Olympic Faith

Activated - - NEWS - By Gabriel Gar­cía Val­divieso Gabriel Gar­cía V. is the edi­tor of the Span­ish edi­tion of Ac­ti­vated and a mem­ber of the Fam­ily In­ter­na­tional in Chile.

The 2016 Sum­mer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, had some truly ex­cit­ing mo­ments. Ath­letes from 28 sports and 41 dis­ci­plines amazed us with their tal­ent, au­dac­ity, per­se­ver­ance, and phys­i­cal and men­tal prow­ess. Yet, in my opin­ion, there was an as­pect of th­ese Olympic com­pe­ti­tions that shone even brighter than the medals—the role that faith played in the lives and sports ca­reers of many of the par­tic­i­pants.

I'm an en­thu­si­as­tic fan of the Olympics. For years now, I've watched the Olympics, and I can tes­tify that dur­ing th­ese last Games, I've wit­nessed more ex­pres­sions of faith by the com­peti­tors than ever be­fore. Let's look at some of them.

The Ethiopian ath­lete Al­maz Ayana amaz­ingly beat the record for the 10,000-me­ter track com­pe­ti­tion by 1. Psalm 18:32–33 NIV 2. Psalm 84:5 ISV 3. Psalm 62:11 4. Isa­iah 40:29–31 NIV 5. Proverbs 21:31 ESV 6. Philip­pi­ans 3:13–14 CEB 7. 1 Corinthi­ans 9:24–27 NLT 8. He­brews 12:1–2 14 sec­onds. So in­cred­i­ble was her feat that sus­pi­cions of cheat­ing arose im­me­di­ately. But the ath­lete serenely af­firmed, “My dop­ing is my train­ing and my dop­ing is Je­sus. Noth­ing oth­er­wise—I am crys­tal clear.”

The story of the swim­mer Michael Phelps is iconic. Though he had cel­e­brated un­prece­dented wins in pre­vi­ous Olympics, he be­came dis­il­lu­sioned to the point of con­tem­plat­ing sui­cide. He was in the midst of th­ese dark times when a friend gave him a copy of the widely ac­claimed book by Chris­tian au­thor Rick War­ren, The Pur­pose-Driven Life. Hope was re­stored and his life was vic­to­ri­ously back on track with a new­found con­nec­tion with God.

Few an­tic­i­pated a sil­ver medal for the Colom­bian light fly­weight boxer, Yu­ber­jen Martínez. When his mother was in­ter­viewed re­gard­ing her son's au­da­cious feat, she ex­plained that years be­fore she'd told God, “I give You this child. Do with him as You will.”

Ja­maican Omar McLeod won the 110-me­ter hur­dles with a good mar­gin, break­ing out in praise as he crossed the fin­ish line, shout­ing, “Thank You, Je­sus!”

Si­mone Manuel set a new Olympic record in the 100-me­ter freestyle swim­ming. She was the first AfricanAmer­i­can woman to win a gold medal in an in­di­vid­ual swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion. Af­ter the race, she tes­ti­fied: “All I can say is all glory to God.” Another promis­ing Amer­i­can swim­mer who won sev­eral gold medals is Katie Ledecky. She pro­claims that faith “is part of who I am.”

The Fiji rugby team won the first gold medal in the his­tory of their coun­try when they beat all their strong com­peti­tors, in­clud­ing Eng­land 43 to 7. At the end of the game, the team united in singing a hymn that in­cludes the line, “By the blood of the Lamb and the Word of the Lord, we have over­come.”

Why would faith be im­por­tant in sports? I think that it has some­thing to do with stamina, bal­ance, well­be­ing, and the op­ti­mism it pro­vides. In fact, this is true for any chal­lenge that we take on. The Bi­ble re­it­er­ates this; the psalmist sang, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way se­cure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer.” “How happy are those whose

1 strength is in you, whose heart is on your path.” “Power

2 be­longs to God.”

3 When we rec­og­nize our weak­nesses and in­suf­fi­cien­cies, we're open to re­ceive our strength from God. “He gives strength to the weary and in­creases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stum­ble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will re­new their strength. They will soar on wings like ea­gles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” What a prom­ise to claim be­fore a con­test!

4 Be­liev­ers know this se­cret. We give all the hu­man ef­fort that we are able, and the rest we leave in God's hands. “The horse is made ready for the day of bat­tle, but the vic­tory be­longs to the Lord.”

5 The apos­tle Paul of­ten com­pared the Chris­tian life to a race. It's what we could call spir­i­tual ath­let­ics. “Broth­ers and sis­ters,” he said, “I my­self don't think I've reached it, but I do this one thing: I for­get about the things be­hind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. The goal I pur­sue is the prize of God's up­ward call in Christ Je­sus.”

6 Most likely, the suc­cess of the faith-pro­fess­ing ath­letes—or any of us who lean on God in our en­ter­prises—is due to the fact that we have higher heav­enly goals that are not lim­ited to earthly hon­ors. This brings to mind the apos­tle's words:

“Don't you re­al­ize that in a race ev­ery­one runs, but only one per­son gets the prize? So run to win! All ath­letes are dis­ci­plined in their train­ing. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eter­nal prize. So I run with pur­pose in ev­ery step. I am not just shad­ow­box­ing. I dis­ci­pline my body like an ath­lete, train­ing it to do what it should. Oth­er­wise, I fear that af­ter preach­ing to oth­ers I my­self might be dis­qual­i­fied.”

7 “Since we are sur­rounded by so great a cloud of wit­nesses, let us lay aside ev­ery weight, and the sin which so eas­ily en­snares us, and let us run with en­durance the race that is set be­fore us, look­ing unto Je­sus, the au­thor and fin­isher of our faith.”

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