Olympic Lessons

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

With the Olympics concluding, a friend asked me, “What did you learn from the Olympics?” That got me to thinking. Let me share a few lessons I learned.

1. Discipline – we know how much discipline it takes to be a good athlete, but to compete at the highest level in the world requires extreme  discipline. Everybody wants to be a winner, but most people do not want to pay the price to be a winner.

You heard athletes talk about their conditioning. One athlete commented that her training regiment didn’t allow for a dessert in the past couple of years. That would eliminate most of us very quickly! Another athlete talked about the commitment of time. There was very little time for social activities. It was even suggested that television was not an option during most of the year. That is real discipline.

How many of us are that disciplined about our Christian witness? How much time do we spend in prayer and Bible study? How focused are we on carrying out the commands of Christ?

2. Margin of victory – so many of the events at the Olympics were settled by an extremely small margin of victory. When you look at the swimming, rowing and some of the track events, the difference in winning a medal and finishing out of the medals was a fraction of a second. I was amazed at the scores for some of the events in gymnastics. So much for the scoring was subjective, yet the margin of victory might be less than one-hundredth of a point. That is really close!

It really means that the people who won had a little something extra to give to create that slight margin of victory. It made me think about how much I am willing to invest to carry out God’s purpose for my life. The margin of victory might be extremely small – am I willing to go for the extra effort? It seems that the people who gave the greatest effort at the correct time were the ones who emerged as winners. Jesus taught, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with that person two miles.” (Matthew 5:41) The mile that means the most in life is always the extra effort mile!

3. Obstacles overcome – I was amazed at the number of stories of athletes who had overcome severe obstacles just to be able to compete in the Olympics. Some of them had severe physical obstacles. I remember seeing one man from a small country walk out on the gymnastics mat. It was stated that the doctors had said that he would never even be able to walk, now here he was competing in the Olympics. I think all of us were touched by the sprinter who had no legs and ran on the blades. I also remember those pictures of the early childhood of some of the athletes who grew up in squalor in third world countries. Some of them did not even have electricity or running water, but the obstacles did not get the best of them.

All of us face some kind of obstacles in life. Most of our obstacles are not real huge, yet we get overcome by them. Paul said, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. Through suffering, these bodies of ours constantly share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” (II Corinthians 4:8-10 NLT)

4. Gold medal value – while we call them gold medals, they are not actually gold. They are only gold plated. The amount of gold in the gold medal is just 1.34%. If the medals were solid gold they would cost about $25,000 a piece. That means it would take about $40 million for the games. The medals have not actually been gold since the 1912 Stockholm games.

The real value is not in the medal itself, but in what it stands for, the untold hours of practice to get a simple gold medal. That medal could be lost or stolen. It is what the medal stands for that makes the big difference.

In life the real value of things is not external, but what it stands for and signifies to people and to God. A person can never be judged by the outward appearance, but only by what is inside the person.

5. The burning torch – it is always a spectacular event when the Olympic torch is lighted. It is kept a secret and millions of people watched to see if the English would outdo the Chinese in Beijing four years ago. The torch was lighted in a very unique and different way, and became the official burning torch for the 2012 Olympics.

The flame is supposed to remain lit for the entirety of the games. There was an “oops” this year as the flame was extinguished for a couple of moments as some technicians were trying to move the huge torch to another part of the stadium. A great tradition for the Olympics was broken. No flame for a few moments.

Jesus said that we are the light of the world. Our light is not something that is to be turned on and off at our convenience. What God desires in most of us is consistency. Too many of us have “oops” moments when the flames of our faith go out. Jesus said in Matthew, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

There are a lot of lessons to learn from the Olympics – here are just five that struck me. The most important lesson is not the final score of any athlete in the Olympics, but the final score of our lives as we strive to win at the most important game in town – life. You can win five times as many medals as Phelps, and still be miserable. The best way to win in life is not to try to get more medals but to lose our self in serving Christ. That is the big lesson.

You can be a real winner!

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