The only sounds were the hum of the engine and the various rattles throughout the bus. Alone in my thoughts along with 30 other players, we were on one of the two buses that made their way across town or to a nearby city. The trip always seemed so long with no allowance for conversation, jokes or even sports talk. This was a time to anticipate and meditate.

Anticipation: everything will play out according to the plan. The size and agility and prowess of the opponent has no bearing on the anticipation of being the best team with the best game strategy, playing for the best coaches in front of the most loyal fans. We were winners before the buses ever arrived at the opposing team's home field.

Meditation: mental rehearsal of assignments on the field in various game situations. Memory of the practices based on the game films of our opponent; mindful preparation for determination to be physically, emotionally, and mentally tough. I am confident that I have what it takes.

It is Friday night, high school football game night, and all of the up-downs, wind sprints, blocking drills, tackling exercises, scrimmages, and post-practice aches and pains are behind us. It is time to play under the lights for the reward of the week-long preparation. The atmosphere of that bus ride is unforgettable.

The bus ride back home? It depended on the quality of performance on the field and the final outcome of the game. Win or lose, however, the atmosphere was much lighter. Conversation was allowed, and if we were victorious, celebration was encouraged. The squeaks and rattles and engine noise were no competition for a bunch of football players whose pent up emotions were finally allowed to run free.

The apostle Paul likens the journey called life to a race. He writes about training, conditioning, endurance, and patience. The author of the letter to the Hebrews writes about staying on course and laying aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. There is also the key element of the strategy to stay focused on the goal -- the crown that is the reward for a race well run.

The crown is not like today's gold medals in the Olympics. One source reveals that a gold medal, if made of solid gold, would be worth about $76,000 in terms of the pure value of gold. However, another source claims that today's Olympic gold medals are 95 percent silver. Still, that is significant compared to first century athletes, whose crown was made of garland. The real value was not the prize, but the accomplishment.

The wise person will run life's race thoughtfully. Life is too crucial, and too short, to live it flippantly and haphazardly. Not knowing what each day will bring, we should prepare ourselves to face it with confidence. Paul refers to it as "putting on the full armor of God." For Joshua, it meant meditating on the law of the Lord day and night. King David took delight in the word of the Lord.

Certainly this race will include hurdles and traps and tests and trials. However, the Bible is my "playbook," and it contains the perfect game plan. Hence, in all my ways I will trust in the Lord, and He will direct my path.

Steven Callis is the minister at First Church of the Nazarene in Douglasville.

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