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Run to Get the Prize

Running each day will greatly benefit our bodies. But greater still are the benefits of disciplining our lives spiritually. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the benefits of this type of self-discipline are out of this world.

The Boston Marathon is the most prestigious race for a long-distance runner. About one-half million people run marathons every year, but only 20,000 qualify for the Boston Marathon. Qualifying times for men range from 3 hours, 10 minutes for men ages 18-34, to 5 hours for men over 80. For women the times range from 3 hours, 40 minutes ages 18-34, to 5 hours, 30 minutes for those over 80. Isn’t it amazing that people over 80 even qualify?<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” /> 
To get an idea of what a marathon pace feels like, Jimmy suggests you run a quarter mile in 1 minute, 54 seconds and then imagine keeping that pace for another 105 quarter miles, or 26.2 miles.  
For the record, Jimmy has run five marathons and averages about 80 miles a week. The training regimen of his running group includes running intervals, hills and, of course, long distances. Monday is the marathon group’s interval day. Training, for these extremely disciplined or crazy people, begins at <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />5:30 a.m. With a stopwatch in hand, each runner runs an all-out sprint for three minutes or half a mile, whichever comes first, followed by a two-minute rest, and another three-minute sprint.
The goal is to push the body to a state of oxygen deprivation—a state most of us would reach in the first 30 seconds. This kind of training is necessary for long, grueling runs. These runners demonstrate a high degree of self-discipline. They understand the cost and reward of beating their bodies into submission. 
This same kind of self-discipline is necessary in other areas of life. Many of the most successful businesses are those that have discovered the value of maintaining the disciplines of honesty and fairness.  
Businesses that practice being ethical in smaller matters will have the discipline to practice ethical behavior in larger matters. Just as a person doesn’t decide one day to run a marathon with no previous training, neither do businesses suddenly decide to make ethical decisions of great magnitude if they’ve not been making ethical decisions in smaller matters.  
Successful marriages require husbands and wives who have learned the cost and reward of self-discipline. People demonstrate commitment to one another during the engagement period, a training time of love and self-discipline. Wise people see the training time for marriage extended far beyond the time of engagement.  
Wise people see singleness as a time of training for the day when they may exchange wedding vows—vows that include a commitment to stay faithful to a partner for as long as the two of them shall live. That sounds like a marathon, doesn’t it? Even those who never plan to marry show wisdom in maintaining self-discipline in the area of sexuality.  
Unfortunately, many single people see no value in the discipline of chastity. Going to bed with someone prior to marriage requires no discipline, no training and no commitment. For many, this way of life seems as natural as water running downhill. Little thought is given to a day when the vows of marriage may be exchanged, promising fidelity to a partner for life.  
Those who haven’t trained for marriage through disciplined sexual behavior often discover that the temptations to be physically intimate with others after marriage are too great to resist. Of course, even those with high morals and strict training prior to marriage are not immune from sexual temptation. However, the discipline of chastity during one’s single years helps people prepare for the discipline of fidelity required in the years of marriage.  
Life is a marathon. To get the most out of life, we must discipline our behavior, discipline our speech, discipline our attitudes, discipline our schedules and discipline our bodies. The rewards are not only immediate, but eternal also.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth: “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 Cor 9:24-27). 
Running each day will greatly benefit our bodies. But greater still are the benefits of disciplining our lives spiritually. The Apostle Paul reminds us that the benefits of this type of self-discipline are out of this world.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.