Have you been watching the Olympic Games? I have. I am constantly impressed by the drive and determination of these athletes. Their ability to keep going against the odds--age, injury, weather and course conditions, broken equipment--that make most people think they don't have a hope, is inspiring.
Mark McMorris, a slopestyle snowboarder, competed with a broken rib. He won the first medal of the games for Canada.
Marie-Michèle Gagnon, a skier, also from Canada, dislocated her shoulder in the middle of a race. She popped it back in right there on the ski hill, made it to the bottom and was sent off in an ambulance for some medical attention. She tweeted later that night that she would be back for her next race.
Noriaki Kasai, a ski jumper from Japan, competing in his seventh Olympic Games, won his second silver medal twenty years after his first. He is 41 years old. Among his competition was an 18 year old rising star from Germany. In the finals' weather conditions, experience won out. Kasai is determined to return for the Games in Korea. He is still after that gold.
The Apostle Paul knew that his readers would understand the analogy of an Olympic race when he used it in his letter to the Corinthians. (I Corinthians 9:24-27) And even if we have never competed in a sport, watching these games gives us an opportunity to see the discipline it requires. Even if it is a sport that we do not enjoy or understand, we can see the dedication of the participants. It is that example that Paul wants us to follow; he wants us to exercise self-control, as though we were training for an Olympic event. I'm sure he would want us to not give in to our natural desires to be lazy or to eat food that doesn't contribute to making us stronger, but he is more concerned with the state of our spiritual health. He wants us to discipline our actions so that when we tell others about Jesus they will have no cause to criticize us. (Titus 2:7-8) He wants us to give everything that we have within us for the sake of God's kingdom, because he knows that this life is just temporary. We are not striving to be the best in order to win a piece of inscribed metal. We are fighting for people's eternal souls. (I Corinthians 9:25)
Spiritual discipline, also known as self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) is not entirely achievable in our own strength. It is a fruit of the Spirit. That means that in order to improve it, we have to have the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is not just a matter of following the rules or going through the motions of training. Bible reading and prayer are vital to gaining spiritual strength, but without the Holy Spirit we will not succeed. Thankfully God's Spirit is available to all who invite Him in. Don't hesitate to ask for His help in developing your self-control so that you may run the race to win a prize that will last through all eternity.