My family and I have been watching the Games of the XXXI Olympiad currently being held in Rio. We have been thrilled by the performances of the swimmers and gymnasts, inspired by the life stories of the competitors and fascinated by some of the sports, like rowing and air rifle shooting, that are only televised once every four years. We have seen records broken and medals won. We have watched celebrations of victory and tears shed in defeat. We are able to witness these athletes at the pinnacle of their strength in their individual sports. We can cheer them on from our couches as they cross the finish line.
What we do not witness is the thousands of hours at the training centers: we do not see the competitors arriving at the pool at four in the morning and swimming laps for hours; we do not see the athletes entering the gym before dawn and tumbling for hours. We do not recognize those who are lifting in the weight room or serving on the volleyball courts or running on the roadways years before they entered the arena in Brazil. All we see is the two minutes of the 200m butterfly, the minute and a half of a floor exercise or the thirty minutes of a beach volleyball match.
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. 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NIV)
As Paul wrote two thousand years ago, these competitors go into strict training to get an ephemeral crown; unfortunately, most of the competitors, even the medalists and world record holders, will be consigned to being the answer to a trivia question such as, “Who won the 100m sprint in 2004?” (In case you were wondering, it was Justin Gatlin from the US). Years of training for the athlete often is translated into a fleeting moment of glory. However, the apostle Paul states that the training, or discipline, of the follower of Christ translates into their enjoyment of an eternal crown; to their great fortune, God bestows upon His citizenry a symbol of victorious life everlasting.
Paul’s words certainly serve as an encouragement to all who trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior. He reminds us that all the training, and all the sacrifice and pain training entails, will be worth it. The hours training our bodies to move and act in certain ways, our minds to focus our thoughts on certain objectives and our hearts on finishing the race will provide us with the one thing for which we strive – eternal reunion with God in the center of His glory. Unlike the Olympic competitors, our training does not us earn our award but rather prevents us from being disqualified from the prize.
So, as we watch those who are racing and tumbling for medals, I pray we will all be reminded that all those who call themselves Christians are likewise in training – waking early and working late in the disciplines of prayer, bible study, service, worship, fellowship and evangelism – so that the prize we so sincerely seek will be bestowed by Christ when we finish the course He has set for each of us. I can already faintly hear the cheers of all heaven celebrating your God-given victory.