Running The Race
Imagine life as a marathon. The man who has despaired would refuse to train because he would think it was hopeless and no amount of training could change the outcome. The man with presumption would also refuse to train because he would think training was not necessary. Both are destined to fail. But, the man with hope would train hard because he believed that, although he may not presently be in shape to finish the race, through rigorous training he could become so. Because of this fundamental difference in approach, based upon the hope of success, he would gain the stamina and strength he needs to run the race. Saint Paul uses this very example to stress the importance of a rigorous spiritual life:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, 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. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24–27).
Because of hope, we are able to endure difficulties with joy. And because of hope we are motivated to love God and to follow Him. Life is a marathon, and in the midst of life we can sometimes become discouraged over our failings and disheartened over the challenges of life. Hope provides us with a purpose in life. For the Christian, hope is not some weak experience of positive thinking. Hope is the rock-solid trust that if we cling to Christ and seek His forgiveness, He will always prove Himself faithful to His promises. The hope of heaven can strengthen us in times of suffering. When the Christian martyrs are tortured for their faith, the hope of heaven and of being with the Lord gives them the strength to endure.
Our Christian faith enables us to be joyful in the midst of suffering and hardship. This is because the Christian knows that, despite the present problems, there is a future glory that awaits us (cf. Rom. 8:18). In other words, we may be two touchdowns behind, but we know that through Christ we are ultimately going to triumph. We can be saddened at the present evils and difficulties that we and those we love must endure, but this sadness is tempered by our knowledge that, in the end, God will make all things right. For in the end “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
It is just such a hope that buoyed Saint Paul’s spirits while he was in chains in a dark prison cell because of his faith in Jesus Christ. One of Paul’s most cheerful letters is to the Philippians, which he wrote from prison. The tone and theme of the letter is joy. Despite Paul’s chains he can say:
Yes, and I shall rejoice … as it is my eager expectation and hope that I shall not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:19–21).
Saint Paul trusted in God, and he knew well that the final goal was heaven. That is why he could say that although he had suffered the loss of all things, he counted them as refuse compared to the glory that awaited him at the end (cf. Phil. 3:8). If we take our eyes off of the final prize, then we can easily lose the desire that hope enkindles in us. If we lose our desire for heavenly glory, we will sink into the pursuit of earthly goods that are poor counterfeits of the eternal; they are mere trinkets compared to the glorious reward that awaits those who hope for heaven. As Saint Peter says:
By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1:3–4).
from Boys to Men: The Transforming Power of Virtue by Timothy Gray & Curtis Martin (pp. 93–95).