In Wichita, there is a lovely carved axiom in the decorative stone of an overpass. “The journey is the reward,” it says. I’m fairly certain the city planners had it inscribed there in an effort to stem road rage along Kellogg, especially since that particular stretch of the road is nearly always congested. And it’s a lovely saying. Poetic. Philosophical sounding even. Like a line you could pull out in a college classroom to impress your teachers with your depth.
But is it true? Is this journey we’re on (the one called life) its own reward? I don’t think so.
Today’s verses are 1 Corinthians 9:24-26.
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing.
Life isn’t a journey; life is a race. Everyone runs this race, some faster than others, some “better” than others, some more driven than others. Some walk. Some crawl. But everyone participates. It’s like a great big marathon, one of those televised ones where hundreds of people all bunch up and try to finish the race. Some people break away and race ahead; others are just glad to still be upright by the time they cross the finish line.
And I’m sure that you can really enjoy the run along the way in a marathon. I’ve never run one. But I do love to walk, and whenever I walk I have a goal. Walk to Point A and then return to where I came from. And when I’m walking at home down my road, I do love to look at the scenery (yes, Kansas has scenery), but I’m not walking just for that reason. There’s something I want to accomplish, and I can’t accomplish it until I finish walking.
Finishing is the reward. Not the journey. Like in a race, the winners receive a prize.
I love this passage because Paul makes a beautiful comparison between living our earthly life and living for Christ. Both are races. In a race, you run to win, and we should approach our life with Christ the same way because we aren’t running for a reward that will fade; we’re running for a reward that we’ll have for eternity. And for you non-competitive people out there (you folks who sabotage yourself in games so other people will win), remember this race for Christ isn’t about competing with others; you’re competing with yourself. It really is like a marathon. You aren’t running to beat the person next to you; you’re running to top your personal best.
Now this isn’t to say that I haven’t had marvelous experiences in my journey. I love my life. I love this race that I’m in. I have seen God do miracles, and I have witnessed the impossible become possible. I have seen lives transformed and families established and rebuilt and friendships renewed. Many rewarding things have happened in the course of my journey, but my journey isn’t the reward.
We get so attached to our little lives on Earth. It’s easy to do because they’re all that we can see, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that this world isn’t our home. We have a better home coming, a perfect home with no more sorrow or suffering or pain. That’s what we’re running for. That’s why we’re in this race. We aren’t racing for racing’s sake. We aren’t training for training’s sake. Everything we do should have a purpose, and that purpose should always come back to glorifying God.
So where are you in your race? Are you out front leading the pack? Are you in the middle with a bunch of other people who are moving at the same pace? Or are you at the back? Wherever you are, why are you running? Are you running to enjoy the run? To enjoy the scenery? To enjoy being around people who enjoy the same thing as you do? Nothing wrong with any of those, but eventually that motivation will fade.
Run to finish.
And in those moments where you want to give up, in those times when your race seems too long, too hard, too grueling to keep going, don’t stop. Keep moving forward and remember that the journey isn’t the reward. The reward comes after your journey is over.