Winning The Prize

William J. Stewart | Spiritual Lessons from the World of Sports

Why do athletes compete? Fun? Comradery? Sportsmanship? Big salaries? These are all important to competitors, but what is most important to most athletes is the win. They are in it to win it.

Consider the words of two sports legends on the need to win. First, a 7-time NASCAR champion, then an NFL coach so respected by the league that they named their championship trophy after him:

Second place is just the first loser. (Dale Earnhardt)

If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score? (Vince Lombardi)

Winning is memorable, even life changing. Consider:

This is one of those days, I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to see the sun set. It’s definitely the greatest day of my life, professionally and personally up to this point. (Tony Stewart, 3-time champion)

It’s a huge honor and it’s a privilege. I’ll probably remember that feeling and that moment for the rest of my life. (Zdeno Chara, on receiving the Cup for the Bruins)

The apostle Paul used the zealous pursuit of athletes as a way to urge God’s people to excellence:

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 Corinthians 9:24-25)

As great as a championship trophy is, the Christian has a far greater prize—a heavenly home. That being the case, we ought to pursue it with our entire being. In the words of a beloved brother in Christ, “If you miss heaven, you’ve just missed all there is.” (Dee Bowman)

A PREPARED PLACE FOR A PREPARED PEOPLE

Jesus assured His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them, and that He would return and receive them to Himself (John 14:1-3). But the hope of heaven was not for the apostles alone, but for all who have hope in Christ (Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 1:4). The Lord is preparing heaven for us!

In addition to that—the Lord is preparing us for heaven. Peter speaks of those,

…who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:4-9)

Not only is the Lord preparing heaven for His own, but by the power of God, He is preparing us. An athlete spends a lot of time training—testing their strength, their endurance, their abilities. The trials and hardships we endure in the here and now are used by the Lord to demonstrate the genuineness of our faith—to prepare us for the end of our faith, the eternal prize!

WHAT WILL HEAVEN BE LIKE?

Have you ever wondered what it will be like in heaven? The Bible has some positive descriptions of heaven, but it also reveals what will not be there (Revelation 21:4, 8). There will be no tears, no death, no sorrow, no pain, no sin and no sinners. All things that cause sadness will be gone; trials and struggles will be over; it will be a place of life and happiness.

Again, the writer of Revelation speaks of what will not be in heaven in Revelation 22:3, 5, 15. There will be no more curse—the effects of sin will be over. There is no night, rather the eternal light of God’s presence. And again, it is emphasized that sin and sinners will have no access to the eternal prize in heaven.

Well, what will be there? Consider another text:

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. …the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ and let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:14, 17)

The tree of life! The last time the tree of life was seen was in the garden of Eden. However, those who enter heaven will have access to the tree of life! Not only that, but living waters. All who are there may freely drink of the water of life! Friend, heaven is a place we want to be.

Descriptions elsewhere speak of the beauty of heaven by referring to all kinds of jewels and gems, but the true glory of heaven is what is pictured in these two images (tree of life & living water) – heaven is about eternal life. That is the promise of God for His people (Titus 1:1-2).

WHO WILL BE IN HEAVEN?

The texts already considered reveal that no sin shall be there. Only those who have served the Lord faithfully, who have been washed in the blood of Christ will be there. Though the offer of salvation has been universally made (John 3:16), the recipients are an exclusive number (Matthew 7:13-14). That said, all the saved of all time will be there! When the roll is called in heaven, we (and all who live faithful) will be with those who are listed in Hebrews 11. We’ll be with Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Moses… and most important of all, with the Lord!

WHAT WILL WE DO IN HEAVEN?

The Bible says we will serve before the throne of God perpetually (Revelation 7:13-17). Do you enjoy worship? If not, then you’re not ready to go to heaven! Remember, the here and now is to prepare us for eternal life. If we have issues worshiping God for a few hours now, what makes us think we’ll enjoy (or have the opportunity) to serve Him in heaven? May we mend our ways and enjoy worshiping God!

Heaven is described as a rest from labours (Hebrews 4:1, 11; Revelation 14:13). Now is the time to work, to do all that we can do to exalt God, to share our faith. The day is coming when work will be done.

YOU’VE BEEN CALLED TO VICTORY!

The Lord wants to save us in heaven, and has provided all that we need (1 Peter 5:10). We need to do our part, lest we fall short of the glory of heaven (1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Timothy 6:12).

In the movie Cars, finding a bunch of Piston Cups in Doc Hudson’s garage, Lighting McQueen exclaimed, “I can’t believe it. Just look at those trophies!” Doc Hudson’s response sets things in perspective: “You look. All I see is a bunch of empty cups.”

Medals and trophies will fade and tarnish. They are temporary emblems of temporal achievements. Friend, we have set before us an imperishable prize—may we lay hold of it and not let go. Fulfill your calling as a human being, created in the image of God. Return to your Maker, washed in the blood of Christ and prepared to move on from this temporal plain to eternal victory.

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