I love the spirit of the Olympics. What inspires me even more than the games themselves are the stories behind each athlete. A mountain of obstacles blocks their dream, and they find themselves stuck in deep valleys of pain, injuries and discouragement. Yet in the slogging through the valleys a burning desire for gold remains.
For the one desiring to following Jesus, parallel spiritual lessons lie in this pursuit of gold.
Olympic athletes train at top-notch facilities and with the finest coaches. In the beginning, there are no cameras, no TV, and no audience. It’s just the athlete and the weights or the ice or the slope. They persevere through the rigorous training, the lonely sessions, and multitude of injuries all for the purpose of qualifying for the Olympics and wearing a gold medal around their neck.
Last week German pair skater, Aljona Savchenko, skated in her fifth Olympics, but it was in PyeongChang where she and her partner finally won the gold. Discipline. Determination. Perseverance. All these traits marked her relentless journey.
Our goal in following Jesus requires similar focus. Yet, we do it for different reasons and through the power of the Holy Spirit not in our own strength. Transformation is the goal on earth; life in heaven is the ultimate victory.
Billy Graham epitomized this laser focus throughout his 60 plus years of ministry. His message of salvation never wavered. He continued to read his Bible and pray up until his death, never thinking he had yet imitated Christ.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we need this same focus. We must discipline ourselves in prayer, Bible study and the other spiritual practices. We need to keep walking in faith even when obstacles block our progress. We should persevere through the lonely work of prayer.
Eugene Peterson called this laser focus a long obedience in the same direction. Billy Graham accomplished this beautifully before millions and has now received the eternal gold of heaven.
Quieting the Voices
U.S. Giant Slalom winner, Shiffrin, said before her race, “I’m always having doubts. Millions of feelings of doubt and millions of feelings of inspiration and confidence.” She said the negative voices tell her she can’t win gold, but the other voices tell her she can. She chooses not to let the negative voices dominate her thinking.
Not far from PyeongChang is the DMZ (Demilitant Zone). This heavily guarded no man’s land sits between North and South Korea. Savannah Guthrie from NBC toured the area and reported that North Korea continuously blasts propaganda from a large tower over to South Korea.
We have voices vying for our attention: our own negative thoughts, others, the enemy, and the cultural megaphone. We need to guard our thoughts and toss out those that are contrary to the Word. Sometimes it’s as simple as turning off the TV or social media. Other times we must be vigilant and replace our thoughts with scripture. Only then can we move forward in faith and towards the goal of transformation.
The Agony of Defeat
Do you remember the ABC Wide World of Sports clip “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?” The ski flyer from 1991 crashed and burned on the slope, and ABC played it over and over on the opening of their show.
There is something necessary about defeat that propels an athlete to victory. Without defeat, they never really appreciate or understand this thrill of victory. Shaun White didn’t medal at the Sochi Olympics then had a devastating accident that landed him in the hospital. He wondered what was the point. But this past week he won gold in the halfpipe snowboarding competition again. Bursting into tears, he remembered all he had been through. The victory was sweeter because of the defeats.
Our Bible heroes suffered epic defeats. After Moses murdered an Egyptian, he fled to the land of Midian and shepherded for 40 years before God called him to lead His people out of Egypt. David murdered and committed adultery while he was king, yet God referred to him as “A man after my heart” (Acts 13:22). Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, starved, and imprisoned (2 Cor. 11:23-25); yet today he still inspires and encourages us with his letters in the New Testament.
We will experience olympic-sized obstacles in our journey towards transformation. If we persevere through faith, though, our lives will be transformed. In the end, it will be our faith that is the evidence of victory–a victory not adorned in gold medals but in the untarnished, eternal gold of heaven.
When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory. 1 Peter 1:7 MSG