Keeping our eyes on the prize

Can you believe it's April already?

The days are flying by quickly. It's already baseball season. Pretty soon summer will be here and all of those fruit and veggie stands in the Arkansas Valley will be open. Our own garden will be producing peppers and squashes by the dozens and there will be flowers in bloom.

With all that to look forward to it would be easy to want this day to hurry up and get over with so that we can advance toward warmer days. But I can't. As I look out my window, I see that today is beautiful and there is plenty for which to be thankful. The tulips are in bloom. I have five bright pink ones in the backyard that I can see from my kitchen window. The blackbirds sang joyfully outside my bedroom window this morning and the wind isn't blowing - much. On Sunday it threatened to blow us to Kansas. Thankfully, the wind brought a nice wet snow that melted by noon.

There is a lot happening in the world right now. Have you noticed? The people in the Middle East are bravely trying to gain their freedom from powerful dictators, the Japanese are still dealing with the affects of that awful earthquake, Washington has finally agreed to let the 9/11 conspirators undergo trial with a military tribunal, and the 2012 election is right around the corner. We're already hearing about it. Dog gone it.

Oh yeah, and don't forget the fact that our elected officials can't seem to form a budget so that our nation won't go bankrupt.

In Memphis earlier this week, a terrible windstorm felled trees and killed six people. One woman on the news said that she was blessed to not have been in her car, which had been crushed by a tree. I almost laughed at her understatement, but realized that it was all she could say. The newscaster said she was lucky. I disagree. The lady's guardian angel must have been working overtime.

Right now I am grateful for a peaceful existence for the moment. There have been times when my life seemed like it was in chaos. Now I can look back on those times and thank God for bringing me through. I can also see how he brought me through in a lot of ways. Hindsight is 20/20, you know.

With all the upheaval in the world, it would be easy to give into depression. When things happen we often catch ourselves wondering why God would allow such chaos. It's easy to lose focus on the fact that we live on a fallen planet and that God doesn't send bad things our way.

To survive spiritually, we must have faith. Paul likens it to a prize. Consider Philippians 3: 12 - 14:

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 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."

And I Corinthians 9: 24:

"Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

This means we should keep the faith no matter what. Paul's athletic metaphor is quite fitting, especially in our time. Athletes are heroes in our society, but they don't become that way without a lot of hard work and discipline (and sometimes steroids, but that, like some of the attitudes and behaviors of some our athletes is for another time, eh?).

I learned this during college when I was required to take a physical education class called "Fitness and Movement." I called it "Running and More Running." At that time in my life I hated exercise and sweating. I didn't like the feeling of my heart thumping hard. I didn't like being out of breath. So when I had to take this class, I was mortified, but I knew that I had to get through it. I also knew that I wanted an "A" to help make up for an embarrassing "C" I had recently earned in tennis.

In order to earn an "A" in this class we had to show improvement in running a mile, and it had to be under six minutes. My first attempt was around 10 minutes, so I had a lot of work to do. The first thing I learned was that if I kept my breathing regular and concentrated on it, running was a lot easier. I didn't get side aches and I was able to run for longer periods. I also learned that if I focused on the above verse from Philippians that I didn't think about the agony I was suffering (well, it wasn't really agony, but that's a matter of perspective). At the end of the course I achieved the six minute run. It was a personal milestone and one that I still think about once in a while.

Concentrating on scripture, praying and disciplining ourselves to read the Bible regularly will help us when times are rough, but we must do these things when times are good so that we receive the benefit later on. Again, exercise is a good example. If we exercise and keep our body in shape when we are healthy, our times of sickness will be fewer and we'll recover more quickly. Getting my knees and legs toned up now when I am still relatively young will be a great benefit years from now. Barring anything unusual, I should still be able to climb stairs and walk well later in life. By listening to my doctor now and by doing my best to ingest 1,000 mg of calcium a day, I should have an excellent chance of having strong bones later in life.

Do you see my point? Some people call it paying it forward. The good you do, the discipline you undergo, the way you take care of yourself all add up and you reap dividends in the end. The spiritual life is similar. The time I spend studying my Bible and praying will benefit me greatly when times are rough. These practices will act as an anchor in the storms of life. They'll keep me from drifting all over the place and losing my way when it seems like God is hidden by dark, billowing clouds.

Meanwhile, if you need a little encouragement, here's a song to get your blood pumping. "Keep your eyes on the prize" is a Freedom Song from the civil rights era. Bruce Springsteen has a great rendition of it here: Keep your eyes on the prize

Keep running!