With the Winter Olympics starting this week, there are a lot of people around the world either participating, watching in person or viewing the games on television. In the past, the Olympic games were something that people often got excited about. Nowadays, the games have become little more than extensions of politics and statesmanship. Instead of looking at the games as friendly competition and a way to showcase the extraordinary abilities of men and women from around the world, the Olympics are, for the most part, a way for one country to show off its superiority over others.
I grew up during the 1980s and saw how the Olympics turned into a competition between capitalism and communism and, by extension and rhetoric, good versus evil. I am not advocating one ideology over another or playing countries against each other. What I am saying is that I’m saddened by how simple competition has turned into a way to fight a war without really fighting a war.
Games and competition are the best ways to test the abilities of individuals not only against others but also themselves. By competing with others, we learn a lot about ourselves and we find the areas of weakness. Once we identify those areas, we work to improve ourselves for the next competition. Each time we strive to improve ourselves until we have achieved a certain level of proficiency and almost a degree of perfection.
Paul used examples in his letters to the early churches to inspire them to improve and work harder each day. In several of these letters, he makes comparisons between running and fighting and our Christian lives. He tells the members of the churches to train like athletes in order to win a competition and strive to improve daily as they continue their competitions.
In chapter nine of his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul writes, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”
Like an athlete training for a competition, we must do more than just play at it. We must be disciplined in our faith and be able to accept adversity at every turn. I have seen athletes overcome so much in order to win the gold. They dedicate their lives to do something that is noble and notable. It is not enough for them to say that they competed. They want to win. We should be the same way when it comes to our faith. We must be in it to win it.
Like a runner, we must carefully calculate each stride and step. Each step must be taken with purpose and planted on firm ground. A runner, when running on uneven terrain, must make sure that his or her foot lands squarely on firm ground. If those calculations are off even by a fraction of an inch or if attention is diverted away from the race, the slightest misstep could be disastrous.
When it comes to the race we run as Christians, we are running to win the eternal prize of everlasting life with the Father. There are no points or medals for second place in this race. Each step along the path of righteousness must be precise. Our stride must be purposeful and deliberate. There is a lot at stake for us and we need to make sure our training prepares us for each leg of the race. Staying strong in our faith, focused on the Father and following the example of our savior and coach, Jesus Christ, will keep us ready for anything.
We are engaged in a race that is more like a marathon. If you sprint during a marathon, you will not be able to finish the race. Your strength and endurance will slip away quickly and you will have exhausted yourself. But, if you run the race like a marathon, you pace yourself and advance towards the finish line. You concentrate on what lies ahead and avoid those things that will cause you to lose concentration or cause you to deviate from the course.
Paul, in chapter three of his letter to the Philippians, writes, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
A runner doesn’t look backwards, but, rather, concentrates on the path ahead and forges ahead. Each step is placed carefully. Each stride is done in full measure. Each thought is about the next step. There is no stopping or taking shortcuts in this race.
When you come to the end of your race and time is nearly done, what will you say?
Paul, in chapter four of his second letter to Timothy, writes, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”
Paul, as he sees the finish line ahead, has remained faithful and dedicated to the race. Each step taken and each stride made was done with one purpose, to bring glory to God by preaching the Good News. As he is within the last couple of steps in the race, Paul sees the prize that awaits him, a crown of righteousness which the Lord will place upon his head.
As you continue the race, remember to stay focused on God. Listen to your coach and savior, Jesus, as he guides you along the way and helps you maintain the pace that is needed to finish the race. Plan each step and stride wisely and with purpose. Don’t deviate from the path of righteousness. By doing all those things for the glory of the Father, I can safely say that you, too, will be able to finish the race and stand firm in His grace.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.