Every four years, when the summer Olympic Games roll around, I become engrossed in sports that I have not heard anything about since the last games. Sports like double trap shooting, judo, fencing, canoeing/kayaking, and badminton don’t usually make headlines outside of a country winning the gold medal. The players may never be heard from again, but their gold medals are forever a source of pride for their countries.
We are currently in the midst of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There are 207 nations (between 8,255 and 10,500 athletes) participating in 306 events in 28 sports in 37 venues. We are witnessing some of the most historical athletic endeavors of all time. Michael Phelps now has the most Olympic gold medals of any individual in the history of the games — 23 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze. Usain Bolt has proven that he is the fastest man alive by winning his third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 meter dash. And, even though it is her first Olympics, Simone Biles is already being acclaimed as the greatest female gymnast of all time.
There are several traits that all of these Olympic athletes have in common, among which are focus, repetition, passion, and perseverance. This is a great lesson for folks like you and me: to “run,” as the writer to the Hebrews expressed, “with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Or to persevere, as James expressed: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life” (James 1:12). Paul exclaimed in his farewell address, “If only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me” (Acts 20:24). And again, he admonished Timothy, “If anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5).
When God called you, He did so with the full expectation that you would be a winner, not a whiner — that you would finish the race with joy, not drop out along the way. Paul looked back on his life and ministry saying, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He was eligible for the prize … the crown.
So are you, my colleague, but you must fight the good fight — finish the race — and no matter what, keep the faith! You may never receive a gold medal, but if you remain faithful, the Righteous Judge will award you something much better: His approval, His recognition, His blessing. So be prepared: The finish line lies before you! Go for it! And do it with enthusiasm.
The apostle Paul admonished the church at Corinth to also aim for perfection (2 Corinthians 13:11). In other words, do your best, be your best, hope for the best. The pursuit of excellence is a repeated story in the sports world. Reporters often write about:
6. Players at skilled positions
7. Study of the playbook
8. Second effort
9. Testings and challenges
10. Minimizing the turnovers
11. Will to win
And the list goes on.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, my colleague? The thing we have going for us is that, in our big games, there are no losers. You are a player/coach on the winning team in a struggle for the hearts and souls of all mankind. We may not succeed on every play, but one day when the final whistle blows, we’ll know “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).
At the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, I once visited an exhibit titled “Praxis — Athletes” by an artist named Kyriacos Lazarides. The paintings were all abstracts of famous Olympic athletes without names attached. There were gymnasts, runners, lifters, skiers, cyclists — you name it. In the mix of the paintings was a framed quote that caught my eye: “Praxis is not only to try and to give up, but praxis is also to penetrate, to fight, to win and to lose, to kneel down, to get up, to stimulate and to accept struggle and fight until the last breath.” It really reflects the Olympic spirit — it also calls to mind the commitment you must make to the challenge you face in life and ministry. That “never give up” spirit personifies who you are in Christ.
It reminds me of the challenge and promise our God issued to Joshua as he took the mantle of leadership from Moses: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“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 9:25).