Recently I joined a gym for the first time. Okay, technically I didn’t join. My husband started working at Cal Baptist University and the employee benefits include use of their gym. So I drove there, even though I could have walked, since it’s only a half-mile from my house—don’t judge—to get my spouse ID card. (Which has his name on it and I’m positive that’s so they’ll know who to contact should I pass out or die.) I now have full use of their trainers and equipment.

Shortly after joining, I noticed they were offering an incentive. Work out 24 times in 7 weeks and get a FREE t-shirt. I’m so in! (How hard can it be to hit the gym three times a week?)

So I signed up. Without considering my busy family schedule. Or our upcoming vacation. Or my full-time job. Or the gym hours (closed in the morning, open until midnight) perfect for a college student—but for this working mom, free time is at early o’clock while my tribe sleeps.

But we find time for what’s important to us, right? I was committed. I wanted a free t-shirt. I also want abs of steel, but I’m willing to settle for the shirt at this point in my life.

So over the course of the weeks, I worked out the required forty-five minutes. Sometimes I ran. Sometimes I pretended to know what I was doing with their super neato looking equipment. Occasionally I dragged my husband with me and attempted to play racquetball.

I was vigilant about checking the box on my sign-in sheet to show I was there. I counted how many workouts I still had to go before the coveted t-shirt was in my hands. I wanted that prize. At last, the twenty-fourth workout was finally in sight! I asked the student worker when I could get my shirt. They would be ready for pick-up in about a week. A WEEK? But I’ll be on vacation! How will you know what size to save for me, I asked. Flashing a sweet preppy smile, she said they would have a variety of sizes available while supplies last.

Now can I just tell you, this didn’t make me happy. It didn’t seem fair. But this fine Christian University employs my husband so I kept my thoughts pressed in. Not everything that goes through our mind has to be said—can I get an amen? I simply thanked her and walked away. However, I did think about changing our vacation dates but figured that wouldn’t go over well with my family—postpone Hawaii all for a shirt? Um, no.

When we returned from vacation, I went straight to CBU to ask for my shirt. The girl pulled my sheet, she counted my workouts, stuck a big yellow star on the page and handed me the prized “I worked out 24/7” shirt. I told her I’m never taking it off! She flashed that sweet smile of hers as I left. End of story? No.

Somehow over the next few weeks, the shirt disappeared. I asked everyone in the family. No one had it. Guys, I hadn’t even worn it yet! All of that working out for nothing?

I searched our house. My car. Every bag. Finally, I went digging in the kid’s rooms and found it in a drawer. Surely it was put there by accident, right?  By the way, this same kid is the one who poked fun at me for becoming a gym rat during those seven weeks of working out. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad so I didn’t answer him, I mean it. But I had my shirt!

Reflecting back on this, I’m reminded of what the Bible says about motivation. And prizes. And how a free shirt became my motivation.

Paul said, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

He also said, “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 9:24-25).

Friends, our motivation in life is not a free shirt. It’s not a trophy. It’s not a pat on the back, or an “atta boy”, or a raise (though all of these things can be incredible motivators).

Our prize is not something that will fade. Or break. Or perish. Our prize is not something that will be forgotten. Or lost. Or misplaced. Or taken. Or hidden.

Our prize is HEAVEN.

Our prize is a crown! And guess what? Jesus doesn’t say, “while supplies last.” Jesus has a crown waiting…for you. Because one day we’ll be in Heaven and we will stand before Him. We will see Jesus face to face. He will give us a crown. And guess what else? No one can snatch it from us! No one can accidentally take it. No one can claim it as theirs. No one can hide it.

If you’re like me, you want a practical, why-I-do-what-I-do application. So think about what motivates you. Picture a crown in your mind (make it one of those sparkly Miss America crowns, all blinged out, times 100). I’m not sure we can even fathom what it will look like. Now think about standing before Jesus and seeing Him place it on your head.

How. Amazing. That. Will. Be!

When you are tired­­ because the race in this life is hard, press in. When you think that giving up is the only option, dig deeper. When you’re discouraged because of your past, forget that which is behin­d—because you’ve been forgiven. When you lose sight of why you are doing this, look ahead.

Be strict in your training. Discipline yourself to be in God’s Word each day. Be diligent to set your mind. Because one day—that day—it won’t be a ten-dollar t-shirt. It will be the most amazing prize there ever was!