Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
It is hard to believe now, almost 20 years after high school, but I used to be a runner. I ran the 2 mile, the mile, and a half mile in the two mile relay at every track meet. I was not world class, but I held my own, and it was something that I enjoyed.
Over the years I haven't kept up with my running and my body has paid the price. I am overweight and out of shape, and I have dreams of running again. So this week I decided it was time to quit dreaming and to starting doing something about it. I have been at the gym this week running on the treadmill and lifting weights, with the goal of actually running outside once March roles around.
If I would have been disciplined the soreness I feel in my legs tonight would not have been necessary because running would have just been part of my life. That is what discipline helps us do, it helps us make the important things in life a natural part of the way we live.
The apostle Paul says that he disciplines his body like and athlete disciplines his body for the sake of Christ. In other words, to live like Jesus doesn't naturally happen, we have to train ourselves to live that way! While we are empowered by the Holy Spirit it also requires us to put our bodies into action and to participate in some life giving activities. Activities such as Bible reading, prayer, fasting, giving, serving, having times of solitude, as well as meditating. We cannot become like Jesus if we don't make an effort to do the things he did.
As Dallas Willard writes:
Once the individual has through divine initiative become alive to God and his Kingdom the extent of integration of his or her total being into that Kingdom order significantly depends upon the individual's initiative...Yet even as we reach for more grace to this end, we also learn by experience that the harmonization of our total self with God will not be done for us. We must act (The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 68).
So we read that Paul needs to be disciplined in his life, just as an athlete is disciplined, so he won't be disqualified. I guess what that means can be debated, but what I think is crystal clear is that if we are going to live the life God created us to live, then we need to be disciplined. We need to train ourselves to walk as Jesus walked.