Have you heard about the young man who became an Olympic athlete despite training only fifteen minutes a day; familiar with the entrepreneur who created a global retail empire despite dedicating just a couple hours a week running her business; aware of the renowned brain surgeon, distinguished professor, or avant-garde architect who reached the pinnacle of their professions with little effort and no sacrifice?
Of course, such people don’t exist. Anyone who wants to achieve success or realize their dreams knows that sacrifice and hard work are a critical part of the equation. Any goal worth pursuing makes demands of us, which comes as no surprise to the successful athlete, entertainer, professional, or executive. Those serious about making their ambitions a reality readily accept such sacrifice and dedicate themselves to the task at hand. They do so without groveling about the hard work required. In fact, they revel in it.
I wonder how many of us approach our faith in a similar manner? Do we revel in the sacrifice and dedication required to mature in our relationship with Jesus or do we adopt the perspective of the fictitious individuals above, believing we can grow into mature Christians by investing little into our relationship with God? How many of us hold the view that temporal success requires sacrifice but the pursuit of Christ requires none; that it is reasonable for worldly pursuits to make demands of us but unreasonable for Jesus to do the same?
The apostle Paul rejected that perspective. He told the church at Corinth, “Everyone who competes for a prize exercises self-control in all things. Now, they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Corinthians 9:25). His point? We all chase after something important – an objective that yields a return we assign value. Secularists pursue crowns of wealth, power, prominence, and success, all of which perish when they leave this world. But spiritual pursuits yield imperishable crowns that God will distribute on our arrival in heaven, and we’ll enjoy them for eternity.
Godliness is one such pursuit that produces eternal rewards. Paul tells us: “Exercise yourself to godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8).
Godliness does not come naturally for us. We must work at becoming like Christ, training ourselves daily in the faith. Just as an athlete exercises regularly to build and strengthen his or her muscles to maximize performance, Christians must exercise their hearts and minds to mirror Jesus’ conduct and thoughts. The belief we can grow to reflect Jesus by allocating just a few minutes a day studying His word, worshipping Him, and communicating in prayer is as ridiculous as the athlete’s belief that he or she can win Olympic gold with minimal training.
In another analogy Paul advises us to “Fight the good fight of faith… to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12, NKJV). He’s encouraging us to go daily into the ring of life, however tired we are, and seek to glorify God and advance His will with our thoughts, actions, and time. It is for this purpose He calls us to live as His followers. If we do that throughout our lives then we can echo Paul’s words when he reached the end of his journey in this world: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, NKJV).
We have a responsibility as Christians to use our limited time on earth to draw close to God regularly and serve Him through acts of love, mercy, kindness, and humility, sacrificing ourselves for others. That is what it means to fight the good fight.
And after a lifetime of such acts, we too will have finished our faith journey. At that point we can expect to hear the Lord say, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’ I can’t imagine hearing seven more satisfying words on entering God’s presence.
Take time this weekend to examine your commitment to Christ, the health of your relationship with Him, and your humble service of those in need. Are you fighting the good fight, running the race, and keeping the faith? How might God be calling you to redouble your efforts in these areas?