We can do it. It doesn't really matter how young or old we are. We can start that spiritual race God has for us this very day! Let us aim to obtain the imperishable rewards the Word of God is talking about. Let us take a moment to look at each of these crowns the Lord has for us.
Rewards that Will Never Lose their Splendor
All those who compete in the Olympics prepare themselves to run in such a way to obtain a gold medal and the honor and admiration of man. The apostle Paul says that everyone who competes for the prize disciplines himself (1Cor 9). Do you know that such professional athletes start training already in early childhood? They have no time for play, no time for friends, or for any other hobbies. Total dedication is the only way, and their lives are forever shaped by their zealous ambition. All this is done for a perishable prize, a moment of glory that will lose its splendor as the years pass by and new records are achieved. These athletes give their all to obtain a mere perishable reward, but we aim for an imperishable one (1Cor 9:24-25). And while they run for their own glory, and maybe that of their country, we run only to the greater glory of God! Let us run in obedience to obtain that prize that will never fade away!
The Crown of Rejoicing, the Best Man's Joy
It is again Paul who speaks about this crown, which he also calls "the joy in which I will glory" when Jesus returns (1Thess 2:19). What is this reward that gives him so much joy? It is the harvest of souls he has reaped, the bride that has been prepared for the Bridegroom, by the power of Christ working through him. Jesus teaches us to lose our lives for Him and for the gospel (Mark 8:35). This is what Paul has done. He suffered many trials and persecutions, but he never stopped rejoicing, because he had his eyes on the prize. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us, he wrote (Rom 8:18). In India there is an old saying, To be mature and beautiful one must suffer a little. Suffering for the sake of Christ and the gospel imparts a unique beauty that death cannot destroy. Let us bring in the harvest, let us run to receive that crown of rejoicing!
The Crown of Righteousness for those who Keep the Faith
When Paul instructs Timothy, he knows he is close to the finish line himself. He admonishes Timothy to keep on running and not give up, no matter what hardship comes his way or how many people reject the Truth that he preaches (2Ti 4). As Paul sees the end of the race come into view, he can testify that he has never thrown in the towel, even when things got very rough. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2Ti 4:7). This is our assignment in this life. As we hold to our faith when adversity grows, as we hold to the truth when many will turn to myths, only then can we look forward to that crown of righteousness, the righteousness of Christ Himself. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2Ti 4:8). Hold fast and receive the righteousness of Christ!
The Crown of Life, for Faithfulness unto Death
During the persecution in Orissa, India, when many believers were put to death and churches were destroyed, I was so blessed by the prayers of suffering believers. They prayed for courage and boldness to continue to proclaim Christ during that time of severe persecution! Jesus says, "be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev 2:10). The church Christ was talking about when He gave this promise was a faithful church, one that was rich in Him. Still, the Lord told them they would be tested for a time, and encouraged them to endure with the glorious prize in mind, the splendid crown of life. Those who remain faithful through persecution and pay with their lives will be abundantly rewarded. For many believers persecution unto death is now a reality, for others it may be in the not too distant future. It will all be worth it once we receive the crown of life. Brothers and sisters, keep the faith!
Flexing and Stretching
Sharing our faith with those around us, holding to the truth in times of hardship and deceptions, and facing persecution when the time comes--these are the ways that lead to the imperishable reward. How can we prepare ourselves for the stretch of the race that lies ahead? One simple discipline will go a long way. Like the athlete spends hours each day in the gym, we need to spend such time in prayer and reading His Word. In Christ are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and He will teach us the rules for running and crossing the finish line. How do we find time for this? By cutting out all those unnecessary activities that rob our time with God. We must make Him the priority and give Him the rightful place of honor. It takes discipline to get to know the true coach of our race. But He has all the rights to our time and the way we spend our day should reflect this fact.
Above all, let it be our joy to honor Him with the rewards He gives. Let us "lay our crowns before the throne" and declare that He alone is worthy (Rev 4:10-11). What a privilege that He makes it possible for us to not be found empty-handed when He comes! That we can actually cause Him to rejoice when He meets us! May that be the case and may we all hear these words: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Mat 25:23).
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon