308 medals and 49 trophies. My brother and I were swimmers from age 8 to 18 (my brother even swam in college so he was more like 6 to 22) and over span of time we were blessed to earn participation awards and a few accolades. During the course of time, and most recently helping to move and clean out my parents’ home, these medals and trophies that had started by being displayed on special shelves began to move to closets, then to boxes, then to the attic, and ultimately wound up in the trash. My mom was a big deal in the Women’s Golf Association for forty years and they had adult types of beautiful awards – engraved silver and crystal bowls, platters, coasters, decanters, and the like. My dad’s glories were in American Legion baseball, Duke University Soccer program, the Navy, and his sales career. He received trophies, ashtrays, and clocks. Most of those awards, as well as pictures of the same, were either trashed or sold.
Winding up in a dump seems kind of a sad end to the fact that each award represents discipline and a struggle to achieve. Some represent victory, but some were also disappointments that a higher honor was not earned. The awards represent only some of what shaped who we are today – the lessons learned, the friendships made, the support received and given, and the lows and the highs – each played a role.
If we’re not careful, awards can be achieved by sacrificing something more important. Relationships, family time, health, etc. – our priorities can easily get skewed.
With all of the packing and sorting through representatives of the past, the refrain of an old hymn played on repeat in my brain, “I will cherish the Old rugged cross, ‘til my trophies, at last, I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it someday for a crown.” Some people wisely recognize the perishable nature of earthly awards. Their priority of Jesus and heaven guides their every step and no gain or loss causes them to waiver in their focus on what is eternal versus temporary.
The Bible, written two thousand years ago, is relevant on this topic! The apostle Paul says “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 9:25) The Jesus-followers of old struggled with some of the same things we do. Perspective. The Greek word for “crown” is stephanos. It means “a badge of royalty, a prize in the public games, or a symbol of honor generally”. Awards are not bad. Quite the opposite! Paul says run in such a way as to get the prize! Prizes give us goals and motivation to become the best we can be. However, when priorities are sacrificed, that is not the best that we can be. Jesus tells us that He is to be first. Strive for the prize that He will give us when our earthly journey is over. “In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” I Peter 3-4
The awards we win on earth are not for naught. There is discipline and hard work and lessons learned from each one that we strive for or earn. Hopefully, we lean more into Jesus with each goal we set and represent Him more as we fight for them. However, no award will hold greater value than the heavenly reward we work for each day as we seek to become more like Jesus in every way.
“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:8