Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
In the 1960’s, during the civil rights movement in America, the people involved adopted a traditional gospel song called “Gospel Plow” as their anthem. They changed the words a bit to suit their situation. The original song’s lyrics “Keep Your hand on the Plow – Hold on”, were changed to “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize – Hold on.” Some of the other verses were changed also. The song was covered by folk legend Pete Seeger, and then by rock and roll legend Bruce Springsteen, and others. It’s a great song. I especially like Springsteen’s version (available on YouTube).
For most of the people listening to this song, and for most people involved in the civil rights movement back in the 60’s, the “prize” that they were keeping their “eyes on” was having our society see all people as equal regardless of race, religion, etc. The prize was social change. The race they were running and the fight they were fighting was for equal civil rights for all, with all prejudice, especially racial, removed.
Here’s my question: As Christians, what is the prize that we should have our eyes kept on? Is it okay to chose some noble cause and focus on that? Does God place some desire in our heart and we then make it the prize that we focus our attention on and fight to obtain?
In 1 Corinthians chapter 9, quoted above, the apostle Paul goes on to say, (vs. 25) “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate (exercises self-control) in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Clearly, the prize we should be focused on as Christians is not something that has to do with this world. It is something of eternal value and immortal or imperishable. Our prize is a heavenly reward, a crown that will last forever. Heaven and the future Kingdom of God that will be established at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ is our focus, our goal, our prize.
Maybe the next question would be: Can’t we have the goal for heaven and also some other goal for this life? It is my opinion that we can only keep our eyes on one prize at a time. The Scriptures say that we can’t have two masters, we can only service or please one at a time. The same would apply to the prize that we focus our life on.
This is one of the largest problems that Christians face: keeping their eyes solely on the “true” prize. It’s so easy to get distracted, for whatever reason, and in many cases, for what seems to be a noble cause. There is an enemy to our soul who wants to keep us from reaching our true, heavenly goal, and who will do whatever it takes to distract us from it. He also is clever and deceptive enough to lure us into something that we think is aligned with God’s will for us. Anything that removes our focus from the true prize is not of God. We are exhorted to guard our hearts, and to make sure that we don’t allow them to get set on any earthly thing, but keep them set on heavenly things. (see Colossians 3) We must work and earn a living, and we must get involved in some activities here in this live, but the issue is what you hold on to as a prize. The issue is what you have set your heart on.
Back to the analogy that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9, we see that Paul goes on to explain how seriously he takes his race: (vs. 26-27) “Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Okay, so now we are getting to where the rubber meets the road. This has to be more than just mental consent; more than just nice thoughts that we have when we pray or read the Bible. This must be the way that we live our life. And to be blunt, it is our sins that will disqualify us, so we must truly pursue holiness, and keep our lives free from sin.
The 12th chapter of Hebrews says a similar thing: (vs. 1-4) “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” At the time of this writing in Hebrews, Christians were experiencing intense persecution, in some cases involving physical harm and death. In the 11th chapter of Hebrews, just prior to the words above, it is mentioned how the great men and women of the faith endured hardships, but remained faithful: (11:35-40) “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mocking and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonments. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wondered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” In some parts of the world today similar trials are being faced by our fellow Christians, and we don’t know what the future holds for us.
The main point I have is this: if we keep our eyes on the prize, and hold on, we can run the race without being discouraged, no matter what hardships we face. We can prepare now by focusing our hearts on the heavenly prize, by setting our affections fully on the eternal rewards we have waiting for us in heaven, and removing the focus of our hearts from the temporary earthy rewards; doing this now will prepare us for any future trials. Hebrews 12:12-13: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for you feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” We can prepare now for when the race becomes more challenging. Stay strong and focused on the true prize.
Bruce Springsteen ends his version from YouTube of the “Eyes on the Prize” song with this verse: “Ain’t been to heaven but I’ve been told, the streets up there are made of gold.” Maybe he is focused on the true prize.

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