The Rio Olympics have been and gone, and whether you are a sports fan or not, I am sure that there have been moments when you have been captivated watching the various athletes pushing themselves to the limit to win the ultimate prize; the Gold medal. The single race, throw or game that we see, comes after persistent training, hours and hours of it. For the athletes this has meant everything and they have had to give their all. Why? Well for them the prize is so very, very worth it.
This year Team GB did achieve more medals than in previous years so the hard work obviously paid off! Their training, determination and passion led to better results than ever.
For those of us who were last in the races at school and never picked for team games at playtime, we may start to think that this has nothing to do with us. However ( as you may well have heard before, but it bears repeating) the sporting world gives us many pointers to follow in other walks of life, particularly our life as Christians).
There are a number of New Testament passages which seem to be very appropriate for this, verses from the Bible where the writer uses the imagery of athletics to encourage Christians to keep on going with Jesus. Here are some of them…
- Hebrews 12:1-2 urges “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus,”
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 encourages us to “run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the fames 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”.
- In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul challenges us to follow his example – “forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus”.
Those verses talk of perseverance, training and a goal. They were also totally relevant to the times when they were written, for everybody then knew about the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games took place in Greece every 4 years without interruption from 776BC to AD393. That’s over a 1,000 years of Olympics! And so the writers took the Olympic Games and taught Christians how to use them to think more of God. When we see athletes run, we too should consider another kind of running – running the Christian race with perseverance and effort. When we see athletes smiling with a gold medal, we too should consider another kind of prize, the prize of heaven, of being in God’s perfect new world and that can start now!
And the big question for us whether we are sports people or not is Are we living for God with Olympic passion and perseverance? It was once said that “The determination of the athlete frequently puts to shame the half-hearted, casual nature of much Christian discipleship”.
I think that opinion does give us something to think about very carefully – those of us who profess to be a Christian should take time out to consider how we are running the Christian race. It may be that our training has slackened, or that we have forgotten what we are running towards – that deeper relationship with the one who loves us so much. There may be the need to take more time to read the Bible, or to be still and spend more time with God in prayer, or maybe to read a Christian book (as well as the Bible – it’s okay to do that, it’s how we learn) or to reflect on the areas of life that we need to change in order to be living more in line with God’s word. It’s good to do all this, but let’s not ever get into the way of thinking that we have to earn God’s love shown in Jesus, we could never do that! It’s freely given and always will be, in fact it’s given with great passion by God. However, the more training we do, the more passion we have for our Christian life, the more I think we will understand and feel and know that love and the better equipped we will be for our everyday life.
Debbie Flood, a former Great Britain rower and double Olympic medallist wrote: “In some ways, being an Olympic athlete is similar to being a Christian. You live with a hope for the future, the light when the day comes. You put your faith and belief in something that you cannot yet touch or see in its fullness until that final day. But yet knowing Jesus is more important than a gold medal. Gold medals will ultimately be forgotten and I won’t be taking them with me when I pass away. In the light of eternity, knowing Jesus surpasses everything else and is the most important choice you will ever make in your life. It was an honour and a privilege to be able to represent my country at the Olympics, but an even greater honour to be representing Christ in my life”
I wonder if we would echo those words about Christ????
So, yes I hope that you enjoyed the Olympics –but I hope even more that you will see how important passion and determination are in other areas of life , and most importantly in our faith life. Please remember God is passionate about you and he has done everything he possibly could to show you that, the supreme way being that of allowing his Son Jesus to come to this earth to help and help and to die on the cross in our place. And to rise again! Why? So that you and I could pursue that relationship that mankind once had with God, so that God and mankind could once again enjoy each other’s company. Right now and once we pack up our sports shoes for good! That’s surely a goal worth training for!
Rev Michelle Ireland