It seems to me that so many of us are on a treadmill. Is that pessimistic? I don't think so. I just think it's the plain reality of life. It seems to me that this world is more and more and more about running a race. About winning the prize. Not just amongst the elite athletes, the Olympians. Although in that arena, it's definitely a case of winner takes all. Just a split second is the difference between millions of dollars of endorsements and complete and utter obscurity.
The 'winner takes all' mentality, well, we take that into our lives, too. Life seems to be a competition in so many areas. Now competition, in and of itself, it's not a bad thing. I mean, it's great entertainment on the sporting field. It sharpens our senses and helps us to achieve things. But it becomes a problem when the normal everyday things that we do in life become a competition. With everything we do. With every pursuit. Everything is a race. Trying to beat the next guy.
That sort of life, well, that's a stressed life. Maybe that's why the biggest thing people that complain of these days is too much stress. There are so many races that we seem to run and today, today we're going to take a look at that from a different perspective.
We want to win at all sorts of things. Having the smartest and brightest kids. I mean these days, at least in the affluent west, people are now paying not only big dollars to send their kids to private schools but on top of that they're paying for expensive tutors. Now I don't know. I attended a government school, no tutors and I've managed pretty well. But these days it's so much more competitive. There's more pressure to win.
Political races. I mean as an Australian peering in on the US Presidential race every 4 years, how much did Barack Obama raise in his campaign? Something like a billion dollars, all to win. I mean beauty, beauty is an almost pathological competitive obsession amongst teenage girls. Success in our careers. The cars we drive. The houses with live in. On and on and on it goes. So many people competing with one another. It seems that whether it's pure survival or the excesses of a wealthy society, life's all about running hard and winning. Now I was brought up in a post war European work ethics so I'm the last person to criticise hard work. Actually I believe in applying ourselves and working hard but there's an ugly underbelly to that. There's a part where people pour their lives out to win a prize but the question is, is that prize worth winning? The goal that we've been programmed to go after so hard. Let's just stop and look and think in the cold hard light of day and ask, is this a race worth winning? Well, is it?
Actually, part of believing in God is running the race and winning the prize. But the question we need to ask ourselves though is this; am I on the right track? Am I running the right race?
So often the world's just kind of, I don't know, programmed us to run this particular race. The career we've chosen maybe. Or a race about winning lots of money. Or whatever it is we're running in the race. We're giving it our all. We're slogging hard. We're working hard. But let me ask you this. Stand back; take a hard look at your race, the race that you're running. Is it the right race?
How do you answer that question? How do you assess whether it's the right race? Whether it's worth it? Well, you look at the prize at the end. What's the prize? What do I get? What do I end up with? Well, given what I want out of life, given my hopes and dreams and plans, is the sacrifice that I'm making for this race justified by the prize?
Hard question. We don't often ask ourselves that. Because we're addicted to running the race we're running at the moment. We've been programmed to believe that if we don't win this race then we've failed. If we give up we're a failure. We've been duped into thinking that the prize is worth it even when it's not.
You wouldn't believe the number of businessmen, I'm deliberately talking about men now, who believe that if they work really, really hard when they're young, they'll be able to retire in their mid 40's. Live a life of luxury. Most of them don't. Many of them lose their marriages and miss out on their kids growing up. Many of them have high blood pressure. They're overweight. The end up having a stroke or a heart attack in their 50's when they're still working like idiots.
Do you see how easy it is to end up running the wrong race? To pour our lives out for a prize that, at the end of the day, just ain't worth it.
We behave as though it all depends on us and then the stock market crashes. And all the wealth that's been generated by so many busy, hard working, industrious people, is wiped off the ledger in a matter of moments. Or a war breaks out. Or oil prices plummet. Or sickness strikes. Or the crops destroyed. Or - come on, whatever it is. We put our faith in the works of our hands as though there's no tomorrow. As though it all depends on us. But you and I know life just isn't like that.
King Solomon was one of the wisest men that ever walked the earth. And towards the end of his life, listen to what he writes. Its from the Old Testament, if you're interested, Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12. He says, "Again I saw that under the sun: The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor the bread for the wise, nor the riches to the intelligent, nor the favour to the skilful but time and chance happen to them all. For no-one can anticipate the time of disaster like fish taken in a cruel net. Like birds caught in a snare. So mortals are snared at a time of calamity when suddenly it falls upon them.”
We think that if we're swift and strong and wise and intelligent and skillful, that's it. We can do it all. That's all there is. Come on. It's only part of the equation. We know that. Again, don't get me wrong. I'm a great believer in taking the gifts and abilities that God's given us. And applying them diligently and working hard and running the race. But which race? The race that this world has told us we should be running or a different race?
Is there a better race than what I'm doing today? A race that, well, isn't just about blessing here and now. But a race that brings an eternal prize. See, that's the race that the apostle Paul is talking about when he writes this. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. This is what he says. "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath but we, an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly nor do I box as though being the heir but I punish my body and I enslave it so that after to proclaiming others, I myself should not be disqualified."
See Paul’s making a really clear distinction here. Between the race that the athletes run. The race that this world programs us to run for a perishable wreath. A wreath that will die and disappear. As against the race that he's running in. Which is a race that has an imperishable prize. Paul is focused but he's focused on the right race.
Let me ask you again. Which race are you running? Is it worth it?