Rules Matter! Run to Win the Prize

Rules matter, guiding every area of life. Competitors must run according to the rules in order to win a prize. In far too many competitions, someone becomes exposed for breaking the rules in an attempt to reach the top of the podium. Why is twisting and bending any or all regulations so common — not just in athletics but in every aspect of life? Whether in sports, politics, business, or even ministry, people willingly risk disqualification or loss of reputation to attain perceived goals.

“Isn’t it obvious that all runners on the racetrack keep on running to win, but only one receives the victor’s prize? Yet each one of you must run the race to be victorious. A true athlete will be disciplined in every respect, practicing constant self-control in order to win a laurel wreath that quickly withers. But we run our race to win a victor’s crown that will last forever. For that reason, I don’t run just for exercise or box like one throwing aimless punches, but I train like a champion athlete. I subdue my body and get it under my control, so that after preaching the good news to others I myself won’t be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Here, Paul lays out strategic guidelines for success for virtually any area of life. Rules matter!

Know Your Lane

Whether in baseball, motor sports, swimming or track events, each participant runs within an assigned position or designated lane. Lanes ensure safety for the competitors and fairness in the competition.

What lane has God called you to run in? Is it within business or finance? Maybe your lane focuses on caring for and loving your family or community well. Is it shepherding a church? Or perhaps teaching or writing? Are you running in your designated lane?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans 8:28

God calls each one of us according to His perfect purpose and design for us. He equips and empowers us to fulfill specific roles. When we know and intentionally run in the lane God has called us to, our lives become exciting and fulfilled.

Whether you a professional dragster or an elementary school sprinter, knowing your lane determines your starting position and the course ahead! If you are unsure which position God has called you to run, ask Him for clarity and allow Him to show you.

Rules matter. The most important rule is staying within the lane God provides.

“Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.”
2 Timothy 2:5

Discipline and Self-Control

We will all start the race at some point, but too few will complete it. Perhaps, a lack of self-discipline or self-control hinders us from staying the course. Whatever the goal or purpose, these qualities will help successfully carry us from start to finish.

A good start doesn’t guarantee a great finish! Sacrifice marks the road to victory. Just as rules matter, so does character.

“. . . we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.”
Romans 5:3

Though not a contest, entering God’s “race” comes with a physicaly, emotionaly, and often financial cost. However as we run our race, we experience many benefits. God brings out the best in us, deepening our character.

Titus lists qualifying characteristics of those who lead the pack:

“Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.”
Titus 1:8

These attributes form the personal character needed for a great finish to any race we begin.

Oh, my fellow runners, let’s not slow our pace or deviate from our course. May we remain faithful to run with perseverance, character, and hope.

Champion Others

The race we run resembles a relay or a marathon more than a solo sprint. Others run with and beside us. Still more will follow in our footsteps.

As we devote ourselves to run our race, may we champion others — encouraging, training, and developing those co-laboring with us.

We have opportunity daily to choose whether to wear the mantle of encourager or that of a critic. May any encouragement be sincere and all critqueing be given with humility, inspiring listeners to press beyond their expectations.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Matthew 7:1-2

May we refuse to look over our shoulders, judging others for running in a different manner than we would. Criticism inevitably causes us to lose personal momentum, veer off track, or even break godly guidelines of good stewardship of gifts and resources. Rules matter!

What strategies for success can we pass on? How can we help someone else meet and surpass their goals? What tools, resources, or influence can we share?

May we humbly and willingly both receive and pass on the baton of encouragement, creating a synergy of wins.

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

God rewards those who diligently seek Him.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 3:12-14

Through the days, weeks, and years of training, a competitor strains toward the goal, the highest prize possible— the top mark, the highest rank.

Every earthly award will eventually break or lose its luster. In a few short weeks or years, it will fade into insignificance.

As Christians, we run or compete, not for human recognition, but to finish the course God has set before us. Everything will pale in comparison to hearing the King of Glory say,

” . . . Well done, good and faithful servant! . . .”
Matthew 25:23

Let us not become distracted. Rules matter! Staying the course matters! Character matters! Passing the baton and keeping focus matters, too. But maintaining sight of eternity guides us along a straight and purposeful path “heavenward.”

Run Well

Maybe you feel like you have tripped up too badly to continue. Today, I encourage you to restart and refocus. No matter how tragic your fall, with God’s help, restart. Move back into your lane and step-by-step aim for the finish line.

None of us know how much time we have left to run. Today, God offers us a fresh start and a new opportunity to gain ground. He is the God of second chances.

Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity . . . “
Ephesians 5:15-16

You can do it! God is on your side, while forerunners in heaven and on earth cheer you on!

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Leadership: A Mother’s Love and a Father’s Care

The similarities between parenting and leadership abound. Paul talked about leading with a mother’s love and a father’s care. Stopping to read and reread his analogy several times, I examined my model of leadership.

Perhaps, I struggle in leadership for the same reasons I struggled with parenting. With five sons born in just over eight years, I tended to “run” our household like a military general. What regrets! By God’s grace they have all become such wonderful men, husbands and fathers. Parenting isn’t for wimps; neither is spiritual leadership. 

More than once someone has commented, “People assume you to be a gentle grandmother, but you’re fierce and tenacious.” Ouch! Is that a compliment or an insult? A commendation or a warning? Should I laugh or cry?

Leadership

Honestly, as I analyze my leadership patterns, gentle, fierce and tenacious form a consistent path, sometimes leading into deep valleys and at other times upward to the highlands. I press myself and those I lead hard, while loving passionately. We only get one crack at life. Time flies quickly past without hope of retrieval.

A Mother’s Love

Paul understood. He established the church in Thessalonica under significant opposition. When persecution forced Paul to flee for his life, he prematurely left a fledgling group of Christ followers. His concern for their survival was valid.

“. . . we cared for you in the same way a nursing mother cares for her own children. With a mother’s love and affectionate attachment to you, we were very happy to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our lives — because you had become so dear to us.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Hippopotamus family

Perhaps no other love compares to the way “a nursing mother cares for her children.” Ponder for a moment, the reality of producing milk to the detriment of her own bone structure; continuing the daily responsibilities despite stumbling through diaper changes and sleep deprivation; walking and rocking a sick or frightened infant for hours on end; rising before dawn and staying up well past sunset with spew in her hair, fatigue dragging her steps; constantly tending to the pressing needs of the one so dependent.

Her love only intensifies through the years: singing “Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,” while walking, driving, shopping, or cleaning; freezing her backside on metal bleachers to cheer for her progeny; teaching sons to cook and daughters to change the oil in the car; dropping everything in an instant when her now grown son or daughter calls in distress; interceding in prayer  for God’s grace to impact and direct their lives. How does one define such love?

Do I lead, like Paul, with a mother’s love and a father’s care? If I don’t, I shouldn’t be leading. The source of such “attachment” comes supernaturally from time at the feet of the One who by divine nature is love.

A Father’s Care

Fathers handle children much differently. They toss their littles into the air, bounce them robustly on their knees, play fight on the floor and do many other things that drive mothers a scant bit crazy. Fathers provide a different, but equally intense, care — showing strength, confidence and brevity. Yet, we’ve all watched that two hundred pounds of male hulk melt like butter to the request of “his own children.”

“And you know how affectionately we treated each of you, like a loving father cares for his own children.” We comforted and encouraged you and challenged you to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God, who invites you into his kingdom and glory.”
1 Thessalonians 2:11,12

The leadership shown by a father compliments that of a mother, as he comforts, encourages, challenges and invites. These qualities imply intimacy of relationship and closeness of contact.

Love and care

Paul experienced angst due to separation from his spiritual children — especially knowing they were facing such intense opposition.

A father leads by drawing near, “encouraging, comforting and urging” his children to excel at the most essential thing in life — “to adopt a lifestyle worthy of God.”

The “dad” quality of leadership “cuts to the chase,” “grabs the bull by the horns,” and “calls a spade a spade.” He separates the trite from the significant, without being rude or cruel. Rather, the “dad” leader invites, encourages, and invokes — comforting when needed and urging the young to press on despite setbacks.

Leadership which combines both a mother’s love and father’s care creates a synergetic force, propelling the next generation forward.

Remain Teachable

However, before Paul emphasizes his approach to leadership, he points out a critical piece for all leaders to remember.

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:6,7

When I was a child, my dad’s edict ruled our home. (We were many too!) Unfortunately, I used that same tone much too often while parenting. Paul gives a better directive.

A mother's love and a father's care

An apostle held the highest authority in the church; his voice carried the unquestionable weight of authority. Yet, he refused to impose or demand from his platform of lofty position. Instead, he insisted his whole team become “like young children” — teachable, gentle, submissive, and responsive servants.

“S-e-r-v-a-n-t” spells leadership most accurately.

I recognize with aging, the less flexible, teachable and submissive I become. To follow Paul’s leadership example, I must remain vigilant at countering natural tendencies to rely on my understanding and depend on seniority or status.

A mother’s love and a father’s care should naturally draw me into a place of low servanthood and tender teachability.

Selfless

Through Paul, I’m reminded of the goal for such an attitude in leadership solely rests on the good of others and the glory of God.

Listen to Paul,

“. . . We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”
1 Thessalonians 2:4

Selfless

Or again, 

“We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else. . .”
1 Thessalonians 2:6

And one more,

“Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.”
1 Thessalonians 2:9

With a mother’s love and a father’s care leaders give, give and give again. They open their homes to those who eat their food and mess what’s just been cleaned. These leaders sacrifice their “free” time, to encourage the downcast, pray for the sick, and fill in the missing gaps of ministry. They turn off TVs, cell phones and computers to seek God, fasting and praying for the spiritual condition and pressing needs of others.

Leadership costs! It costs financially, demands relationally and drains both physically and emotionally. No wonder Paul so aptly uses the analogy of a mother’s love and a father’s care.

Rare is the leader that rises to such heights by bowing low to the selfless call of God. Yet, I’ve watched those rare gems shine brightly among us.

Protective family

May God continue to challenge me, you and us all to live selflessly for the good of others and His glory. Yes, let’s receive encouragement from the lives of past and present godly leaders, while consistently looking to God — the One who demonstrated ultimate love and care through Jesus Christ.