The bell rings through the building. The inmates push closer and closer to the door. The officer exits his office at the end of the hallway. A path is formed in a sea of inmates as the officer makes his way to the door. The inmates immediately close the open path as the officer passes by. The officer unlocks the door, pushes it open, and steps to the side in fear of being trampled upon.
Ready! Set! Go! Inmates are out the door in a split second, setting the torrid-walking pace to the chow hall 200 yards away. (Running is prohibited). Arms are pumping, legs are moving, each is breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. Numbers eight, nine, and ten are about two seconds behind the leaders, but keeping up with the pack. The first ten to fifteen men break away from the other inmates. The gap widens. A few late starters try to cross the gap to join the leaders, but none have been successful. In just over one minute, the leaders of the pack will enter the chow hall doors, get their food and sit down before the majority arrives.
Ah yes, the joys of going to the chow hall! This is almost better than watching an Olympic race. The winners are usually the men who have been locked up for 20+ years and have been training since their first year. Some like to call them “institutionalized”. The 80-yr-olds who normally walk around with their walkers and canes toss those aside to compete in this race three times a day. Their bodies somehow must turn into a body like a 20-yr-old athlete. Their eyes are glazed over and each one is in “gotta be first in line” game mode.
In the three months since I’ve been at Seagoville, I have yet to figure out the benefits of being first. Do they get better food? No. More dessert? No. Maybe it’s good –time days off their sentence? Ah yes, that’s got be it. Hmmm….probably not. I don’t think anyone is rewarded for being first to the chow line. As for me….. until there is an amazing prize at the end, I’m content on being at the back of the pack.
In college, I was given the nickname of “Backpack” during my first few seasons of cross country, as I always brought up the rear of our team. So I guess you can say I’ve got that nickname again. And proud of it! I take my time. There’s no rush. There will always be food. And my prize is the same prize as the first inmate through the chow line – a free meal!!
This true story of prison life is a great lead in to 1 Corinthians 9. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 reads: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”
Winning a race requires purpose and discipline. Long-distance runners work hard to build endurance and strength. On race day, their clothes are lightweight and their bodies lean. Paul explains that the Christian life takes hard work and grueling preparation. As Christians, we are running toward our heavenly rewards. The discipline of prayer, Bible Study, and worship equip us to run with vigor and stamina. Don’t merely observe from the grandstand. Don’t just turn out to jog a couple of laps each morning. Train diligently – your spiritual life depends on it. To run the race that God has set before us, we should strip off anything that slows us down. Choose friends who are also committed to the race. Make wise choices. Drop certain activities. The Christian life involves hard work. It requires us to give up whatever endangers our relationship with God, to run with endurance, and to fight against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit. We must keep our eyes on Jesus. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight at the finish line.
In prison the prize to the chow hall is the same for the first person as the last. And in life, the prize of heaven is the same for the person who has had a relationship with Christ their entire life, as well as the person who has only known Christ just minutes before dying. The prize is the same, but well-worth the training. Blessings come through the training. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your training. Begin now! Run your lives in such a way to receive the ultimate prize!!