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. I Corinthians 4:24 (ESV)
I mentioned the other day that the county fair is on in our area. Each day of the fair, young people from around the county (and some from neighboring counties) have been showing livestock. The animals are judged on their general health and appearance, weight, height, and other factors that mark them as the best of their breed or class. The young people are judged on their presentation, their knowledge of their animal (anatomy, breed, hygiene, health, etc.), and their ability to “show” the animal– to keep in still, to pose it, and, in some cases, to walk or trot it in a pattern. Different shows and different judges will determine which animals are worthy of prizes and which of the youth deserve a prize for “showmanship.” Both are coveted awards.
The young competitors spend countless hours and work incredibly hard to get their animals (and themselves) ready for the judging. Animals and their handlers are scrubbed, groomed, brushed, gussied, and polished. They preen and pose for the judges, and the students answer questions, listening for instruction and correction, and show both self-confidence and respect for those in charge of the show. They also show respect for each other, and often lend a hand (or a brush) to help someone else.
What would happen if everyone showed up in ripped shorts or pajamas? What if the animals were running loose, filthy and un-groomed?
The Apostle Paul spoke of the Christian life as a race–one that we should run so as to receive the prize. When we serve, when we worship, when we pray, when we study– we should be giving it all our passion, all our energy, all our focus.
Most of these competitors will not win the trophy or the purple ribbon– but most of them will still go home winners– because they gave it their all. They did the work, and built the discipline, and came prepared to win or lose with grace. The trophies and ribbons are wonderful and colorful, but the true prize is the discipline, the knowledge, and the character that are built long before the judgment day.
May that be true for all of us as we travel through this life– may we grow in discipline and character to be more like Christ. He is the prize for which we work and train and run and pray. May we “show ourselves approved” (2 Timothy 2:15).
And may we pray for a spirit that does not grow weary or apathetic; a spirit willing to listen for correction and instruction; may we show up ready to give our best, even if the prize (and the praise) goes to someone else today.