Did you watch any of the Olympics on TV? Our family made it a nightly routine to turn on the Games to keep up with marquee sports like swimming, gymnastics, basketball, and soccer while keeping an eye out for the highlights of the many other competitions going on in Rio. When the venue shifted in the second week of the games, we went along with the world to watch the speed, strength and endurance of the Track & Field athletes.
While much emphasis in the track events is focused on the short sprint contests like the men’s and women’s 100m dash, the longer events spotlight the fortitude, stamina and resolve necessary for success in distance running.
As I was watching the 10,000 meter race (a grueling 25 laps around the track), I was inspired by the determination of Great Britain’s star runner, Mo Farah. Expected to handily repeat his gold medal performances from the previous two Olympic Games, Farah surprisingly clipped the leg of his training partner on Lap 9 and tumbled onto the track. However, instead of collapsing or shrinking away in defeat, the veteran athlete popped back up, regained his rhythm, and over the next 16 laps, steadily moved back to the front of the pack. And while on the final lap he was edged out of his lead by a Kenyan competitor, he dug deep to sprint the last 100 meters and captured his third career gold medal in this event.
When asked about his fall in a post-race interview, Farah said, “At one moment I thought my dream was over, my race was over. I tried to be tough, and that is what I did.” But inspired by his family, he regained his determination. “Once you’ve fallen, it’s hard to get back up and win,” he told himself, “I was thinking ‘no, no. I can’t let Rhianna [his stepdaughter] down … That’s what drove me home.”
As I thought about his performance, I couldn’t help but see some important parallels that are definitely applicable to believers.
1. Get Up.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
Runners fall (sometimes frequently). So do Christians. When you land hard because of a mistake or even willful sin, resist the temptation to just lay there nursing your bruises. Just because you hit the ground doesn’t mean your race is over. The faster you right yourself, the easier it is to regain your stride and the more time you’ll have to make up lost ground. So acknowledge your failings to the Lord, accept His pardon, then get up, stand strong and move on. And here’s the important part: Learn from your mistakes so you don’t trip over the same thing again.
2. Seek Encouragement.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. – 1 Corinthians 12:12-
Mo acknowledged his family as the inspiring force behind his determination. You also need a similar kind of reinforcement when your feet are knocked out from under you. However, guilt and/or embarrassment can tempt you to hide and withdraw from others. Grieving over personal failures often narrows your perspective, and isolation only magnifies your tunnel vision. So when you don’t feel like inviting others into your awkward situation, do it anyway. Deliberately opening yourself to the patient and willing involvement of faithful and godly friends can be instrumental in retraining you to lift your eyes, steady your feet, and avoid pitfalls.
3. Seize the Moment.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. – Ephesians 5:15-17
A lot of things can happen to an athlete from one Olympics and the next. Some who plan to return end up not competing next time (or ever again). That’s why they have to give it their all now. Some opportunities come only once in life for you too. If you allow a lack of discipline to sideline you, a second chance may never come. That’s why sin is so harmful. It’s more than a bad choice; it’s a distraction from God’s purpose and an interruption to His plan for your life. A commitment to godliness gives you a single-mindedness that opens the door for you to walk in and partake of God’s best blessing.
4. Commit Yourself to the Lord.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:7-8
I’ve been reading through First and Second Kings recently and have noticed of how many people started out well, but finished poorly. And while this pattern continued for a lot of people in New Testament as well, Paul however, was an exception. As a persecutor of Christians, he didn’t start out on the right track, but after he met the Lord, he committed himself to follow Christ fervently, and once he started running the right way, eventually finished his race strong. That can be your story too. No matter what kind of self-inflicted or accidental bumps and bruises you have, Christ offers you a fresh start. (2 Cor. 5:17) While living a life set apart for Him won’t be without its setbacks and scars, He will always be by your side to coach you to the next step in a life of faithfulness that will one day result in a “crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.