When I was a teenager, I spent a good deal of time and energy playing chess. I developed a love for the game in childhood, but I never played “competitively” until middle school. I remember that my first experience with a chess tournament resulted in a record of one win and four losses – not the most auspicious of beginnings to a chess career.
For some reason, I chose to devote myself to this game rather than to band, choir, 4-H, or other activities like those chosen by most of my friends at school. Through a process of weekly practice sessions, tournaments through the school year, and individual study on my own, I developed into a pretty decent chess player. I never won 1st place in an official tournament as an individual, but I often placed in the top ten and helped our team to do well from time to time. The “crowning achievement” of my chess career was helping my school win the Indiana state team chess championship in my junior year of high school – a story so full of drama and tension that it would make for a good movie. (At least, I would watch it!)
The need for discipline is a fact of life. Discipline is required for any task at which we want to excel, whether it be a game like chess, a career or trade, a relationship with a spouse, or even a relationship with Christ. It seems that we are quick to agree to training for a job or something “enjoyable,” while we are frequently hesitant to train for excellence in our relationships. Why is this so?
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NIV), Paul encourages us to “run in such a way as to get the prize.” Of course, he is not writing about a literal footrace but rather about our walk of public discipleship. Sharing Christ with those around us is so important that we should summon up all our energy for the task. But any runner (distance or sprint) will tell you that you can’t just run and win the race. You must train and train and train in order to be able to compete. In fact, you will spend more time in preparation than you will actually racing.
Paul continues, “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Following Christ with our lives is hard work! We must be dedicated to disciplines that will help us run the race: prayer, Bible study, regular worship, fellowship with the saints, confession of sins to God, and so forth. Are you engaged in these types of spiritual disciplines? A better question: are you excited about engaging in them? I believe we could all stand to be more like aspiring high school chess players in our spiritual lives.