The 2020 Olympics is just over. It was a bit disappointing to see very few spectators cheering their favorite athletes due to the Covid pandemic. I love sports and I love to watch the athletes. I personally dislike any sport that involves hitting and punching others, such as boxing and fighting. I don’t consider them sports at all. It maybe good to learn those skills for self defense perhaps, but I don't regard them as competitive sports. That’s just me. But I love athletics. Track and field events like running race, high jump, long jump, pole vault, shot put, javelin throw and events like those are my favorites.
I was watching the 100 meters race. My best event to watch. I was amazed human beings could run that fast. 100 meters in less than 10 seconds. That is over 40kmph running speed. Crazy….
These athletes train rigorously for 4 years or more leading to the Olympics. They eat only healthy food. They watch their diet. They ensure they get enough sleep every night. They train many hours every day of the year for 4 years. They willingly choose to miss out on entertainment, parties with alcohol, they don't eat yummy street food like fried stuff. No KFC, no McDonalds, no Indian street food like wadas or pakoras and no fried fish. In short, they very carefully refrain from any food that could affect their performance. They discipline their bodies and they don't do what their bodies tell them to do, but make their bodies do what it should do. All that for 4 years continuously and all of that only for 10 seconds of performance. And even if they won, they just get a medal. They will be famous and be on the news for a week or two, everybody will cheer them, talk about them for a few days and after that everybody forgets and gets on with their own lives. Yes, very few of these top athletes might get rich due to advertisement contracts and other stuff, but really, who cares.
1 Cor 9:24-27 - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercise self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim, I box in such a way, as not beating the air but i discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
We as Gods children are asked to discipline ourselves to run the race as if to win (not just to participate), and our victory is a crown that does not perish and it is not for 10 seconds of performance and two weeks of fame. We have eternal life to look forward to. We can win eternal life with Jesus if we discipline ourselves and the good news is that we don't need to compete with each other. We can all win this race.
I watched the high jumpers. So much focus, so much dedication, tears and sweat. When they fail to make the jump, they try again and then again. They get only three attempts. I was reminded that the high jump bar was the sin nature in our lives, which we try to overcome. If we fail, we try again, and again, and again. God in His mercy and grace gives us way more than just three attempts. We can keep on trying till we overcome. Praise God. But once we do overcome one sinful habit, the bar moves a bit higher. The bar is a representation of the challenges in our lives. Each time we overcome one challenge, the bar moves a bit higher preparing us for the next challenge. The grace of God provides us with as many turns as we need to try and overcome the bar. This is a process of growth in our Christian walk. But we should be trying to clear the bar. Not just give up and sit on the sidelines watching others overcome.
Now, only three people get medals in the Olympics. What about all those athletes who did not win any medal? What about those who came fourth, fifth and including the ones who came last? Did they stop being athletes because they didn’t get a medal? No, they are still athletes and world class athletes at that. So also, we as Christians, don’t stop being God’s children when we stumble and fall. We don't stop being Christians when we see that others are better than us. We get up and try again. Even when we fall, we are still God’s children and we are still Christians. But we never stop running the race, and we train to run so as to win. We don’t stop the fight to overcome. And in God’s view, every runner wins the first prize as long as they are running as if to win. That means, they are putting in their every effort to continue the race and have not given up.
What if a man calls himself an athlete, but never practices, never pushes himself too hard, never watches what he eats and indulges in all worldly pleasures, but wants to run the race on the day of Olympics and comes wearing the right outfit and shoes to the track? He very much looks the part, but he isn’t an athlete at all. He will fail miserably although he looks like the rest of the athletes at the start line. That is the situation of many people who call themselves Christians, go to church, sing songs, but take the grace of God in vain and don't make any attempt to run their race or overcome their sin nature. Such people will not just NOT win a medal, but will be judged unfit and disqualified. These are the one's Jesus refers to in Matthew 7:21-23. They want to be in God's kingdom but are unwilling to let go of worldliness. They want the crown, but will not put in the effort. They love the fleeting pleasures of sin but dislike the idea of eternal damnation and so put in the bare minimum effort to "feel" secure. But on the day of the Olympic finals, they will be disqualified. The only one's who will win are those who have been rigorously training.
Matthew 7: 21-23: Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’
Some mornings or evenings, the Olympic athletes must have felt lazy or tired and just wanting to relax and rest. They may have gotten demotivated and just wanted to watch TV and eat popcorn. Perhaps they felt like giving up the training and focus on just making some money and enjoying life. But No! they kick themselves out of bed on those days, force themselves to go and train. Even if it is raining and cold or incredibly hot, the Olympic athletes go out to train. Their focus and eyes is on the Olympic event and they want to win a medal. Some mornings, we as Christians may find it tiring too, to follow the Lord. We may find a lot of doubts and questions in our minds. We may find worldly temptations too strong. But just as those athletes, we also must force ourselves to deny our own will and do God’s will on those days.
Corinthians 9:27: Paul said “I beat my body and bring it to subjection”. In the ERV, "It is my own body I fight to make it do what I want. I do this so that I wont miss getting the prize myself after telling others about it."
Sometimes our thoughts may be ungodly and it may be too exhausting to fight it, but we need to make the effort to take every thought captive and bring it to the obedience of Christ. Sometimes, our energy levels are low and we just want to indulge in worldliness. Sometimes, we look at successful and prosperous people out there and they “look happy”. We wish we could be like that, and there are many other feelings that sometimes may make us tired. Sometimes we may get angry or irritated or moody. Sometimes, we are overcome with grief and are tempted to give up. Sometimes, we get depressed for no reason. These are the things that we need to fight in such as way as to win. This is what Paul was doing. He was training his body and bringing it to subjection. This is our personal gym. This is our training routine everyday preparing us for the finals.
Just like the Olympic athletes who go through strict discipline just for a medal, Christians need to open their eyes to see that they need to be under strict discipline to live godly lives too. And this is hard. Self discipline is always hard. It’s not easy for the Olympic athletes either. For us as Christians, it is doubly hard, because the athletes train for a few years of competition and then retire. We don’t. And we not only have to discipline ourselves to overcome our sin nature, but also exercise to develop godly nature. Some people are strong willed and can have will power to overcome their weaknesses, but we cannot use willpower to love someone, to forgive someone or to have compassion. These are developed out of an attitude of gratitude towards God and humility and the fear of the Lord. Our gym as Christians is way tougher than the iron man challenge or a marathon runner.
1 Timothy 4:7-8 - But stay away from worthless stories that are typical of old women. Rather, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness, for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
The Olympic athletes have a coach. A single coach or maybe two at most. They don’t listen to many people’s advises. They don’t listen to various peoples opinions and stories on the internet. They listen to their coach and strictly discipline themselves and adhere to their coach’s instructions. Likewise, we have the written word of God. That is our coach. We don’t need to be confused and carried away by different people’s preaching's, personal experiences or stories. We need only to know Christ and follow His teachings from the word of God.
Romans 12:2 - And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Friends, there are so many verses in the New Testament that talks of self discipline either directly or indirectly. I want to encourage us to simply take the word of God seriously and make every effort to live godly lives because the end is near. The finish line is near. As part of their practice sessions, long distance runners learn to control their speed and their breathing. They have to keep check of their control of stamina. After they have run quite a bit, lactic acid kicks in and it affects their breathing severely. If they don’t learn to control it, they can faint due to lack of oxygen. They will need immediate medical attention. They train really hard for several years so that they know how to deal with such situations. They do all that training, so that when they reach closer to the finish line, they can give it all they have got and run as fast as they can towards the finish line. Let us also be like that.
1 Peter 4:7 - The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgement and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.
Philippians 3:14 - I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
In closing, Hebrews 11 talks about a whole bunch of people of faith in the Old Testament who by faith did this and by faith did that…etc. All of them were hoping to see the kingdom of God in their life time and ran their race in faith. Then we see in Hebrews 12:1 - Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance (or weight) and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
My dear brothers and sisters, We are going through challenging times. Sometimes, the challenges are personal. Sometimes the challenges are external. Either way it affects our service to God. It hinders our plans. It frustrates us. Even this Covid pandemic that prevents us from moving freely, travelling as usual and meeting each other, is quite challenging and frustrating. We have ministry challenges. Sometimes we may have financial challenges or relationship challenges due to misunderstandings. Sometimes health challenges or undesired and harmful addictions. Whatever the nature of the challenge, let us look at it as a race track with hurdles and let us run the race with endurance so as to win in the end. Let us give it all we have got because as long as we are still on the tracks when He comes and do not give up, we will all win and receive the crown the Lord has for us. Amen!
I was radically transformed by the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ back in 1997 in a most unusual way and unusual place. Read my testimony here. Over the years of my walk with God, I have come to realize a few basic truths that have altered my life.