March 31, 2009
What You’ve Always Wanted to Achieve
by Charles R. Swindoll
The great apostle Paul loved athletic events. Anyone who has made a serious study of the man's writings in the New Testament cannot help but come to that conclusion. He often used word pictures that reflected his knowledge of and interest in the athletic contests of his day. He seemed drawn to those strenuous physical sports that required specialized and consistent training for the athletes who competed in the well-organized events. Though it was the ancient Greeks who contributed the word and much of the ideal of athletics, previous civilizations were already acquainted with the concept and practice of physical activity.
By the first century AD, the well-known Corinthian Games and the Isthmian Games existed, but the Olympian Games were the most famous, where vast crowds gathered as spectators to see who would win the coveted prizes. The world of sport became so large that the Greeks introduced unique words that meant "to take part in a contest, to compete in the public games." Basic to virtually all of those active and vivid terms was the idea of effort. Not surprisingly, when they are translated into our English language they usually include words such as "struggling" and "wrestling," "striving" and "contending."
One of Paul's favorites was the intense term, agonizomai (pronounced "ag-own-idz-o-my"). A close look at the first two syllables reveals that the concept of "agony" is derived from the term, which is sometimes rendered "struggle" in the New Testament Scriptures. Paul used it toward the end of 1 Corinthians 9, where he was exhorting his readers to be people of strong spiritual discipline. With that emphasis in mind, he illustrated his point from the world of sport:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
See the words, "competes in the games"? That's an occasion where Paul chose that athletic term agonizomai in order to drive home the importance of being people of spiritual discipline, people who stay active and engaged in life. As he concluded the chapter, he added his own testimony of personal fitness, "I discipline my body and make it my slave" (1 Corinthians 9:27). Obviously, he had in mind a meaning much deeper than physical exercise: spiritual fitness. But it is significant that he used an analogy that is drawn from the world of the athlete, who remains mentally determined to stay physically fit.
How determined are you to stay in fit condition? How disciplined? Without that discipline, you will find that you'll drift and slack off, allowing yourself to gain weight and even become mentally sluggish.
I had the great privilege of getting to know the late, great coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Tom Landry, while he served on the Dallas Theological Seminary board. Though a humble man of quiet strength, he modeled discipline as well as anyone I've ever known personally. On one occasion I asked him how he was able to forge a team out of a bunch of strong-willed, independent individuals, so that they would win so often during his 29 years as their coach. He smiled as he answered my question. To this day it is still fresh in my mind:
The key is discipline. And what is that? It is to get men to do what they don't want to do in order to achieve what they've always wanted to achieve.
Coach Tom Landry's words remain true to this day. Keep them in mind as you discipline yourself to stay active. And don't forget Paul's words as you "make your body your slave" from one day to the next.
The good news? By maintaining this discipline, you will finally achieve what you have always wanted to achieve.
Reprinted by permission. Day by Day, Charles Swindoll, July 2005, Thomas Nelson, inc., Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Purchase "Day by Day" here.