Winning the prize

Robin Fairbairn

15.10.2022 | Mission in Ireland, Farming & Rural Life

In his blog Robin Fairbairn sings the praises of local agricultural shows and how hours are often poured into preparing animals in the hope of winning that elusive top prize or rosette. While this requires wholehearted commitment and enthusiasm, Robin writes that this is how we are to live the Christian life and a prize ‘… that can never spoil, perish or fade…’

How wonderful it was to be at the Balmoral Show in May and to know that so many of our local agricultural shows would also be taking place this year.

No one can deny their social importance as great opportunities to meet up with friends and see people we haven’t seen since the last show. Of course there is a more serious side to them, especially Balmoral, with business to be conducted, the latest machinery and technology on display as the importance of agriculture and the food industry is showcased – not to mention enjoying the free food samples!

Memories stirred

As a boy who attended Lisowen Primary School, a small rural school near Saintfield, the photographs of prize-winners still stir memories. In the weeks before the local Saintfield Show, we were encouraged to enter with drawings, paintings or some craft. When show day arrived those who had entered eagerly made their way to the marquee to see if they had won a prize. I was always disappointed.

For others the show is still an opportunity to exhibit their livestock. Hours are spent in preparation, hoping for a win and the prestige that comes with it, potentially adding value to the animal while building personal reputations as a good stockperson. So it’s important to win the prize.

The Apostle Paul uses the language of prize winning in 1 Corinthians 9:24, when he writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way that you get the prize.” It’s important to understand what Paul is saying here.

I was never good enough to win a prize at the Saintfield Show. The Bible tells us that with regards to salvation, none of us by our own efforts, or religious observance, can be good enough to win, or earn it. However, the wonderful good news of the gospel is that through trusting, believing, having faith in what the Lord Jesus did for us sinners at the Cross, we are made right with and accepted by God.

As Paul told the church in Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Or, as Augustus Toplady’s hymn puts it, ‘Nothing in my hand I bring simply to the cross I cling’. So what does Paul mean?

An eternal prize worth running the race for

As every effort is taken to prepare an animal for the show requires wholehearted commitment and enthusiasm, that is how we are to live the Christian life. The winner at the show may receive a red rosette, but it will perish and fade in time. Our reward “…is new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never spoil, perish or fade…kept in heaven for you…” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

So how do we run? As Katie Barclay Wilkinson’s hymn reminds us, ‘May I run the race before me, strong and brave to face the foe, looking only onto Jesus as I onward go.’ So keep running to the finish line – but to finish, you need to start. Have you?

Robin Fairbairn is pastor/evangelist with Ballygowan Presbyterian Church in County Down and also works as ministry development officer with The Good Book Company. He lives in the country and has been farming every Saturday for more years than he cares to admit.

His blog appeared in a fortnightly column entitled ‘Good News For the Countryside’, in today’s Farming Life, where people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life.

You can look at other blogs in this series here.

Caption: Grace Elwood and her British Blue Heifer winning the Cecil & Molly Robinson Perpetual Cup for best young handler in the beef section at this year’s Castlewellan Show, presented by show vice president Molly Robinson.

If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at or call him on 07938 488 372.

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