26Therefore I do not run uncertainly (without definite aim). I do not box like one beating the air and striking without an adversary. 27But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit]. 1Cor. 9:26-27 (Amp)
How often do you read your word? What’s your prayer life like? Questions like these tend to bring a lot of conviction and guilt, regardless of who you’re asking. Over the years, I’ve definitely had my ups and downs in this area. There have been times where I felt like my time with God was exemplary and other times where I would be embarrassed if the subject even came up. We all know that we should be consistent, but most struggle to accomplish this feat.
Over the years, I’ve learned to approach my prayer time with God like a fighter. You may wonder why or how I would relate prayer and study to fighting, but I don’t think I’ve fought harder and longer with anything else in my life! We all fit into two styles of fighting. Brawling and boxing. Brawling is probably seen as a rougher style where anything goes. Boxing is probably more reserved, if not downright boring in comparison to a big brawl. The biggest thing that sets these two styles apart is planning. In a brawl, you might grab the closest thing to you and throw it at your opponent, but in boxing you have a limited amount of time to overcome your opponent with nothing but two fists and quick reflexes. If brawling were an art, boxing would be a science. In boxing, opponents have already studied each others favorite moves and planned counter-attacks before they even step in the ring. We have to treat our flesh the same way.
This scripture in 1 Corinthians encourages us to be precise and thoughtful when we fight. As Christians we know that we wrestle not against flesh and blood, because our fighting is done in prayer. We are in a day and time where God is challenging us to go beyond the emotional style of a brawl, because emotions and adrenaline can only take you so far as you’ve probably seen in the ups and downs of your prayer life. When I got tired of repenting for my pitiful prayer life, I sat down with God and began to plan. I thought through the course of the day and looked for soft spots in my schedule that I could spend with God without interruptions. When I couldn’t find anything, I looked realistically at what sacrifices I could make that I knew I could and would stick with. In short, I started thinking like a boxer. A boxer knows his/her limitations and studies his/her adversary and says “how will I beat you?” In this case your adversary is your own flesh, mixed within your day-to-day schedule.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve fought enough to realize that the first or the hardest punches don’t always win the fight. I needed to put some practical combos together that would work for me against …me. I had to plan specific times with God (aka put Him first regardless of whatever else is going on) that were realistic and pushed me in the right direction. This can’t be accomplished without sacrifice, but it may not be as hard as you think, even if you’re super busy like me. Of course, I still have times of impromptu prayer where I sneak away from the family and other things for some alone time with The Father, but that’s icing on the cake. I can’t depend on impromptu to develop consistent and long term victories against the flesh. It just won’t happen.
Successful boxers don’t just go for the knockout blow. They have a plan of attack and work the plan. When something else opens up, they take it. This means that you shouldn’t try to kill yourself with your first attempt. If you only pray 15 minutes a day, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can jump to 2 hours. That’s an emotional decision. That is something a brawler would do. It probably won’t work and will make you feel discouraged from the overall failure instead of encouraged by any progress. I can’t knock out a heavy weight unless I train like a heavy weight. Let’s be real. Add practically to what you are doing so that you can be encouraged and know that it is possible. Just realize when you make the plan, that you also are planning to add to it your time. As the scripture says, do not fight like someone who is “beating the air.” Beat/buffet your body and discipline yourself to accomplish what is needed in your relationship with God to be who He has called you to be. This doesn’t mean you won’t take a hit here and there, but this does put you in a better position to consistently break new ground and win the fight. Remember we are supposed to forcefully advance, not run in circles. If we learn to work smarter instead of just harder, we can do it.
Written by: Edward Welch