Approaching the last lap, Allen’s third-place position was typical. We had crossed the countryside to watch him run races, but in the end, there was little drama. Allen, it seemed, finished each two-mile run in third place. But this race would be different. Rounding the curve, Allen pulled even with the second runner. Halfway through the last lap, Allen pulled even with the first-place runner. Then a sprint ensued to the finish line . . . but Allen lost by a nose.
Running has application to the Christian life. First Timothy 4:8 says, “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”1 These practical tools can maximize godliness in your walk with the Lord if you apply them. We can maximize our training in godliness when:
Godliness Becomes a Way of Life
Allen came into the world running. I’ve joked that he was running in his mother’s womb. It was a way of life for him. Godliness, at salvation, should become a way of life for all Christians.
One cannot describe Allen, at any point in his life, without saying the word runner. I was never surprised to hear about him running in another marathon. He ate, breathed, and slept running. It was so natural . . . he had to run.
When Christ enters our lives at salvation, we are inclined toward godliness. God’s Holy Spirit arrives when we receive Christ, and the Spirit prompts us to live in a godly manner. We now have our eyes on the ultimate prize. Philippians 3:14 says, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Out of a heart of gratitude, we choose to live in a godly manner because we know our heavenly reward waits at the end of the race.
There’s an old story of a man who approached a laborer who was laying bricks and asked him, “What are you doing?” The laborer said, “Can’t you see I’m laying bricks?”
The man then asked a nearby bricklayer the same question, and the workman answered with pride, “I’m building a cathedral.”
Both men were doing the same thing, but the first laborer was occupied with the present task, and the other was concerned with the ultimate goal.2 Few athletes succeed when they lose sight of the goal. Few Christians succeed at living godly lives when they take their eyes off the ultimate prize.
Godliness Is Consistent
Perfection, winning races, was Allen’s goal. It never happened. But he consistently excelled at his sport.
Our goal in the godliness race is to attain perfection, but that won’t happen until we reach Heaven. Our goal is to unswervingly live a godly life.
Allen came in third place in most races. Two finished before him, seven or eight behind. He completed every race. He always followed the rules of the race.
We struggle with perfection because all of us are sinners. Even though a flawless, sin-free life is unattainable for us, we still can excel. We can consistently reach toward our goal and live in a godly way.
Isaiah 40:31 says, “They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Consistency implies finishing. When our hope is in the Lord, we will follow through on completing the race. We race from start to finish, and we follow the rules.
Ben Johnson won an Olympic gold medal in Seoul in 1988. “Three days after his win, Johnson failed his drug test as Stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, was found in his urine. Because of this, he was suspended from the sport and his medal was taken. Johnson attempted his comeback in 1991, won various races, but was again busted for doping.”3
In 2008, Rashid Ramzi from Bahrain won gold in the 1,500-meter race in the Beijing Summer Olympics. “However, this celebration would be short lived. In April 2009, the Olympic Committee in Bahrain said that Ramzi’s blood tested positive for CERA, which is a blood-boosting drug. . . . That November Ramzi lost his gold medal and has yet to compete again.”4
Johnson and Ramzi lost their medals because they chose to disobey the rules, and both were disqualified. They shunned self-control.
“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” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27, English Standard Version).
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5, ESV). A consistent life lived by God’s rule book, enables us to model godliness to a lost world.
We can train and model godliness by:
Seizing the Opportunities
We can take advantage of opportunities to display our godliness, without arrogance.
Allen took advantage of opportunities to put his practice and running skills on display.
Allen was proud of his running skills. They served him well. Indeed, in one 5-kilometer race, he pushed my third-youngest grandchild, Keira, in a stroller, passing many a runner to the finish line. Keira waved at each runner she and Allen passed. Whether in a 22-mile run in the Kuwaiti desert, a marathon in Nashville, Tennessee, or 5Ks throughout the Southeast, Allen showed fellow runners his prowess in training and running. It was not uncommon to see him talking to runners before and after the race, offering counsel to those new to running.
First Timothy 4:6-8 says,
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever (The Message).
Note the phrase, “Pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus.” What counsel? “The Message of the faith and . . . sound teaching.”
Every track and field star has a good coach. As Christians, the Holy Spirit is our coach. He prompts and teaches us the things of God. Some track and field stars eventually become coaches. As Christians, we are to pass on to others what we know of God and how to obtain the ultimate prize. As we display the fruits of the Spirit, others recognize we live differently, and they want what we have.
Our godliness can be a way to encourage and build up others.
Allen’s running skills allowed him to excel in the military. During physical training, he would finish running, and then go and encourage the slower runners to finish the race. Using our godliness to help others maximizes the scope and effect of godly living.
Allen’s graduation from boot camp proved interesting. After the pomp and circumstance, Allen had to stay a while longer because other graduates wanted to get their picture taken with “Mississippi” (my son). Several of his fellow graduates told me, “Mr. Von Kanel, if it wasn’t for Mississippi, we wouldn’t have made it out of here.”
It would be nice if when we get to Heaven, someone would tell us, “Because of you, I am here.”
Robert D. Pace says, “I am convinced many people in the world are looking for that (godliness). They want to witness an exemplary role model. That’s why we have to set an example.” It’s why Romans 14:13 says, “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”
We maximize the effect of godliness when we make it a way of life, consistently live it, display it without arrogance, and use it as a tool to encourage and build others up. In doing these things, our lives will shine brighter and impact our world in ways past generations experienced.
1All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©1984, except as noted.
2“Running the Race,” http://hsfellowship.org/sermons/1stCorinthians/1_corinthians_924-27.htm.
3“Top 10 Athletes Who Lost Their Olympic Medal,” www.toptenz.net/top-10-athletes-who-lost-their-olympic-medal.php.
Danny R. Von Kanel is a freelance writer and church/school musician living in Franklinton, Louisiana. His latest book, Building Your Life by the Owner’s Design, was released in February.