Preparing to Run to Receive the Prize … for Christ

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Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 1 Corinthians 9:24–25

Within 10 incredible days last fall:

  • Bob Jones University teams in men’s and women’s cross country, men’s soccer and women’s volleyball won National Christian College Athletic Association championships. (A fifth, women’s soccer, participated in the NCCAA tournament.)
  • A team of seven BJU students was awarded a $100,000 grant in a prestigious XPrize competition sponsored by Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s foundation for their entry on scalable carbon extraction technologies.

How does a single small school — “little old Bob Jones” — not only nearly sweep the fall sports championships but earn a place academically next to four major, well-regarded research institutions: Penn State, Stanford, the University of Miami and the University of Wyoming?

It’s simple: we prepare students to “run to win the prize” — not just in athletics and academics but in life on this earth and beyond.

Watch: Dr. Pettit discusses the topic on The Steve Noble Show

Three biblically inspired elements stand at the center of our model of preparation:

  1. The Need for Base Training in a Biblical Worldview

Every athlete — especially runners — knows success in sports starts with laying a strong base. For runners, it’s hundreds of miles of distance training. In soccer, it’s conditioning for the speed and endurance to race up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. Volleyball players build strength in the weight room.

At BJU, we also know that winning in every area of life involves building a base of godly character and growing understanding of and trust in God and His will.

It starts with instilling biblical qualities like commitment to excellence for His glory, as described in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” Instagram entries announcing both cross-country championships ended with “all glory to the Lord!”

Perseverance is another biblical quality, exemplified by Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. ...” The women’s volleyball team persevered through the loser’s bracket after losing their All-American player to injury — and emerged victorious.

Even more important, winning is about a truly Christian approach to challenges. BJU’s XPrize team and advisors, acknowledging the controversy around climate, determined to view the issue through the lens of stewardship, as God commissioned Adam in Genesis 2:15: “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”

Such an approach requires not rushing to extremes — whether dismissing the claims of climate scientists out of hand or panicking over imminent doom — but rather investigating the science and making wise decisions about responding in ways that fulfill our responsibilities to God. That viewpoint led the team to participate in the competition engaged in measurement, reporting and verification technologies.

  1. The Value of Experiential Learning in Conquering Challenges

Championship teams often consist of veteran athletes because experience is the best teacher, a truth the Scriptures confirm (Deuteronomy 1:13, Job 12:12).

The experience of applying their individual skills and learning to a real-life challenge taught the XPrize team members the power of and need for interdisciplinary cooperation in building a real business. To earn the grant, which was actually seed money to support a proposed longer-term venture targeting climate removal solutions, the business majors on the team created a budget, business and marketing plans, a website and a working corporate entity.

Chemistry and biology students created a series of experiments to address the interaction of carbon dioxide in the air and the soil, where it would be buried, and the engineering specialists designed and built working prototypes for CO2 concentration sensors along with a pathway for improvement on their initial designs.

  1. Life Coaching

Proverbs 13:20 tells us, “He who walks with wise men will be wise. …” On top of base training must come technique and advanced study. However, great coaches and teachers do more than impart learning and even experience: they walk alongside their charges, whether through long, grueling practices or the hard work of breaking through an academic or life challenge.

Moses with Joshua; Barnabas with Paul; Paul with Timothy, Titus and others; and especially Christ with his disciples modeled modeling: imparting learning through loving example. The team of four XPrize coaches was at their students’ sides, guiding them into a balanced view of climate science and encouraging them — and beaming with pride — as they applied skills in proposal and technical writing and project design that were outside their specific areas of academic expertise.

Winning earthly championships is wonderful. Better yet is learning how to run with — and sometimes to — our Savior through the race of life. Our athletes, students, coaches and advisors would all agree: one day hearing the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” will be the best prize of all.


Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. He served as president of BJU from 2014 to 2023.