Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. (Philippians 3:12-15, NRSV)
We are a little over halfway through the 2012 Olympics being held in London. As always is the case, commentators, retired athletes and sports officials around the world offer their critique of whose the best in the world in this field or that sport. In turn, the eyes (and citizens) of virtually every nation in the world converge on an industrialized city to observe the running, swimming, throwing, volleying, and even trampolining to see who will be the best in the world. The modern Olympics serve as one of the few places where the community of nations gather without the intense pressure of diplomatic success or failure. Instead, the glaring eyes of the world look on for one thing…….GOLD, SILVER or BRONZE.
In looking at much of the coverage I am awestruck and the ability and talent of all the competitors. The concentration, the discipline and fortitude it takes to swim 100m, 400m or any distance in a respectable time is phenomenal enough. To win the race is extraordinary. For athletes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Sonya Richards-Ross, Jessica Ennis, Gabby Douglas, and so many others, the God-given gifts and ability that they exercise display the reason why the Olympics are still as popular as ever.
The performance of these (and all of the Olympic athletes) require me to look at this profound passage of Paul to the church at Philippi. In Chapter 3 of the text, Paul displays his credentials to be a faithful Pharisee yet says he lives for Christ because Christ first chose him. In this famous passage, Paul then compares the work of living a faithful life to that of the athlete competing in the ancient Olympic games. His words conjure up an image of strain and struggle, sweat and tears, cramping and stretching. The race we run as disciples of Christ, means that there is work and strain, training and discipline, yearning and pushing all involved in order for us to be who we are called to be in the race of life.
I saw this disciples lifestyle most strongly on display in a preliminary race during the Men’s 10,000m race over the weekend. There were nine competitors from all over the globe racing for only three qualifying slots. The gun fires and off they run. It is going to take them about 20 minutes to run the roughly 6 miles of the race on the track. About halfway through the race, one of the frontrunners in the pack trips and falls. All of the others jump over and around him, but keep up the pace. It appears that he is getting left and he is out. But almost as soon as he falls, he gets up and starts kicking! I mean kicking!! He within one lap has made up most of what he lost when he fell and was back to keeping pace with the pack. He crossed the finish line to claim the fourth spot to qualify for the next round!
This runner embodies our quest for life as Christians. The shot is fired and we are sometimes in the lead, sometimes in the rear but always trying to keep pace with the pack of life. (Sometimes, all we can do is keep pace with the pack.) There are even times, that we slip and fall feel like we get left by the pack. Yet, we “press on toward the mark”, we get up and KICK! Push toward the end with love and faith, kindness and forgiveness. We dig deep and RUN so that we can finish. There is no need to be first in the race, for really it has already been won! We just need to finish the race we started. And the real good news is that there are enough qualifying spots for all of us who finish the race, to qualify for the next round!!!
Like Bolt, Phelps and all the others, we are athletes for Christ. Pushing and struggling to make it to the finish line. It takes perseverance that only comes from God. I pray that you see the vision of truth that comes when you run the race that is set before each of us in Christ Jesus.