More nations than at the United Nations, 205 countries, have sent 10,500 athletes to compete in 300 events at the London 2012 Olympics Games. Team GB has more than 500 members.
The Olympics offer a supreme example of what it means to focus on a prize.
It is a four year journey for every athlete to prepare for an Olympic Games. Mentally and physically it is a huge undertaking with massive sacrifices being made by individuals and their family and friends.
The level of focus athletes display was highlighted in an interview Time magazine had with Lolo Jones, the American 100m hurdler. The favourite to win gold in Beijing in 2008, she was leading when she hit the penultimate hurdle to cross the line in seventh place.
Deciding to go for gold again, her focus is obvious:
Jones has sprinkled her house with reminders of London. Olympic rings are sculpted into the flower-pots in front of her garage. She also purchased a set of London 2012 dinner plates, which keeps her diet in check. “It’s hard to eat ribs off a plate when you have the London logo looking at you,” Jones says. And in 2010, she bought a London 2012 sweatshirt for her niece, who lives nearby with Jones’ sister. “Randomly, she’ll come home from school and have this sweatshirt on, and it’s like, Yeah, this is what you’re working for,” Jones says.
A Christian, her inspiring story is one of overcoming adversity and set back, getting up and going again.
Writing from a Roman dungeon, the apostle Paul used sporting language to describe the Christian life. Despite being in chains he had not lost his focus and mission in life. He had come a long way in his ministry, yet he had not accepted that being in prison at the heart of the Roman Empire equalled the end of his goal.
In Philippians 3:14 Paul says:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
This verse reveals the ambition of the great apostle Paul. There is a prize to be awarded and he aims to secure it.
Bible Commentator FF Bruce says, ‘he looks forward to hearing the president of the games call him up to his chair to receive it. On a special occasion in Rome this call might come from the emperor himself; how proudly the successful athlete would obey the summons and step up to the imperial box to accept the award!’
We have seen many athletes at the Olympics step up to the Olympic podium to receive their prize, presented by a member of the International Olympic Committee.
For Paul, the president of the games was none other than his Lord. If it is God himself, the Lord of Lords who will be presenting the prize it is important to keep our eyes on it.
KNOWING THE PRIZE. It is essential to know what the prize is. The dream of all Olympic athletes is to win the ultimate prize – an Olympic gold medal. As the great Olympian, Steve Redgrave was once told, ‘You’re a world champion for one year, but you’re an Olympic champion for life.’
The Prize for the Christian is Heaven. Simply put, heaven is: Knowing Jesus (heaven on earth) and Meeting Jesus (eternal life). Sadly, too many fail to appreciate this and lack focus in life.
LIVING FOR THE PRIZE. An athletes’ lifestyle is determined by the prize. Paul was clear he had yet not achieved the prize, but was still working for it.
An athlete has a coach to help them become the best. The slogan of the 2012 Games is Inspire a Generation! There is a need to grow into greatness. The decision to go for the prize means athletes must mature. They must determine to go for it!
Just like an athlete in training, Christians also should be living for their prize. They too need a coach – to help them become more like Jesus. Luke 6:40, ‘The disciple is not above his Master; but every one that is perfect shall be as his Master.’
WINNING THE PRIZE. To be awarded the prize it is first necessary to win, as Jones is painfully aware. It is only once the line is crossed that an athlete will know if they have won. Only the victor will stand at the top of the podium.
Christian Perfection is about winning, not to get close or to aspire to but to WIN.
Paul explains that the prize is not exclusive however, like the Olympics. ‘The crown of righteousness’ will be awarded ‘to all who have longed for his appearing.’
Runners on the track are set apart from those spectators looking on. However, there is still a difference between running the race and crossing the line.
It would be easy to think that world class athletes would let nothing get in their way of a gold medal. However, at his first Olympics in 1984, Steve Redgrave had the goal of winning gold but he also wanted to be 100m champion in the athletes village on a new computer game which resulted in RSI and him missing training! What if he could have seen himself running into the Olympic Stadium in London 28 years later carrying the Olympic flame? All for what?
It is important to stay in the race in order to cross the line. It’s obvious but it doesn’t always happen, just consider Paul Radcliffe or Victoria Pendleton. In Galatians 5:7, Paul says, You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?
‘Inspire a Generation’ to win the prize and remember, there is a crowd cheering:
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,’ (Hebrews 12:1).