The National Basketball Association playoffs are a best of seven elimination tournament annually held after the NBA's regular season to determine the league's champion. They are underway right now and have the Mason household’s passionate attention whenever the Cavs are playing. In fact, people are watching the games now who haven’t watched much all year because the stakes are so high, the prize is so big.
One of the things commentators and players alike say about the playoffs is that the intensity is at a completely different level than during the regular season. Even though becoming divisional champs is a really big deal and a significant accomplishment, these teams are now playing for a bigger prize. They are now in hot pursuit of the title, “World Champions.” The younger relatively inexperienced teams are not battle tested. That makes them most likely to be eliminated sooner rather than later in the playoffs.
I find that comparison to be an analogy true in life. The intensity level goes to a whole new level when you are going after a bigger prize. You may wonder what I mean. Think with me.
You move to pursuit of a much bigger prize when you move from . . .
· making a decision for Christ to truly being committed to Christ.
· being married to having a thriving marriage.
· being a parent figure to truly leading your children.
· loving Jesus to being devoted to Him.
· being a Christian to being a leader and impact maker in a needy world.
Paul understood the intense pursuit of a big prize. He was aware from his own experience that pursuit takes a whole new level of intensity and determination.
He wrote to his friends in the Corinthian church, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, 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 seek an imperishable prize. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV).
If we’re in it to win, we must understand that we are in a spiritual battle. The stakes are very high. The prize is the biggest in the entire universe. We have an enemy who will do everything in his power to frustrate us, distract us, discourage us, trip us up, and cause us to forfeit the prize. But we have a God who has called us, empowered us, and is focused on us, giving us the strength and power of His presence and encouragement if we will do what we must to win.
Hebrews 12:1 directs us: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Some things have to go. Nothing is worth hanging onto; nothing is worth keeping in our lives that detracts us from the win. Far more importantly than an NBA player tossing the late-night distractions; the activities and people that get him off track from the pursuit, we must make sure our minds and hearts are willing to make the sacrifices and cuts that enable us to keep in hot pursuit of the prize. We get rid of some things, and then we push through the obstacles, discouragements, and plans of our enemy. We don’t give up. We focus on the prize. We run with intensity.