The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Galatians 5:22-23

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

I Corinthians 9:24-25

I love the analogy which compares the Christian to the athlete. The “race” in which we compete is our lives. We compete against only ourselves. And in this race, everyone has the potential to win. God sets the rules for the race – He controls the race course. We control how we run our race. The race course is different for each person. For some, the race is long, in terms of years, and for others it is short. For some, the race feels like it is always uphill, while others seem to have a flat course. God sets the course. God is in control of my course. However, I choose how to run the course He has set for me.

This doesn’t make us puppets or robots, nor does it make God an oppressive dictator. God is the benevolent bestower of mercies and blessings who has given each of us the potential for our “race” to end in His Heavenly Kingdom. Each day that we wake up is a blessing because it gives us a chance to advance in our “race” toward Him. Even each challenge can be a blessing because each gives us a chance to move closer to Him. We are not puppets or robots because each of us has a choice in our respective races. We can run hard or take it easy. We can even take a day off from the race if we’d like. Some take much more time than that.

Why God sets specific courses for specific people is something that we cannot understand. If we did, then we would be God. Why the race for some leads to being a world leader, or a world-class athlete, and why the race for others leads to a lifetime of struggle to just being alive (those who battle serious illness their entire life), this is something only God knows.

What we know with certainty is that each “race” for each respective person has the potential to lead to heaven. There is no race that does not have that as the potential finish line.

Who has control of each soul? In this life, each of us has control of our souls. We can choose to live a life that purifies the soul. We can choose to grow in the Fruit of the Spirit, and let the Fruit grow in us. Or we can choose to have “rotten fruit.” Each life is spent running a race towards salvation (or away from it). We do not know when our race will end. We do know that at the end of the race, there will be a judgment before God, who will judge how we did in our respective races. Then He will place each soul in its eternal destination – salvation or condemnation. Ultimately God will decide the fate of each soul. However, we have total control of the “case” we will make before Him.

I would think the ultimate goal of each life is for us to proclaim to God the words of 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And to hear in return, the words of God from Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your Master.”

As today’s scripture verse says, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.” We can’t control our racecourse. But we can control how we run it. So let us strive to run our respective races, however easy or difficult they may be today, to run them with self-control and with purpose, knowing that we will please God with how we run them. Today’s prayer is the popular “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niehbur. Most of us know the first sentence, but the rest of the prayer is both beautiful and appropriate for today’s message. Pray this prayer often.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

Run your race with faith, purpose and self-control today!