"You've all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You're after one that's gold eternally. I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got." 1 Cor 9:24-26, The Message

With the 2012 Olympics approaching, you can't help compare yourself with the athletes who are preparing to take part. I stumble around the block occasionally in an activity I call a 'run', but these folks are devoted to their training. Rain or shine they are out there, pushing their abilities, honing their skills, shaving milliseconds off their time or increasing the distance of their throw or jump by fractions of a centimeter. I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

Paul uses this as an image to encourage us in the life of faith. He has been talking about rights and responsibilities - yes we are free, but we are to use that freedom to serve God and others. The joy of competing in the race is knowing that you have done your best - you've chosen the path of self-discipline and preparation, so that you are ready for whatever the race may throw at you. Paul compares the prize of a laurel garland or an Olympic medal to the far greater, everlasting reward that comes with serving God. Ours is a prize worth pushing for!

How about training for our worship ministries? Do we rely on the chords we know, the bits of theology we have picked up from the odd podcast, the songs that have always worked with our congregation? Do we use the excuse of 'trusting in God' to cover over poor preparation or gaps in our understanding? After a while, don't these leave us feeling stale, ready for a new injection of inspiration? All of us, whether we consider ourselves 'beginners' at this or experienced 'experts', have so much we can learn - areas where we can go deeper, talents we can hone, creativity we can ignite.

Maybe it's time to take Paul's challenge seriously - 'All good athletes train hard'. Are you hungry for some training - in music, theology, worship leading, creative skills? I know we are all busy people, often fitting our ministry involvement into our 'spare time'. But the truth is that taking the time and effort to invest into our skills, our thinking and our hearts for worship will pay dividends in the long run. We'll be better equipped for the marathon of ministry, with stamina and passion to run in such a way that pleases God and blesses his people.

There are many ways that you can do this - perhaps start instrumental lessons, or go to a day conference, or enroll in a course. It needs to be more than aspiration or good intentions, so booking yourself in to something with good leadership and accountability is the surest way to make it happen. We're excited this year to be involved in the London School of Theology Summer School - 17th-20th July. This includes three mornings of 'Speed Theology' with the brilliant, hilarious Conrad Gempf taking us on a fast-paced guided tour through Christian theology. The afternoons are split into Counselling, Theology and Worship streams, and within Worship are tracks for Sung Worship Leading, Creative Worship Leading (which Sam is teaching), and also a track Developing Your Musicianship.

Check out the website for this event, or look around in your locality for training opportunities. Put yourself on a training programme that will grow your skills, your understanding and your heart for God. The prize is worth the effort!