Lent: a time of self examination and improvement
By Pastor Robert Ramphal, Oster First Covenant Church, Waverly
When we look at I Corinthians 9:24-27 in the New Testament, we read one of the most interesting texts in the Bible, which tells us very vividly how we need to prepare ourselves to live the Christian life to the end of our days on earth.
It says, “You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win! Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last, but we do it for a crown that will last forever. I don’t run without a goal. And I don’t box by beating my fists in the air. I keep my body under control and make it my slave, so I won’t lose out after telling the good news to others.”
The apostle Paul, in writing this text, was reminding all of us about preparing ourselves for this long- term goal. This column will address three areas in our lives that could bring about self-examination and improvement.
First, we have to discipline ourselves. This requires a lot of determination to force us to look at ourselves very closely to see where we have fallen short. This means that we may get sore knees praying to God and asking Him, on a daily basis, to show us our shortcomings, faults, and sins.
Looking insightfully at ourselves, God will show us what needs to be changed in us, and once we have accepted, honestly, His revelation, He will empower us with His Holy Spirit to change those behaviors that are not pleasing to Him. This change will require courage and steadfastness.
We need to ask God to help us make these changes permanently in our lives, so that there will visible signs of improvement. We will need to reflect these changes in our communities and in our churches. However, the discipline of improving our lives in God will not happen overnight, but requires constant vigilance and daily searching and cleansing of ourselves.
Secondly, we have to have a goal for life. That goal must always be a life to be lived with our Lord when our days on earth have ended. People who live lives aimlessly really cannot get anywhere in life. All of our hopes and dreams must be centered in God through Jesus Christ.
We know, for a fact, that all earthly things will pass away. The jobs we have are only a means to an end. The cars and homes are really only temporary possessions. None of them will go with us to the life beyond.
Our children, while they give us a feeling of love, joy, and satisfaction, will not be responsible for us for the life to come, nor will we be responsible before God for our children. Each person will be ultimately responsible for himself/herself before God.
Our goal, therefore, must always include the desire to please God and to listen to His still and soft voice whenever He speaks to us. With God’s empowerment and discipline, He will help us to achieve our goal and win the prize.
While the apostle Paul speaks of winning the prize in this race, there is not just one prize, but one prize for each person who finishes the race. The operative word is “finish.”
Thirdly, because this is a race for eternal life, we cannot be half-hearted in our effort. There is no rest spot or a break from this race. The race is continuous.
We do not stop worshipping or serving God because some crisis or problems have come up. We do not say we are tired of doing good or helping people or leading souls to Jesus Christ.
We do not stop preaching the gospel or teaching a Sunday school class. We do not take the summer off from church because we want to go on vacation or do something else.
We do not stop reading the Bible and substitute the newspaper or a magazine for it. We do not stop or miss going to church because we have to work or are tired after work or because there is a ball game we have to see on television or attend.
The apostle Paul said we need to “run to win.” Your attitude and disposition will determine the outcome of this race, because this is not a race that is run in spurts and in segments. It is a long distance race that is run continuously, day and night.
We cannot give the evil one opportunity to trick us into believing we can take a break from this race. We have to live righteously and holy at all times, through God’s strength and grace.
We do not run on our steam, but on God’s power. Once we have declared that we are God’s children, made possible through Christ’s death on the cross, God will come to our rescue and enable us to finish this journey.
We must run with a goal and we must keep our bodies under control at all times. Paul said that you must do this because you do not want to lose out after telling others the good news.
We have to be mindful of this always. It would be extremely sad to have witnessed to our neighbors and the community at large and to find out, in the end, we have missed our goal. We have to be always on full alert, because we could be attacked and fall prey to the wiles of the evil one.
God wants us to persevere and focus on our goal for life. So, in all the business and noise of this world, do not be distracted. Work on your spiritual and physical life and put your trust in God, and He will bring you through and reward you.
Remember, the race is not for the swift, nor the battle for the strong, but he who endures to the end.