“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
The Olympics are in full swing in Tokyo…and once again, they are simply mesmerizing.
As millions of viewers around the world hold their collective breaths, members of the human race put aside their usual conflicts to stretch their physical abilities above and beyond the limits.
It’s important to recognize that each athlete competing in these Olympics right now is an extraordinary person—including Simone Biles who has publicly admitted her struggles with the pressure on her mental health and now will compete tomorrow. Pray for her.*
I’ve never been a true athlete. (The only race I’ve ever won was my senior-age category for a 5K…against only two other runners! Ha!) So, I can’t imagine undergoing the incredible stress of being an Olympian. The pressure to be absolutely perfect, whatever the sport, is devastating when a tiny crack or flaw appears in the performance. The competition to outdo an opponent or break records is even more intense.
But I’ve watched my children compete in sports over the years. As a parent, I think it’s probably worse to sit in the grandstands (or for this Olympics, from online viewing) than to be on the field. Parents are helpless to do anything but watch. Hoping for the best. Cheering for the thrill of victory. Grieving for the agony of defeat.
We moms and dads want our children—at all ages—to run the race well. Even more important, Christian parents want their kids to run the race with endurance—to finish well.
This life is a daily test of that endurance. (COVID has certainly taught us that. Just when we thought we were nearing the end of this particularly ugly run, the Delta variant has reared its demonic, cackling face, saying “Ha! I moved the finish line!”) Every day, we run, and we fall. We stumble on landing after a difficult flip. We strike too soon or too late. We collapse, we hit the wall, we fail to make the jump.
There is hope, though. The apostle Paul challenged the younger Timothy to enter the “race” with a specific goal in mind, calling him to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). Paul exhorted Timothy to stay true to his mission and the ways of God, using the example of an athlete: “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules….If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” (2 Timothy 2:5,12)
The author of Hebrews repeated this emphasis on endurance, reminding us to let go of any encumbrance (sin, especially) that prevents us from running well: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Jesus is indeed our prize, our goal, our strength…the author and finisher of this “race” of faith. We cannot do this in our own power, only by His grace. What He has begun for us in this life, He will complete it (Philippians 1:6). To endure, we must rely solely on Him.
In Christ, your life is more than a solitary competition—it is a relay race, each of us handing the baton of faith to the next one in line. It means you are setting the pace, running your path ahead of those who will follow, ultimately with the intent of stepping aside as they pass on by to continue the course.
How can you do this for the next generation? Pray for God to raise up leaders among young people now. Tell them your story. Invest your time in them. Encourage them. Speak truth to them. Point them to Christ.
Remember this—what do you call someone who finishes at the very bottom of the list among the competitors at these games? An Olympian, worthy of worldly praise. What do you call someone who runs the race of faith, stumbles, and gets back up to finish with Jesus? A Christian, worthy of heavenly praise.
Let’s all run the race with Jesus, who stays the course with us. We are called to follow Him, whatever the cost. We will endure, according to His purposes. There is NO condemnation in Jesus, only a prize awaiting those to whom He will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Go for gold, with Him!
Jesus, author and finisher of our faith, be our Guide in this daily test of our endurance. Be our strength, our encourager, and our comfort when we fail to measure up. Help us to let go of all burdens that keep us from following You. May the joy of entering Your presence in heaven be the prize that we seek. In Your name, Amen.
*For another good perspective on the discussion around Simone Biles, check out this blog from “Beauty Beyond Bones”: https://beautybeyondbones.com/2021/07/29/simone-biles-our-desperate-need-for-heroes/
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© Copyright 2021 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.