By: Dennis Bates
The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you are still a rat.
Several people have been given credit for that statement; among them is comedian Lily Tomlin and an Ivy League professor in the Fifties. I suggest something very similar to that was suggested in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, but I’ll get to that a few paragraphs down.
The term rat race refers to the daily grind most of us go through getting up every morning, going to work at the same job, doing a lot of the same things, and coming home at the same time to the same house and the same set of duties there. Who hasn’t wondered at least once what the point of all that is? I have. Call it the rat race, call it a rut, call it burn out: it doesn’t matter.
Thinking of life in those terms has the same soul killing effect. Laboratory rats in a maze. Nothing more. Scientists may be able to train the rats to find their way through the labyrinth faster and faster, but in the end the rat ends up in the same place every time and the reward is the same morsel of self gratification in the form of a food pellet.
At the end of the day, even the fastest rat is still a rat. It has no hope, no variety, no joy, no future. Its training is like the training for some runners Paul describes In 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27. It is designed to teach the rat how to get the prize, but it is an aimless beating of the air because the prize it seeks is a crown that will not last.
Paul has nothing against training or running. In fact, he says we should train strictly and run in a way to get the prize. He just suggests that many of us might have the wrong goal and be running for the wrong prize. Paul’s prize is a crown that will last forever. Eternal Life.
But I think Paul is talking about more than the ultimate goal in this analogy. I think he is also talking about the process of getting to that goal. He says he trains not only to set an example for others, but also so he himself can win the race and win the eternal crown.
That process should change us. It should make us see that God looks at our motives and intentions, not just the results of our activities. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his own soul? The process should make us concentrate on improving our motives so that our results mean something.
Jesus spoke time and time again about the need to change our hearts first. He said hatred in our hearts for our brothers is no better than murder. Lust is the same thing as adultery. The person with the most wealth in the world still dies at some point, and if he or she dies without Christ, the worldly wealthy person dies penniless. Their wealth does them no good.
No matter how well we do something, or how fast we get at finding our way through the maze we call the rat race, if we only run that race to get the food pellet at the end, we miss the point. We may be the best, but we are still a rat; the best rat maybe, but a rat. Nothing more.
Life is so much more than learning how to become the fastest rat in the cage. Don’t settle for that. Don’t make it your goal. It doesn’t last.