Crazy thing. I was in Chicago a couple weeks ago eating dinner with my brother at a Chinese restaurant. At the end when we were breaking open our fortune cookies, it wasn’t the normal platitude that we laugh at. This one really spoke to me a sobering reminder: Someone is looking up to you. Don’t let them down.
It made me think of Paul’s word to the Corinthians. “Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
In my lifetime, we’ve seen more than our fair share of ministers fall. Some very prominent, respected, and highly esteemed leaders in the Church. It has come at a great cost to the Body as well as to Christ’s Name. While we shouldn’t put personalities on a pedestal and condemn them for their failures, it has greatly tarnished the reputation of ministers. It has hurt those who grew under their ministries, often weakening their faith because the minister meant so much to them. I learned as a teenager aspiring to be a pastor that there’s a high price to pay in leadership because people are entrusted to our care.
Then, all of the sudden one day, I woke up realizing that people were following me. For years I felt so inept and not up to the task. Even times when I haven’t been aware that my life was being scrutinized daily, and that I was speaking without even saying a word. I always challenge our leaders to watch their walks because they reproduce who they are in others.
I say it to my colleagues and to myself: Do what you have to do to stay in the race. I think of all those I’ll disappoint and hurt; those I will be unfit to fight for: my parents and family, our college students and young adults, the alumni we’ve launched into the world, my church which I’ve grown to love more than ever, and those in the community that we’ve been reaching for Christ.
Beware of Sloppiness. “You also must run in such a way that you will win.”
Live what you believe and teach: It’s not just a good lesson, is it a lifestyle?
Beware of Temptation. “All athletes practice strict self-control.”
Know what to say yes to, what to say no to. David fell to it, Joseph ran from it. Paul warns us to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
Beware of Success. “They do it to win a prize that will fade away”
The world defines success on numbers and productivity. We define success based on the degree of obedience. Whose Kingdom are we building? Worldy success won’t last. Godly success will last forever.
Beware of Wordliness. “… we do it for an eternal prize.”
Somewhere along the way, we forgot that our reward is not the applause of man but the words “Well done good and faithful servant.” Do we live for the nod from God? When we say “I surrender or You’re all I need” are we lying? Or is God truly our everything? The One in whom we trust implicitly?
Beware of Distractions. “So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.”
It’s so easy to lose sight of our relationship with God and our calling. There are so many things that lure us away from the best and most important. The higher calling is above all others.
Beware of Monotony. “I am not like a boxer who misses his punches.”
Let us never become “experts” who take the work of God for granted. We need to stay sharp through prayer, studying the Word, sharing our faith, and spending time with people both Christ follower and future follower. The things of God can NEVER become routine, mundane, or ordinary or we might as well be lost in the desert for 40 years.
Beware of Laziness. “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.”
While we grow weary at times, never grow lax or slothful. The work of God is exactly that: work. While young ministers aspire for the holy hour of preaching, there are 167 other hours in the week. Again, are we still training constantly and consistently. It is from God’s presence that we find our strength and competency.
Ronald Reagan said, “Each generation goes further than the generation preceding it because it stands on the shoulders of that generation. You will have opportunities beyond anything we’ve ever known.” If we truly carry the next generation on our shoulders, then the consequences are severe and the warning is clear: if we fall; they will fall as well.
“Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”