose.
Let’s run with discipline this year. Run with focus. Run with control. Run with purpose.