Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: Olympics

Glory in the Ordinary

They’re calling it one of the biggest Olympic snubs of all time.

An enormously popular athlete. Record-setter. Superb skills. Has altered the game forever. Draws huge crowds. Gazillion dollar endorsements. What’s not to like?

Wait a minute! You thought I was talking about WNBA superstar Caitlin Clark! No! I’m talking about ME!

I got skills. I got game. I gotta get me some Olympic bling!

You’re right. I’m delusional. But please, read on.

I thoroughly enjoy watching the Olympics. But watching these elite athletes in action always brings me back to reality. I’m once again reminded how ordinary I am. I’ll never be known for my athletic prowess, my competitive spirit, or for overcoming huge odds to beat an archrival. I’m plain old me.

The Olympics remind us that humans are capable of some amazing feats. They’re full of compelling stories. But they’re not representative of how most of us live out our day-to-day existence. Most of us are rather dull, unathletic, and uninspiring.

But that’s OK. What matters for us is that every day we dedicate ourselves to something worthwhile. For Christians, dedication to Christ is a sufficiently Olympian task. To follow the one who was first to finish the race (Hebrews 12.1-3) is challenge enough. What’s more, the crown for which you and I compete is far greater than all the medals, endorsements, and fame that our earthly Olympics could offer: “They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9.25b).

What’s left for us, then, is to do our work and do it well. “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3.23-24). 

You don’t have to be the CEO to be successful in the workplace. You don’t need to be a Hollywood couple to have a great marriage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to find joy in sports. You don’t need a show on Food Network to enjoy cooking and eating. You don’ t need to be a millionaire to be financially secure. You don’t have to join a monastery to be faithful to Christ.

There is glory in the ordinary.

Run to Win!

At the most recent Summer Olympics (Tokyo in 2021), some 12,000 athletes competed for about 1,000 medals. Just 10% of the competitors took home medals.

One award that isn’t given is a Participation Medal. An award for just showing up. Every athlete I know would rather quit their sport than take home a participation trophy.

David McCullough said, “If everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless.”

Athletes compete to win. Anything short of winning is a consolation prize.

Christians are exhorted to compete like Olympians (see Hebrews 12.1; 1 Corinthians 9.24-27; Philippians 2.16; 3.14; Galatians 2.2; 5.7; 2 Timothy 4.7). One passage even refers to ancient Olympic-style games. 1 Corinthians 9.24-27 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”

The apostle is taking about running a spiritual race, and he gives us four things to remember about running the race.

  1. PLAN TO WINYou won’t win a gold medal by accident, and you won’t get to heaven by accident. Be deliberate. Have a sense of purpose. Know the objective.
  2. DEVELOP SELF-CONTROLSometimes, self-control is the ability to tell yourself no. For athletes, it means saying no to an unhealthy diet. For Christians, it means saying no to distraction, temptation, and sin. Sometimes, self-control is the ability to develop good habits. For athletes it means getting up early and having a rigorous training routine. For Christians, it means a routine of prayer, Bible study, worship, and service to others.
  3. WPLAY BY THE RULESPaul warns against being disqualified. It’s one thing for an athlete to be defeated by a better athlete. It’s another thing when an athlete beats himself by breaking the rules, or by not preparing adequately. For Christians, it’s why we have the Bible: we can know the rules; we can know what to do and what not to do in our lives.
  4. WERE PROMISED A PRIZEPaul contrasted perishable and imperishable wreaths. In the ancient Olympic games, the winner received a crown woven from olive branches or evergreen or oak leaves. Over time, they would dry out and decay. Christians are competing for the crown of life: eternal life in the presence of an eternal God.

I’m not an athlete, but I am a child of God. I’ll never win a gold medal, but I’ve been promised a crown of life. I need to run, and I need to run hard. So do you. Run to win!