Running to be a Winner

by Martha Nelson

Oh let me be a servant
A keeper of the door
My heart is only longing
To see forevermore
The glory of Your presence
The dwelling of the Lord
Oh let me be a servant
A keeper of the door

--Twilah Paris

This song by contemporary singer Twilah Paris, based on Psalm 84:10, has inspired many Christians toward this goal for their life. That is, to be willing to be whatever God wants them to be—even if that means being a lowly servant—a doorkeeper. They feel they would prefer that place to any material gain or attention the world could offer. But it is one thing to aspire to that life—and quite another to attain it. We are all in a sort of race—and we want to be winners. So how can we run to be a winner?


I love horses and recently read Laura Hillenbrand's excellent biography Seabiscuit, about a racehorse in the 1930's in America. Seabiscuit was an unlikely hero because he was too small, bad tempered, ran "funny" and had a unique personality that inclined him to eat too much and sleep all day. Although he was from excellent stock (the grandson of record breaker Man O'War) he was unremarkable in his early races. Everyone thought he was just too slow.

What turned Seabiscuit around was his trainer, a reclusive and quiet cowboy named Tom Smith. Smith was disregarded in the exclusive world of horse racing—especially on the east coast. No one knew much about him and he used unusual methods. But Smith could read horses and when he looked at Seabiscuit he knew there was something special in that horse that could be developed. Everyone else saw a loser—but Smith saw a winner.

Smith began to study Seabiscuit and discovered that he wasn't slow—he was just lazy and bored. Although racing usually comes naturally to Thoroughbreds, Smith had to help "The Biscuit" rediscover his love of running by taking him out into the country for long gallops. Soon the horse's interest revived and nothing could catch him. Smith also found that Seabiscuit was easily distracted by everything else around him on the track—so blinders attached to his bridle helped him focus on the race ahead.

Smith brought the ill-tempered horse an old cowpony stablemate, Pumpkin, who became Seabiscuit's lifelong companion and kept the racehorse calm, especially when faced with flocks of reporters. He matched him up with a jockey who understood the colt's temperament: Red Pollard. Smith rubbed special ointments into Seabiscuit's legs after his workouts—and gradually the other trainers began to notice a change in the funny little horse.

Seabiscuit's great pastime was eating—his nickname was "Butterball." Smith restricted his diet and put a fur-lined muzzle on the horse at night—since he would even eat his bedding. Although the horse stomped his feet at this bedtime ritual, he gradually lost the weight that slowed him down on the track.

Seabiscuit then went on to become the greatest racehorse in America. In 1938, the year's number-one newsmaker was not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hitler or Mussolini. It was Seabiscuit. This undersized, crooked-legged, mud-coloured horse inspired a nation struggling out of the Depression. It showed them that the "underdog" could still be a winner.

Our Royal Trainer

So what does this have to do with your race and mine? When I read this story I was reminded that we are all a bit like Seabiscuit. God looks at us and sees His Son Jesus inside of us and says, "yes, you're a winner—because you're part of Me." Even if we feel like losers—God sees us as winners.

But from there we each need a Royal Trainer to help us run that race like winners. That Royal Trainer is the Holy Spirit—whom God gives to those who love Him and obey Him. Our Royal Trainer knows when to push us—and when we need to rest. He knows our personality traits and weaknesses. Sometimes the things we think of as strengths are actually weaknesses. Only the Holy Spirit can show us what needs to change in our lives.

We're all in this race together. No one runs alone. And if we listen to our Royal Trainer and obey Him, we'll become all God wants us to be. Then we can run the race well, and run to be a winner.