Perhaps it’s because of the breathtaking beauty of the landscape. Perhaps it’s because the events are exotic (think curling, skeleton, halfpipe, slopestyle). Perhaps it’s because it’s fun to root for the USA. Over the past two weeks I have really enjoyed the Winter Olympics being staged in Sochi, Russia.
As I have watched athletes from 88 nations compete on a grand stage, four words have come to mind again and again. They are:
- Training – almost every athlete has invested years in diligent preparation to compete at the highest level.
- Teamwork – in some events (think ice hockey or ice dancing) the team dimension is at the forefront. But, even in the “individual” events there is a “team” of coaches, trainers, technicians, sponsors, and family members connected to each athlete. No one really competes alone.
- Rules – in each competition there are carefully prescribed rules and regulations. Step over the line and there are penalties. Sometimes there is even disqualification.
- Reward – the dream of every Olympic athlete is to be on the medal platform; to win gold, silver, or bronze.
In the book of 1 Corinthians, athletic imagery comes to the fore as the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Do you remember these words?
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)
Similar metaphors appear numerous times in the New Testament. Biblical writers understood that some of the same factors that lead to success in the games are at play in our walk with Christ. To follow Jesus is not for the spiritually sedentary.
The exhortations from Sochi and Scripture are clear: train yourself for godliness. Connect with a team (other believers in a local church). Learn the rules, stay in your lane, and don’t cheat. Give it your all and persevere. The reward will be more awesome than we can imagine!