Athletes are gifted people with talents that lift them head and shoulders above the crowd. Most of us have run a race at one time or other in our youth. Perhaps it was in school, or in the YMCA or YWCA. Perhaps it was racing our neighborhood friends up and down the sidewalks. It might have been a race in the local swimming pool or to see who was the fastest. Children love to race one another. So do adults––consider the various marathons and 10Ks. It is in the human DNA to excel. To win!
I love Eric Liddel's line in the movie "Chariots of Fire." He is explaining to his sister Jenny why he must postpone his involvement in the family ministry in China in order to compete in the 1924 Olympics. "God made me for a purpose...He made me fast...to not run would be to dishonor Him..." Here's the great line: "When I run I feel His pleasure." It still gives me goosebumps. I don't know if the real life Eric Liddell ever spoke those words, but they certainly reflect his life.
For those of you who have not heard Eric Liddell's incredible story, he was known as the Flying Scotsman. His story gained international attention because he would not run a qualifying heat for the 100 meter run in the 1924 Olympics because that heat was scheduled for a Sunday. The 100 meters was Liddell's best event, and yet because of his religious convictions he would not run in the heat and so was disqualified. He later ran the 400 meter (see photo) and won the gold. Incidentally, the paper roll in Liddell's right hand was given to him at the start of the race by an American trainer. The note read, quoting 1 Samuel 2:30: "Those that honor me I will honor."
Liddell's testimony honoring God did not stop with the Olympics. In 1925 he went back to China to work in the family mission, winning converts to Jesus Christ among the Chinese people. Years later, during World War 2 and the Japanese occupation of China, he was interned in a Japanese camp. There he spent the remainder of his life ministering to others, organizing games to boost morale, teaching Bible classes, sharing his food rations. He even gave up his place to go home in a prisoner exchange to a pregnant woman. He died in in that internment camp in 1945, just five months before the end of the war. Eric Liddell ran his race well for Jesus. I wonder what was his greatest victory: winning the gold medal in the 1924 Olympics, or serving Jesus in that internment camp. He certainly brought glory to his Savior's name in everything he did.
We are not all runners, we are not all gymnasts, swimmers or divers, but we are all athletes. Spiritual athletes. We each have a spiritual gift or talent that God has given us to glorify Him, gifts that need exercising. It doesn't matter If you are a homemaker, a computer technicion, a teacher, or laborer, fireman, soldier or policeman or filmmaker, whatever you do do it as unto the Lord. Do it with all your might. When you do you will feel His pleasure. Why? Because that is how God has made you.
And when the day comes that we cross the finish line, may we say as the Apostle Paul said,
"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (2Timothy 4:7-8).
At the end of July, the world’s greatest athletes will be converging on London for the 2012 Summer Olympics. We will see the end product of four or more years of blood, sweat and tears, as these athletes have prepared their bodies and minds for this one event.
I wish we could see their training before hand. I wish we could see every mis-step, every fall, every failure, as they were training, not to scoff, or to make myself feel better by their failures. But because I want to see how they get up. What did they tell themselves when they fell in order to get back up? What mind games did they play at their breaking point to push themselves to keep going? Sports psychology is fascinating because, among other reasons, it has a lot to teach us about life in general.
Paul thought so too. Which explains why he uses so many sports analogies in his descriptions of the spiritual life. In one of his most famous uses, Paul says, “For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to departis at hand. I have competed well;I have finished the race; I have kept the faith! Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day – and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection onhis appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, NET)
The Greek Myth about King Sisyphus tells of how he is punished by the gods to roll a huge boulder up a hill and then forced to watch it roll down. Unfortunately, he is forever doomed to repeat this action over and over again. The idea behind this story has haunted people through out the ages. “What if my life is like Sisyphus’ life? What if there is no meaning to what I do? How do I know that I am accomplishing anything of significance?”
There is great news for Christians. What we do has significance. Eternal significance. When we strive as Paul strove, there is prize waiting for us. When we suffer and push ourselves beyond what we think we can manage, when we are poured out like a drink offering, we do nothing in vain. Even those olympians who strive so hard for glory will eventually lose it. However, our glory is anchored in the Eternal and Unchanging God of the universe.