The “Brave New World” of the 21st Century requires a “Brave New Discipleship” strategy.

Would You Like to Be a Spiritual Olympian?

Posted on: February 21, 2017


Mary Lou Retton was an American gymnast who took the gold medal in the individual all-around competition in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Her groundbreaking performance, as well as her buoyant spirit, made her one of the most popular athletes in the United States at the time, confirmed by her being the first woman athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties, and one of the three most popular ever Wheaties boxes.

Training for the Olympics is grueling, time demanding, and all consuming. The physical challenge is actually exceeded by the mental challenge. If you are an Olympian, then that is the main thing you are. Everything else is second place.

During an interview after her medal-winning performance, she was asked if – during the demanding years of preparation and conditioning leading up to the Olympics – she had ever wanted to quit.

She replied instantly, “Oh, yes! Sometimes everyday.”

Mary Lou credited her parents with encouraging her and helping her to hang in there… and was she ever glad they did! In the end, she said, it was all more than worth it! The moment the gold medal was hung around her neck, the price she had paid to get there evaporated into insignificance.

While not many people are able or inclined to become actual Olympians, there is a sense in which God calls all Christians into the spiritual Olympics.

Romans 12:1 says, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

A living and holy sacrifice! That is the spiritual Olympian call: total commitment to an overarching purpose.

His call on us is all consuming. It requires complete dedication to fully succeed. Other goals, other values, other behavior must be subordinated to that all-encompassing mission.

Just as the Olympian cannot progress to extraordinary physical heights without extraordinary physical effort, so the spiritual Olympian cannot progress to extraordinary spiritual heights without extraordinary spiritual effort.

The apostle Paul wrote:

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 exercises 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. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Someone might say, “but I don’t want to be a spiritual Olympian! I want to have an easier life, and will gladly settle for less extraordinary spiritual heights.”

And that may be. However, God may have other plans for us.

As C. S. Lewis once said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

God may have plans to take us to extraordinary spiritual heights whether we want to go or not, and in the process may take us through extraordinary circumstances which, to survive, will require extraordinary spiritual effort.

We might wish that extraordinary spiritual growth could be accomplished by eating chocolates while watching sunsets.

But the opposite is typically true. Spiritual growth is accomplished by going through trials that challenge us to the core, requiring that we choose between God and self, between this world and the next.

We are faced with rising to the challenge of being a spiritual Olympian and experiencing remarkable spiritual results, or else we will be faced with simply suffering and getting nothing out of it, since experiencing trials in life is very rarely optional.

Timothy Keller said, “There is a purpose to [suffering] and if faced rightly can drive us, like a nail, deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” 

Therefore, we should, as the apostle James said, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

When we lean into the trials that God brings into our lives, seeking to get as much profit from them as we can, the rewards are disproportionate. As the apostle Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

That’s another way of saying that when we stand before the Lord and the gold medal is hung around our neck in our heavenly reward ceremony, the price we paid to get there will dissolve into insignificance.

Our task for now… and this typically requires a significant step of faith… is to accept the challenge of being a spiritual Olympian, dedicated to permanent extraordinary spiritual effort and achievement.

What would God do in us and through us if we, as Christians, became as dedicated to our spiritual progress as Olympians are to their physical progress?


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