The premier stage of the world, where the preeminent in the world compete; the Olympics. With the longevity and progression of these games, the standard to reach that ancient stage, let alone win, is set high. Only few make it.
The athletes who attain their ticket to the games have dedicated their entire lives to their sport. Allyson Felix, daughter of a Master’s Seminary Professor, four time Olympian, and the most decorated female track & field athlete, practices at least 4.5 hours a day, six days a week. Team USA Gymnast’s, Aly Raisman and Simone Biles, both medaling in Rio, spend 32-35 hours a week training in the gym and devoting everything — diet, time and mental energy — to practice.
Michael Phelps, holder of 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold, swims for six hours a day, averaging about eight miles per day, six days a week. Throughout his career as an Olympian he has stuck to one common thread, stating “I want to be able to look back and say, ‘I’ve done everything that I can, and I was successful.’ I don’t want to look back and say I should have done this or that . . . I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”
Facing the exhaustion of practice, the days when the alarm is blaring and the bed is just too comfortable, the pressure of people’s expectations and their criticism, denying oneself, and saying no to lesser things for a larger goal, are obstacles requiring enormous mental and physical discipline to overcome. It is self-control and sacrifice.
It’s no wonder why Paul compares our walk with the Lord to that of athletics. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly . . .” (1 Cor 9:24-25). The Greeks were well aware of athletic events and enjoyed both the Olympic games and the Isthmian games, the latter of which were held in Corinth, the people group to whom Paul addresses. His illustration would have been understood. To win the prize one must pursue and achieve excellence in their field. This is the Christian walk. We were not saved to be sub-par or give half effort to anything, but rather to be examples, leaders, witnesses to the power of the one who saved us, Jesus Christ. To exhibit self-control in turning away from sin and turning to the greater goal and the greatest prize, our inheritance in heaven and the “imperishable” wreath.
Like Michael Phelps said of his swimming career, he did not want to look back and wish he had done things differently, Christians likewise should strive to reach the finish line and have Christ say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” This does not come through a passive faith. It comes through the constant self-denial, self-control, dedication, eternal hope, and commitment to loving, obeying and honoring Christ. Nowhere in the Bible does it say this will be easy. In fact, it says it will produce suffering, but even athletes like Michael Phelps recognize that only through perseverance in those “uncomfortable” times will you be able to reach the finish line.
Reaching this finish line and striving for excellence as a Christian is aided by a constant renewal of the mind, an education rooted in God’s word and translated to action. The Master’s University is the best academic institution for this. Excellence is what is expected and what is delivered, whether it be in athletics, academics, campus life, church involvement and/or ministry. Students are taught through classes and the examples of their peers and the faculty and staff what it looks like to run hard after the prize. It is a community of coaches and one team working together to encourage each other in the race. Though they may not compete on the Olympic stage, their stage is of far greater significance, a fallen world where they are given an opportunity, through faith in Jesus Christ, to be a torch in the darkness.
The Olympic athletes are motivated by hope of gold, which years from now will collect dust and be useless once they are in the grave. Christians have a longer and harder race to run, but our hope is much more precious than gold and our Coach infinitely better.