“Am I running the right race? What race am I running?”
This question had a habit of popping up during quiet moments for me this summer. Sometimes, I’d be leaving work and sitting in heavy traffic staring at a red light, when it’d just pop up. Other times I’d be leaving friends and it’d start playing out again as I drove quiet field roads, just me, my car, and the bright moon. It always seems much easier to process things in the still moments, driving in the car with less distraction. This question, in particular, stemmed from what I had been reading repeatedly.
At some point this summer, I picked up 2 Timothy and quite unintentionally became hooked. Written by Paul, a seasoned Christian, to Timothy, a young Christian, this book became something I would keep re-reading and thinking about inadvertently for months.
The book was one of Paul’s last writings before his execution. And while it has many familiar verses we all hear quoted in pieces, this concise book is quite powerful to read in one sitting. It explores the journey of a Christian to our destination, and its most apparent theme is a focus on living intentionally during that process. After reading it, I felt prompted to examine where I was traveling in my relationship, and where my actions behind my “spiritual” wheel where taking me.
The book starts out with Paul reminding Timothy about the big picture of our relationship with Christ. 2 Timothy 2: 3-7 reads:
“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all of this.”
“Lord give me insight.”
I prayed this while reading and then paused to think about what Paul is trying to tell Timothy. During the time I first read this, the FIFA World Cup was on, and everyone around me was following. I considered this verse in that context thinking about all the news from FIFA I was seeing every day.
What if a FIFA cup athlete showed up with a bike beside him, saying he was ready to compete? It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? He certainly won’t be able to win the prize, because he’s using the wrong methods to reach his goal. And while it’s easy to see the problem in this situation, do we ever do this to ourselves when building a relationship with God?
Sitting there, I wondered if this is how God feels watching me choose methods to “build” my relationship with him. I write that with quotation marks because sometimes I justify being lazy or not intentional in praying, reading scripture, or worshipping to foster my relationship with him. Yet I’ll easily sit and try to pretend that even by not taking action, I can still reach a rich and full relationship with God in the end. But Paul points out that like athletes, we must train accordingly to reach victory. It’s not that there isn’t grace if we stray, but that grace isn’t meant to be an excuse to continue living aimlessly for our own benefit.
Thankfully this book doesn’t just end there, though. In it, Paul breaks down practical encouragement on how we can begin to build our muscles and compete for the prize. First, he starts by addressing gifts. He reminds Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God.” Paul reminds him that “The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”
Did you catch that at the end? We often focus heavily on the fear part getting in the way of us using our gifts, but Paul also calls out what does build those gifts. It’s what the Holy Spirit gives us; power, love, and self-discipline.
It’s easy to lack firmness in exercising gifts. And in this verse, Paul isn’t telling Timothy to go look for his gift. He knows Timothy is aware of his gift. Paul tells him to act on that gifting. This sounds so simple, but it can be really hard to actually carry this out in our daily lives. We think we’ll reach the end goal of using our gifts, but don’t always actually use them from day to day.
I struggle with figuring out how to train and use my gifts in the present to achieve the long-term goal that God has for them. Often my weakness comes in the form of excuses. I have too little time after work. I’m too tired. I deserve some time to enjoy entertainment.
These are all familiar lines. But while rest and Netflix are perfectly fine in moderation, I can easily let them bleed over into the time I should be spending to “fan” my gift. But these gifts are a part of our race. They blend in with our calling and as a result, they require some work. You may not be competing to your fullest ability if you’re stifling the power of your gifts from God.
Secondly, Paul points to the second biggest struggle of running the metaphorical race. Distractions. While I mentioned what keeps me from exercising gifts, did you also see how some of the reasons were distractions? It’s easy to get sidetracked.
But we need to be vigilant. Paul reminds Timothy to “flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” (2 Tim. 2:22-24)
Once you catch yourself veering from the path of your personal race, run away from the distraction and get back to the right course! In my short life, I’ve already found myself chasing entertainment, a certain status, or plenty of other things that were pulling me away from what I needed to be doing to grow closer to God. It’s hard to reach that goal if I’m putting my energy into the wrong desire.
What are the gifts you need to start activating, or the areas you need to flee from to begin living intentionally? In reading 2 Timothy, I found a helpful roadmap and some inspiration to remind me to take hold of the small moments each day and make them count towards the big picture of being a Christian. This week, consider reading 2 Timothy and gauging where you’re at in the journey. Re-evaluate how you’re living and see if it lines up to Paul’s advice. And talk to God. He’s the best coach to help you train and find the way back to reaching your goal intentionally.