The Olympics in Sochi, Russia just got underway last week. No doubt many of you have been watching as the ice skating competitions have just begun to unfold. Most of us have probably imagined what it would be like to be awarded such a title, but few have any real understanding how much of a life commitment these athletes have made to climb to the top of their sport.
I read somewhere that it’s not unusual for an Olympic ice skater to spend 5-7 hours a day, six days a week crafting their expertise. That includes 2-3 on the ice sessions, weight training, dance & choreography classes, flexibility routines, cardio/strength training, and a variety of other off the ice activities.
I’m sure those disciplines are not unique to skating. Other athletes at this level invest similar amounts of effort in honing their particular skills. It would be nearly impossible to calculate how many collective hours, days, and years have been put forth in just the group of athletes who made it to the Sochi Olympics, let alone by the thousands more who failed to qualify this time.
Those who do make it have to have clear focus to successfully refine their individual skills for even the chance at being crowned “the best in the world.”
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul compares life to an athletic competition. In verse 25, he says “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.” So he exhorts us to “run in a such a way as to get the prize.” (vs 24)
If we’re going to compete for the prize spiritually, we need to cultivate three attitudes similar to these top athletes:
Desire: A famous football coach once said “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will.” Without a well-defined goal and strong will to reach it, we’ll lack the sustained effort necessary to achieve a long term or difficult objective. That’s often why some believers falter along the way. We get distracted by all kinds of less important things that succeed in sidetracking us from the main goal of knowing Christ (Phil 3:10).
Discipline: At the Olympic level of competition, there just aren’t any people who float in on natural talent alone. They have to work hard at it, which means choosing to say ‘no’ to a lot of other things that at times they’d much rather do. First Timothy 4:7 exhorts us to “train (ourselves) to be godly.” You know, godliness takes effort too. You’re not going to just wake up one day and automatically find yourself more in step with God’s ways than you were the day before. The pull of the world is just too strong in the other direction. I recently heard the story of a man who reflected on his life. He said that as a teenager, he’d considered himself to be ‘rebellious’ as he chose to drink, dabble in drugs and engage in immorality. Once he came to Christ, he said he realized that his former lifestyle wasn’t rebellion at all. It was just following along with the flow of the world. A life of genuine “rebellion” is one that chooses to discipline itself to live with purpose and a determined commitment to the Lord.
Commitment: I’m sure there are many days that top athletes loathe getting up before dawn and putting their skates for yet another exercise on the ice, but commitment is what makes them lace up anyway. They know that to break their training routine will ultimately steal their dream and doom them to mediocrity. Believers would do well to cultivate a similar attitude of commitment. But too often we allow how we feel about events determine whether we follow through or not. Haven’t you at some point said, “I’m too tired to pray.” I don’t have time to read my Bible” “I don’t like the worship style at that church.” or “We’ll just stay home from fellowship today.” When we have a haphazard or “me-centered” approach to spiritual training, we weaken our ability to stand firm in our day of trial. While seasons of down time are important, our commitment to “training in righteousness” (1 Tim. 3:16) must be purposeful, directed and unwavering.
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
~ Philippians 3:14