You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after on that's gold eternally. (paraphrase of 1 Co 9:24-25 – The Message)
There are so many christians who desire the best of both worlds. Some of their affections are still on the old things of the world. They admire the world and the things in it. They seek to keep as much of the world as possible, while still being a christian. They talk about going all out for God, but their actions speak otherwise. I've seen it all the time.
You can't be like the world and still change the world. It doesn't work that way.
The lure of the world exists for all christians. We must learn how to overcome.
The way that we should live our lives can be illustrated by an olympic athlete. An olympic athlete has a clear picture of what their desired end will be, and they also have a clear picture of what it will take to get there. The difference between a dreamer and an achiever is not the picture of what they desire, for they both desire it the same, but it is the picture of what it will take to get there, and the discipline to do it.
This is very true regarding your christian lives. So many christians have some desire in their heart to do great things for God, but so many also live and die before they ever achieve them. Why? They either don't know what it takes to get there and live wondering why they aren't getting there (most of the time deceiving themselves), or else they know and do not do – because it's hard.
There are so many people in this world, and doubtless many of them would love to receive a gold medal in the olympics. But of all the swimmers in the world, only a few will ever win. Of all the basketball players in the world, few will ever play. Of all the runners in the world, only few will come home victorious. Why? Because it's not easy. That is what makes them great. They face extreme difficulties and tackle them. They go to extremes to discipline their bodies. It's hard. But in the end it is worth it.
A christian cannot expect to live a life that is normal and produce supernatural results. Look in your bible. Did any heroes of the faith live normal lives? Noah spent years and years of his life building a boat for a flood when it had never rained before. Abraham left his entire family and all that he knew to walk miles to place that he did not know, simply because God spoke to him. Joseph worked hard as a slave and as a prisoner. Moses chose to suffer the reproaches of a people enslaved, rather than enjoy the riches of Egypt. David gave his life in worship to God, dancing like a fool (in the world's eyes) and writing numerous psalms. Jonathan served David even though it meant he would lose his chance to be king. Elijah served the one true God, when he knew of no others that did. He put his life in danger on numerous occasions because of his passion for God. The three Hebrew children refused to worship an idol, even though it meant certain death. Daniel refused to stop praying, even if it meant he would be lions' food. John the Baptist lived in a cave and ate locusts and wild honey. Jesus gave up everything to live as a humble servant. He lived an extremely difficult public life with very little privacy. He offered up himself as a sacrifice by dying an excruciatingly painful death. Paul gave up everything that he had in this world to serve Christ. He suffered innumerable hardships throughout life in his tireless travels. He eventually suffered death for his faith. All the disciples of Christ suffered much at the hands of the world, but they gave themselves entirely to the cause of Christ. They all suffered greatly, 11 of them dying martyr's deaths – one of whom they found that his knees where calloused over – from so much prayer.
When Paul is writing this letter to Corinthians, telling them to live their lives like a disciplined olympic athlete, he is not talking just to preachers. The letter is to the entire church. We all must obey this admonition. We all must give ourselves entirely to the cause we are called to.
So what does that look like? What does that look like for you? What does that mean on a practical level?
The first thing that it means is that you need to have a real relationship with God. You have to be able to get down on your knees and really talk with God with a sincere heart and with an open heart. Then it means that you need to be humble enough to let him speak to you and tell you what you must do. Then you must do it. This will be different things for different people.
But there are also some things that should look the same across the board for Christians. We should be living a life of sincere love for our fellow christians and for the world. We should hate all manner of sin and avoid even the appearance of it. We should be disciplined in all that we do, even carnal things like how we eat and work.
It is when we begin to live as professional Christians that we make the kind of mark on the world that God wants us to make. Professional athletes give themselves entirely to their sport. We need to give ourselves entirely to God.