As the Olympics in Brazil come to an end, it is worth reflecting on what a Christian can learn from an Olympian. In many ways, they're not so different! Being a successful Olympian takes time, dedication, good coaching, teamwork, and the ability to pick yourself up when things don't go so well. These same characteristics are required to be a 'successful' Christian too. But, the key difference is that the root of an Olympian's success is their own endeavour and hard work, whereas a Christian's 'success' comes from God!
I have spent the last couple of weeks pretty much glued to the Olympics. I love the passion and excitement, the close finishes, and being wowed by the amazing things that the human body can do. Some important elements of being a successful Olympian are also important for a Christian:
- Training. Sometimes it is easy. But mostly training to be an Olympian is just hard work. You don't see the cold hard months on the track and in the gym to allow Usain Bolt to run 100m in less than 10s or the Brownlees to score a 1-2 in the triathlon. In a way, Christians are in training throughout their lives, not for a particular event, but so that we can reach our goal of the Kingdom. Perhaps it would be useful to apply the 'Brailsford marginal gains' approach to our Christianity? It's probably unrealistic to expect huge strides forward in 'performance' - it may be better to make a larger number of smaller improvements.
- Teamwork. Many Olympic events are team sports, and even for individual events, Olympians have a team behind them. Our team of fellow Christians can help to provide support when we're down, worship/pray/read together, offer leadership, and bear one another's burdens. Sports teams often refer to themselves as families, and groups of Christian's are families too.
- Coaching. It is probably easy to under-estimate the importance of a good coach. Whilst other factors may have been a play, look how Andy Murray has fared now that he has been reunited with Ivan Lendl - Wimbledon and Olympic champion again. But an Olympian needs to make themselves 'coachable' - to listen to, and respond to criticism. How 'coachable' are we as Christians?
- Goal setting. Olympians work with a clear four year cycle in mind. Everything is primed to peak at exactly the right point to deliver the best performance every four years. Olympians are driven by the vision of their Olympic glory. We, too, like Jesus, are driven by the vision of our future glory (Heb 12:2)!
- Using the lows to drive the highs. Olympians will not win every race. But they are able to bounce back from defeats, stronger than ever. Difficult though it is, we need to leave our sins behind us, and move forwards in our Christian walk (Phil 3:13-14).
- Fulfilling our potential. We are all different shapes and sizes. From the tiny gymnast, to the giant basketball player, there's a place among the Olympians. It's the same in a Church - these's a place for everybody (1 Cor 12:12).
- Keep on keeping on. Some time ago (in the 1992 Olympics), Derrick Redmond showed what it meant to him to complete his race. Do we have the same determination to finish ours (2 Tim 4:7)? (If you haven't seen the video below, I suggest you watch it. It's only 4 minutes long and very thought-provoking.)
There is a crucial difference though between an Olympian and a Christian. An Olympian will succeed because of a combination of exceptional raw talent, dedicated training, good coaching and other influences. A Christian will succeed because of none of these: only by God's grace will we reach our goal of worshiping God forever in his Kingdom.
By Jon (based on a talk by Ben)
Image credit: Wikipedia.