Way back in 1976, Sylvester Stallone starred in what many regard as one of the greatest sports stories of all time. Rocky was so successful that it led to Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, and most recently, Creed. The main idea in each of them was that anyone can achieve greatness if they can keep their eye on the prize–in this case, a boxing championship.
Back in April of this year, a young steeplechase runner from the University of Oregon was leading the race coming off the final turn. He was so pleased with himself, that he began smiling and waving to the crowd. Then, just before the finish line, he was passed by the runner who had been in 2nd place. He didn’t keep his eye on the prize.
When I was coaching high school cross-country and I was timing a practice, I always insisted that each of my runners finish 15 yards beyond where I was timing them. It happened to be at the gate to a fence surrounding the baseball field. Day after day I insisted that they touch the gate before they allowed themselves to slow down. In 36 years I never had a runner lose by getting passed at the end because of celebrating their prospective victory. They kept their eye on the prize.
In the Good Will Games in Canada, the Jamaican 4×100 relay team was favored. While waiting for the baton hand-off, the 3rd runner glanced up to see how a friend was doing in another event. In the next moment, his teammate crashed into him. Needless to say, his team lost. He didn’t keep his eye on the prize.
While most of us won’t have sports championships to keep focus, we do have lives that God expects us to live for Him. We, too, need to keep our eye on the prize. We could be bankers, farmers, teachers–you name it. But when the time comes to recognize that we need to follow Jesus, we need to keep our eye on the prize. And what is the prize for the Christian? Eternal life through Christ our Lord. But think of the distractions. There are issues with family, finances, health, world terrorism. global warming, drugs–there is no end to the worries that we can . We all have to decide whether to focus on the immediate–all the things, good and bad, that the world offers up. Or we can focus on the future–eternal life in the presence of God Himself. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him. (I Corinthians 2:9) We can’t even begin to comprehend the joy, peace, and beauty that awaits us. As long as we keep our eye on the prize.
I like the example of rowers in the Olympic Games. Think of their positioning. All of them are facing away from their ultimate goal–the finish line. So they concentrate on the directions of the coxswain–the captain who guides and motivates them. He sees the goal and verbalizes the rhythm of the strokes. While it may not always seem that our lives are headed in right direction toward eternal life, if we follow the directions of our Captain, and keep our eye on the prize instead of circumstances, we will reach our destination.
As Paul wrote, I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14)