Faith is Not a Spectator Sport

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Being a Christian is a lot like being an athlete. It requires training, lots of practice and a dedication to discipline. Paul uses a lot of sports metaphors to get this idea across to his readers.

ʺDo you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. This, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.ʺ (1 Corinthians 9: 24-27)

Notice that he is not speaking here of just the intellectual training in faith, but the bodily reality of it too. There is in this passage a recognition of the whole person. Our faith is not just an intellectual exercise. We must live it out in the very reality of our daily lives. This takes a training of the mind and the body. For we are called to run a very real race throughout the course of our entire lives. We are called to believe and to serve. And our faith is not a spectator sport.

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We can train our minds and hearts through daily prayer and the continual reading of the Scriptures. We can study the writings of the Church Fathers, learn the living traditions, attend our sabbath services in order to continue to deepen our knowledge of God and to continue growing in our faith. But we also must train our bodies to be faithfully used in service to the people of God, and all who suffer and are in need of our presence and our care.

We are not just spiritual beings. We are body, mind and spirit. In that sense, then, we must recognize that God calls on us to give our all in every aspect of our lives. This requires us, then, to discipline our whole being, so that we can not only say that we are believers, but so that we can also live our faith in the reality of the public square with the grace, and the disciplined dedication and the well-trained endurance of an athlete.

As Christian athletes, then, we are training to conform all aspects of our lives to the ways of God. We discipline our bodies through fasting and through self-discipline. We treat our bodies with respect by eating right, exercising, and by treating the beautiful and powerful gift or our sexuality with the dignity and self-discipline that is proper to it. We also train our souls by the disciplines of prayer and study and regular attendance at Church. We do all of this in order to ʺRun so as to win.ʺ For the imperishable crown we are hoping to win is that which will be placed on our heads when we enter the Kingdom of God.

Lord, give us the grace we need to ʺRun so as to win.ʺ Help us in our effort to become true spiritual and physical athletes in our practice of the faith in our daily lives. We ask this prayer in your name, Jesus. Amen.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.