Run in such a way as to get the prize.... I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 1 Corinthians 9:24, 26
Have you noticed how much more easier it is to obtain a goal when you know what the goal is? Maybe that's why parenting is so frustrating, I'm not sure what the finish line looks like or where it is.
As for the Christ follower, what is the finish line? Is it just tallying up how many people we tagged for Christ before we die? Is it being a good person - whatever good means to me?
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22 "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." If the goal were to save people or be good, I think he might consider going in circles if necessary to save all.
He gives the goal in verse 23: "I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessing."
Is he looking for a reward just for running the race? Well, yes but not the kind we think of - not something presented for effort. The goal is the finish line of the gospel - the kingdom of God. And I don't think he is just talking about some invisible place that is out there somewhere after he dies. We can see this finish line in the resurrected Jesus Christ and anywhere else the power of the Holy Spirit overpowers evil.
The gospel - good news - is fantastic for everyone. It is the reign of an all loving, all powerful God without the interference of obstacles. Imagine that! That reign is here now in part so that we know what the finish line looks like.
There are others in the race with us running aimlessly. They may seem like an obstacle but when we help them see the finish line, they help us get to the finish line sooner. When we bring the power of God's rule to someone through healing or setting them free from stuff that is not of God's kingdom (depression, poverty, physical or mental illness, injustice, etc.), we are relaying the gospel.
Those who we relay the gospel to, pick up the same goal - we give them sight of the finish line. The exciting thing is that all who pick up the baton are headed for the same finish line and we will all share in its blessing.
Those who don't pick up the baton are running aimlessly. They think they are getting rewards but they don't have their sight on the real finish line and so the thrill of the reward earned along the way diminishes.
The goal is not for me to make it to the finish line so that I get the reward. The finish line is not the end of my life on earth. The finish line is the end of the evil age and the perfection of God's reign over eternity.
And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then, finally, the end will come. ~ Matthew 24:14 (NLT)