The Greatest Prize of All

Originally written Feb. 18, 2014

I am an avid reader.  I would like to say that I tend to read a lot of novels since that would make me seem a lot more exciting and poetic than I actually am, but what I gravitate to is non-fiction. A lot of the books I read are great books that are designed to help the reader grow spiritually and I am truly motivated by them.  I do have to admit though that I have been sucked into quite a few Christian "self-help" books.  I know that seems like a bit of an oxymoron and it actually is. I have designated them as such because they all have this basic outline:

I. Problem
II. Awareness and acceptance of problem
III.  Formula to fix said problem
IV.  Victory and contentment: Problem solved!

This is a great outline and one that I have actually worked through in my head with some of my own book ideas.  The problem is that solutions to the problems I have had haven't come quite that easily, leading me on the constant search for "that book" that will be the answer to all of my life struggles.

What I have concluded is that sometimes there are just no good answers as to why people make the decisions that they make that cause a lot of hurt and pain in not only their own lives, but in the lives of those around them.  Sometimes, they, and I,  just make bad choices.

The reason we all make these bad choices vary.  Sometimes, we give into the lies that we believe about ourselves or other people that make us think that we have no choice but to make these choices.  Sometime, we are deceived into thinking that we deserve to make the choices we do, good or bad.  Sometimes, we are confused as to what good and bad choices are. 

Scripture seems pretty clear that living according to God's teaching is the best choice.  Proverbs 3:1-6 says, "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.

 Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart:  So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.

 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.


So, why do we make so many bad choices? I have had some epiphanies about this in my own life recently after taking a personality assessment.  I have taken a few of these in my lifetime and there really wasn't any surprises.  I found out all about my strengths and weaknesses and once again focused on the weaknesses which made me mad about what personality I have--sorry God.  I don't mean that you got it wrong but I don't particularly like it. 


What was different about this one was that it also included a list of do's and don'ts.  The do's were things that I needed to focus on in order to be more successful, easier to be around, and basically happier and more content.  The don'ts are things that I need to watch out for that will foul up the do's.  Thankfully, the do list was much longer than the don't list which I found interesting.  


What I started to realize in my own life, is that what leads me to make bad choices in my behavior and in my attitude, comes down to me operating out of my weaknesses or my don't list.  When I thought about the people that have hurt me or have caused me problems, I realized that they too were working out of these areas as well.  


All of a sudden I realized that we all have the choice to either give in to working out of the weaknesses that we all have or to work out of our strengths.  What we do makes a huge difference in our own lives and in those that we effect. God has designed us all according the the way He wanted us, but we come with a mixed bag of good and bad qualities.  His Word is full of motivation to look to Him for the power to operate through the good but is also full of warnings to not give into the temptation to make poor choices that we think will satisfy but never will. 


The best examples of these principles have been so evident as I have been engrossed in watching the Winter Olympics.  Every 2 years, my life pretty much shuts down while the Olympics are on because I so admire the athletes and all that it takes for them to get there.  It is super inspirational. So, I have made a few observations which relate to this idea of focusing on our strengths and not giving into our weaknesses.  


     1.  Olympic athletes are willing to pay the price to be at the highest level of their sport, knowing that to do so will help them to gain the prize at the end.   Each broadcast is full of stories of the sacrifices that these young people have had to make to get them where they are today.  One of the most inspirational to me has been Jeremy Abbott, one of the men's figure skaters.  During one of his programs he took a hard fall and slid to the wall.  It looked as though he was really hurt and I assumed that he was done skating for the night.  He laid there for a few seconds, I'm sure battling in his head whether he had what it took to get up and continue.  To my surprise that is exactly what he did and he went on to skate perfectly, finishing his entire program much to the audience's delight and support.  Earlier that week I had heard that he had moved out of the Olympic village so that he would not get caught up in the fun, social atmosphere but would be able to concentrate on the job before him.  I want to be like him; giving up my own agenda at times in order to win the prize. Paul talks about that prize in Philippians 3:14  “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.”  Jeremy had set his eye on the prize, and doing so developed the character that enabled him to keep going when it got tough.  We would be making a great choice to do the same.


     2.  Olympic athletes only focus on the things that they are doing wrong with the goal of making the changes needed to enhance their performance.  They don't keep looking at the mistakes they have made and give into the thinking that they will never change.  Studying videos of their own training gives them motivation to do what they need to do to reach their goals.  Too often, we focus on how we mess up and get stuck focusing on all of our negatives.  Unfortunately, churches can also promote this by falling into the trap the Pharisees fell into where the focus was more on what the people shouldn't do instead of what we should.  It makes sense to me that the stronger we make the positives, the negatives will naturally become weaker.  We need to learn to be aware of the list of don'ts but our focus needs to be on what we need to do in order to honor God's plan for our lives.  


     3.  Olympic athletes realize that the road to success is going to be hard and even though there will be times when they will be tempted to give up,  they always realize that it was worth the fight.  I continue to be amazed with how difficult some of the events in the Winter Olympics look. Cross country skiing looks so taxing, the ski jump looks terrifying, bobsledding seems a bit crazy and don't even get me started on the slopestyle skiing.  Ok, curling doesn't look too terribly physically demanding but I still can't seem to get the mental part of the game down.  The athletes understand what they want to accomplish and they do everything it takes to do it.  Sometimes I think we get conned into thinking that once we accept Christ, life will be easy.  It didn't seem to work that way for a lot of people in the Bible.  The apostles seemed to have it pretty rough and most of their lives ended pretty harshly.  They didn't give up when it got tough because they knew what they were doing it all for, or Who they were doing it for.  I know I need to toughen up and ask God for the strength needed to get through and persevere.


4.  Olympic athletes don't let difficulties throw them off their course and they don't give into excuses.  Michael Christian Martinez, 17, is the lone Winter Olympic athlete from the Philippines.  He understandably was also the country's flag bearer in the opening ceremonies.  Even though Michael grew up in a country with only 2 skating rinks, he was determined to learn how to be a figure skater.  He taught himself how to skate and even how to perform most of the jumps.  He also had to work hard and be creative to be able to finance his dream.  He had plenty of excuses for now following through with his goal, but he didn't give up.  Slopestyle skier Nick Goepper lived in Indiana, not known for its great ski hills, but he made a course out of grass and dirt in his back yard to train.  He didn't make excuses either.  Sometimes, I seem to make a lot of excuses for doing what I do or don't do.  I often feel entitled to these excuses because of different things that have happened in my life.  Giving into excuses, whether they are understandable or not does not lead to reaching the prize.


5.  Most importantly, Olympic athletes have a great coach.  No matter how accomplished these athletes are, they all have a coach who they listen to and submit to their authority, knowing that to do so will give them a better chance to be successful.  The most important thing that we can do is to turn to the wisdom of our great coach.  God says that if we want wisdom, then all we have to do is ask for it (James 1:5).  He says that if we want to be successful, then we need to do everything written in His Word (Joshua 1:8).  He even tells us exactly how to not give into the negative list and to operate out of our positives.  Titus 3:3-7 says it perfectly:


For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.


Now that's quite a prize.  Maybe even better than an Olympic medal.