I’ve been on a goal-setting kick for the past week. I thought I’d been setting goals my entire life, but now realize that what I’d been trying to do is to hit a target or to set some sort of artificial standard. The difference may be minor for some, but for me that difference has turned out to be the determining factor on whether or not there’s any real chance of achievement. It turns out I can’t get behind a target or a standard… there’s no passion in it for me. But a real goal? One that I can get excited about and sink my teeth into (even if it scares the crap out of me)? Yeah, now that has potential for creating real change.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 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.
In the passage above, Paul uses running a race as a metaphor for self-control and discipline. He chooses a runner and a race very deliberately. A runner does not go through the discipline of preparing for the race for the simple target of being “in shape” – he is running for a very specific goal. While I’m sure Paul is talking about the prize of Christ, this principle applies to any discipline in life.
As I said, the majority of my goals have turned out to be merely targets or standards: read the Bible for 15 minutes each day, walk 2 miles at least three times a week, practice my guitar at least 10 minutes each day, etc. I know – some of you call these things “goals” and, for you, they may very well be goals. I’ve found that these do not work for me. I need something more tangible – something to cause a longing in my heart.
I never studied the Bible more than when I needed to study for teaching youth as a youth pastor. I never read the Bible more than when I needed to read and analyze a book of the Bible for a discipleship group. I never wrote more than when there was a passion welling up within me that compelled me to share. I’ve never practiced more than when I had a difficult song given to me that I had to learn for a show. For me – that’s the real definition of a goal. I have always felt that doing things for these reasons was a cop-out and showed a lack of discipline… but when I didn’t have a reason like these, I invariably ended up doing nothing.
This is why I’ve taken up The Ephesians Project and also why I’ve begun training to run the Jingle Bell 5K in December. I need more fitness in my life, but without something to shoot for, I’ve been aimlessly trying to walk/run/meander in my fitness program. I’ll be taking swimming lessons this summer (Lord willing) to try and see if I can get comfortable enough in the water to swim for distance and then set the goal to enter a sprint triathlon (crazy, I know). So, 5K training has started yesterday, swim training will start this summer, bicycling program will start this fall at the earliest, 5K happens in December, and hopefully a triathlon will happen sometime in 2011.
Neither of these goals is really as crazy as I want them to seem. I’ve read and studied Ephesians so many times that I could probably just run through the book and do The Ephesians Project without really spending any add’l time studying, but it would defeat the purpose of the goal and would produce a junky devotional. I’ve never run before, but people do it all the time and a gradual 7-month training program has worked for people in worse shape than myself. I know I can do these things and I’m actually excited to tackle these two big goals.
What are your goals? Have you spent your days trying to live up to a self-imposed standard only to fall short every time? Is it time for you to re-evaluate what you’re trying to accomplish? Some of us can run the race and discipline ourselves for more abstract reasons and I applaud you if you can. I’ve never been able to and, looking at the state of lives around me, I’m pretty confident that I’m not alone. What crazy goal can you set for 6 months from now or even a year from now that creates within you that strange mixture of fear and excitement? Do that. Start today.
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (ESV)
Hopefully, you see in these writings a man who is staying The Course and pursuing The Path amidst the pitfalls and selfish ways of being a son of Adam. I pray earnestly that my writing would encourage some of you by showing you that this journey - though arduous and sometimes tragic - is a journey of great satisfaction. A satisfaction greater than our greatest imaginings. The trials and refining fire of tribulation are to be recognized as a small shadow of the suffering of our Savior so that we can rejoice, as Peter and the disciples did, to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the Name.