No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
I’m a huge fan of the Olympics. To me it exemplifies the amazing heights humanity can achieve when we strive for the best regardless of nationality, race, religion or age. But even as I write that sentence, my childhood wonder and excitement are dulled by the reality of cheating schemes, politics, financial interests and accusations of bias towards and against various groups. I prefer to think about the waving flags from almost every nation, the cultural performances by the host country, the colorful uniforms, and of course, the astounding athletic performances that exemplify the ‘thrill of victory and the agony of defeat’.
I, myself, am no athlete. I used to joke about competing in target shooting or ping pong until I saw actual Olympic athletes in those sports! But oh, how I love the grace and beauty of ice skating and gymnastics. Or the speed and excitement of bobsledding and giant slalom. Or the nerve-wracking wait through multiple heats to get to the finals in swimming and track and field. I watch it all, even dressage, curling and water polo.
Each and every one of those athletes have trained hard. They had some dream when they were young and found a way to pursue it. Some overcame huge obstacles, some had it easier, but in every case, there was a lot of striving and pressing on. They had to rise to the top of their youth league, their high school, their college, their state, their nation! What dedication and perseverance that must take. They sacrificed sleep, family time, perhaps schooling, perhaps moving far away from their homes. There were doubtless injuries and setbacks along the way. There were probably dark times of doubt and frustration as mastery faltered. And as many family, friends and supporters cheered them on, there were others who criticized and wished for their failure, perhaps even sabotaged their efforts.
This is the picture of the Christian Walk that Paul paints in his letters. He frames it as a long period of pushing through hardship and striving fervently and unwaveringly towards the goal. Step 1: Forget what is behind and throw off encumbrances. Let go of the past. You can’t beat the ‘yips’ by dwelling on your past failures. God doesn’t remember your past anyway – it’s as far as the east is from the west. So put the past and its disappointments behind you and move forward.
Step 2: Strain toward the goal. Athletes do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. Press on to become more and more like Christ: instead of farther, harder, higher, stronger, we need to be more loving, more compassionate, more humble, more generous. Oh, it will require discipline and sacrifice. It will require giving up other dreams or plans or comforts, but the prize is eternal!
Step 3: The Heavenly Prize. Yes, no doubt about it, an Olympic gold medal is awesome. It represents a lifetime of dedication and competition. But it will eventually fade and crumble. I’m always sad to see gold medals and Superbowl rings and such in the showcases of pawn shops, but there you go – neither you nor your athletic achievements last forever. The Heavenly Prize, however, is eternal! Your Christian striving here on earth will yield an eternal reward. First, you are guaranteed to cross the finish line just by inviting Christ into your life and heart. But once beyond the Pearly Gate, there are crowns and prizes waiting for each of us. These are not showy tokens, but hard-earned rewards for meritorious service. (Matthew 5:11-12; Revelation 3:11; James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10; 2 Timothy 4:8; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Thessalonians 2:19 and Philippians 4:1) Of course, if we have truly achieved a Christ-like character, there in the presence of the Lord Himself, we will likely follow the example of the twenty-four elders and cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. (Revelation 4:10–11)
I wish there were a Heavenly Olympics here on earth. Imagine competing to be the best in the world at giving generously, compassionately serving others, evangelizing or being a good neighbor! Imagine getting a gold medal in praising the Lord! I’d watch that. Maybe in Heaven there is that kind of spectacle. Perhaps the saints and angels watch our good deeds and struggles and strivings like we watch reality shows. I know they are rooting for us and cheering us on.
So, enjoy watching the Olympics. But remember, you’re already in training for a Heavenly prize and an eternal crown of laurels. I hope to share the medal podium with you someday. Until then, I’ll be cheering for you!
Go for the Gold,