If you competed in athletics in high school, college, or at some other level, it is likely you have come to understand the importance of preparation. Preparation in sports is directly connected to being victorious in the sporting events. An athlete who does not pay attention to his training regimen will falter when the contest begins.
Paul understood this when he wrote to the Corinthians: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor. 9:24-25, NKJV).
Without preparation, even for great athletes, their ability to compete at a high level will only last for a short time, if it lasts at all. For the wise, preparation and the endurance associated with that preparation is the normal and proper approach.
Paul used the illustration to make a larger point. The Christian is to prepare himself for the long distance endurance needed to achieve the goal. The goal is the victory one has in Jesus.
Again, the Holy Spirit said: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The preparation needed in running this race is essential. We must understand that to neglect the necessary training is an invitation for drifting and disaster. In our spiritual walk there is not a single soul who can drift toward God. However, when one neglects that which is important for his or her spiritual well-being, and does not pay attention, that person drifts away from God.
What are some of the preparations that must be made in order to prevent us from drifting? Without a clear line to our goal, obstacles (the weight of sin) will get in the way and prevent us from knowing the direction we desire to go.
Consequently, we need to lay aside those things that prevent us from reaching the goal that is ahead. We may have a desire to get there, but the obstacles will not allow us to move forward, for the weight is too heavy.
The weight (sin) is to be laid aside (ceased, stopped). An illustration of this is brought to our attention in the words of John the Baptist. He spoke to those in the Judean wilderness, telling them to bring fruit worthy of repentance. This involves a change of mind regarding the way life should be lived (Luke 3:8).
Second, we are to endure the opposition that comes when we choose the right way of God. This is an obstacle that does not come from within, but from those who do not like what the Christian has embraced. Satan does not want us to lay aside the weight he has so easily laid on us. He did not leave Jesus alone, and he will not leave us alone.
When Satan tempted Jesus, the adversary knew well with whom he was dealing, that is, the Son of God. If he did not shy away from attacking Him, how much less will he shy away from us?
He knows well who he is dealing with when he schemes enticements against us (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11). Let us put off, therefore, the weight; and let us prepare with the endurance required when Satan attacks.
Third, and of great importance, we are to have a desire to gather with the saints. This is not for the sake of the attendance board, but for the spiritual nourishment of the saint. Think of it along these lines. If you are in a work environment for fifty hours a week, what opportunity is there for that environment to influence you in a particular direction? To ask is to answer.
The Lord, knowing this, exhorts His saints to assemble on a regular basis. Jesus does not need fifty hours to negate Satan’s influence, even though some struggle to make it for one hour, not to mention even more.
For the devoted saint, the desire to be present together is because it is good to be with those of a like mind. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Note the Holy Spirit’s emphasis in these two verses. There is emphasis on considering one another. This is what love does; it looks after the interests of another (Philippians 2:4).
We see a constant state of preparation; that is, there is no neglect of those things that are important. One’s spiritual walk is not outside the spiritual environment of the Lord’s church (Ephesians 1:3, 22-23). If this is so, why would anyone want to dismiss gathering together as of little to no importance?
Also, there is encouragement given to others with one’s presence. And, there is a clear understanding that there is coming a day of judgment when we all will stand before the throne of the Almighty, answering for those things we have done in this body.
One’s preparation takes significant hold on the saint’s life when there is a focus on those things that are important in life. Vocation and recreation are not the most important things of life. We enjoy them, and we even note their valuable place in life, but they are not important when compared with that which is.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
When Paul wrote these words, he understood well the “terror of the Lord” (5:11). Consequently, he made it his mission to persuade men.
Thus, brethren, let us run the race the Lord has set before us with patient perseverance, keeping our eyes on Him who already ran His race and was victorious as a result of His faithful run.