In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 and in Philippians 3:12-14, Paul compares his walk with Christ to a race. The reasoning? He draws in two different analogies and each are valid. In Philippians, Paul notes that one’s walk with the Lord is always moving forward towards a final goal and, frankly, you can’t look backwards. When you look back, you slow yourself down, get your eye off the goal, and focus on the “competition” and not on your walk. The point was that when you look back in faith, you look to the world – to your life before Christ and the Lord wants us to be looking forward, towards a closer relationship with Christ. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is pointing out that we should not train aimlessly and should be seeking the ultimate in prizes, Christ Himself. We’re looking to a prize that will never fade away, an eternal prize.
I get both analogies, I really do – and I agree with Paul. That said, when you look at a foot race, the ultimate goal of a foot race doesn’t really match up with the goal of a Christian walk. The point of a foot race is to beat others who are your the competition. This makes it an incomplete picture of the faith. Your Christian walk is not to exist for you to prove yourself as a better Christian than your neighbor. It’s not to, “Out Christian” the competition. It’s for a closer, stronger personal relationship with your Lord and Savior. It’s about progressing forward, but not in a competitive sense among the Lord’s flock. In that way, it’s more like American Ninja Warrior, or the original version Sasuke.
In the United States, we have seen the ever growing phenomenon of American Ninja Warrior. The tournament style show originated in Japan as Sasuke. In both iterations of the show, athletes battle their way through a detailed and difficult obstacle course. Each obstacle, more intense than the previous one. It’s conducted in four stages and each person is personally striving to reach that final goal. It’s a personal challenge where the individual athlete is pushing themselves to their physical limit. Unlike a foot race, in American Ninja Warrior/Sasuke the competitors are not running at once – each are on their own path. Each are trying, independent of the other to reach total victory. In a way, that is like our path with Christ. While we each are going through life together as families, churches, or groups; there are trials and tribulations that we each face as individuals. As with Paul’s race analogy, in order to progress through these trials and tribulations of the faith we must continue to look forward to maintaining an eye on the ultimate goal, closeness with the Lord. We must not look backward. In a way, this same analogy works just as Paul’s does – but there are other aspects to this different analogy that I think make it work better.
In one sense of this, American Ninja Warrior/Sasuke is not truly an individual competition. Yes, each person is trying to prove themselves on the obstacle course, but with that in mind they relish the opportunity to see their fellow competitors succeed. Each person is not angry or bitter as another moves further, they offer words of encouragement. Consider examples of those who progress the furthest – their fellow competitors are congratulatory, patting them on the back, enjoying the victory over the course, and trying to learn what they can from these people. That’s how Christian fellowship works – we are all striving for the same goal, trying to move forward with a greater closeness with our Savior. As a community of believers, as a family in Christ, we encourage one another in our walks. We learn from each other and as we see others going through similar obstacles, we advise them. We do not push each other down, we build each other up, just like the athletes in American Ninja Warrior and Sasuke. When we stumble, we help each other up – and encourage them to try again. The same holds true in Sasuke/American Ninja Warrior. It was one of the things which drew me in for the original show and keeps me going in the Americanized version – the community they have created where they all are building each other up and making each other better.
Sasuke is an obstacle course where individuals face trials to reach an ultimate goal with the encouragement of their peers – our walk with Christ is as well. While in Sasuke the goal is proving oneself among their peers, our walk with Christ has the goal of ultimate closeness with our Savior. While we face obstacles along our path, with our fellow Christians we encourage and support each other. Our goals are the same and through individual endeavors and the encouragement of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will move forward – always moving forward.
Based on an article I originally wrote on April 3, 2011.