FIRST-PERSON: Doing what it takes

CANTON, Ga. (BP) -- Without a doubt, one of our favorite words in the English language is victory.

A form of the Greek word for victory, "nike," is found in Romans 8:37 declaring that God's people are not just victors but more than victors though Christ.

We win and then some is the meaning.

The big question, however, is: Why we don't always look like the victors Christ saved us to be? We need to seek to become what we have been declared to be: winners!

The apostle Paul, using the language of ancient Corinth's athletic games, wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 of what is required to live out a life of victory -- principles that apply to a winning athlete as well as a winning Christian.

You've "gotta" want it.

Bad English? Yes, but it voices the Vince Lombardi-like locker room language of a coach challenging his players to go out on the field accepting nothing but victory. Paul reminds the Corinthians in verse 24 that although all runners run in a race, only one crosses the finish line first. In the Christian's race to the finish line, we are to seek to be that runner. To do that, the believer is to settle for nothing less than victory, or to put it another way, we are to go for the gold.

Years back, I recall seeing a Russian Olympic athlete remove a bronze medal from around his neck in disgust as he exited the awards platform. Asked why he had done so, he replied that he had not come to the Olympics to win bronze, but gold. He wanted total victory, not a third-place finish. To him bronze represented mediocrity, with which he could not be satisfied. Neither should we as we go for the gold.

You must exercise self-control

Paul turned his attention in verse 25 to the athlete's need to maintain a life of discipline. Athletes who do not spend time in the pool, on the track or in the gym working at their sport will not excel. And neither will believers who do not spend time with God in His Word, in prayer and in fellowship with His people. Remember that winners give up much in order to gain much.

You must keep focused on the goal

Paul then speaks in verse 26 of running with the finish line in mind so that you're not just beating the air. Talent gets one only so far. Focus must be maintained, as Michael Phelps evidenced in winning all those Olympic medals in swimming and Ali accomplished in the boxing ring.

In the Christian life, we cannot allow the distractions that daily bombard our lives to keep us from properly keeping focus on being winners. Paul addressed this eloquently in Philippians 3:12-14 when he spoke of winning as his goal while leaving the past behind.

You must maintain determination

Paul speaks in verse 27 of the need to keep on giving it what it takes. There's to be no quit in the athlete who wants to win.

I'm reminded of all the times as a young father when getting ready to read a nighttime story to my children that they would ask me to read "The Little Engine That Could." With unwavering determination -- "I think I can, I think I can...." -- the little engine got to the top of the mountain. Believers must maintain dogged determination to walk in victory, never allowing the devil to get us to throw in the towel. It won't always be easy. But if you want to win, you keep on keeping on.

I would add one other important ingredient inherent to Paul's exhortation: You must keep looking to the Father for His help. And because the "Head Coach" in heaven delights to see His children walk in victory, He promises and willingly provides His help. We can live a life of being conquerors in the everyday arena of life, and we need to commit to doing so!

Doug Metzger is a retired pastor in Canton, Ga., who served churches 20-plus years in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and California in addition to eight years with the North American Mission Board as director of prayer evangelism and, earlier, director of its Strategic Focus Cities emphasis.
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