The 2008 Summer Olympics have come and gone. Possibly you were an avid follower of the games or maybe like me you were too busy or lacked access to a TV to even watch much at all. I did see a few events and highlights, but on the whole I missed most of the Olympics this year. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but I really enjoy watching it – studying it. I think there is a lot that can be learned from the incredible athletes that compete in the games. Remarkable world records are beaten and sometimes even shattered. There are upsets as the ones highly predicted to win are beaten by those who rise up against the odds to claim the gold medal. There are stories of triumph, heartbreak, victory, and loss. We watch as dreams from childhood are fulfilled, and years of training are brought to accomplishment.
This summer, while my family was on holidays in California, I had the opportunity to drive to downtown Los Angeles to attend a Sunday Night service at a Church called Mosaic. After the sermon we were able to watch while Erwin McManus, the Pastor at Mosaic, interviewed a man named John Neighbors. You likely don’t recognize the name, but John Neighbors competed in swimming in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. He was the first American to win two individual gold medals on the same day – just 45 minutes apart. In a period of about one month in 1976 John broke four world records. Considering some of the remarkable events of the 2008 Olympics it may not seem like too big of a deal. Especially when you think of the American swimmer Michael Phelps with a record breaking eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, adding to the fact that he currently holds seven world records in swimming. But the interesting thing about John Neighbors is that prior to 1976 he had not broken any world records and after 1976 he didn’t break any others. Through the interview with John I caught glimpses of what makes an Olympic athlete, and the challenges that he faced.
Through it all I discovered four defining characteristics of great athletes: Determination, Courage, Discipline and Resilience. These are necessary characteristics of an athlete that is going to compete and excel at the Olympic Games, but they can also be defining characteristics in our spiritual lives as well. In our verse of the week Paul writes about a race. In this he parallels an athlete running in a race with that of a spiritual race that we are called to run. When I think about all of the time, effort, sacrifice and commitment that Olympic athletes put into the games – it makes me wonder how much effort I am putting into my spiritual race. The prize that Paul is speaking of in 1 Corinthians is not Olympic Gold! It is a prize that will not fade. It is a prize of immeasurable value. As we strive towards the goal in this race, we need to build up the defining characteristics of determination, courage, discipline, and resilience. The goal is more than Olympic Greatness – in fact; the eternal goal is call to spiritual greatness.