By now, our fast-paced culture has moved on from the London Olympics and is gearing up for a presidential election that will take months to resolve. But today I encourage you to think back on the Olympics for a moment. Did you watch any of the events? Did you take note of how various athletes responded to winning, losing, succeeding, or failing?
When we put athletes on display at the Olympics, we give ourselves an opportunity to see the most raw of human emotions in these categories. For some athletes, the sheer joy of winning a gold medal – especially when such a victory was a surprise – brought smiles to our faces. For many, simply competing in a certain event was enough of an honor to provide us with a positive experience as observers. And for a few, the cold reality of not qualifying, not finishing, or not placing high enough evoked feelings of frustration and disappointment – at least in the athletes, if not in us.
I was impressed by how many athletes, in their post-competition interviews, gave thanks and praise to God for helping them to compete. Usually, this acknowledgement of God’s help came in good times (such as medal-winning performances) or at least respectable times (such as simply finishing an event). However, I rarely saw an athlete mention his or her faith in God when a frustrating or disappointing result came about.
This speaks to something in our human condition: it’s easy to be faith-filled and thankful to God when the sky is blue and things are going our way. It’s harder to remember our faith when things are not so good.
Why, then, do we spend most of our prayer time in supplication, asking God to bring about something good (such as healing, restoration, a job, etc.) in someone’s life? Why do we spend so little time, in our personal devotional lives and in our collective church life, giving God thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done?
I believe that’s because people generally rely on their emotions to gauge their spiritual lives. When you’ve won a gold medal (in the Olympics or, figuratively speaking, in real life), your emotions point you toward thankfulness. When a tragic or disappointing result happens in the race, your emotions direct you to ask God for healing or a second chance.
What if our spiritual lives were to be God-centered rather than emotion-centered? What if our relationship with Christ were so central to our daily lives that the events of each day could be understood in light of that relationship? The gold medal would still be worth celebrating, and the tragedy or disappointment would still be worth uplifting in prayer.
But the constancy of our relationship with Christ would remind us that the most important thing in our lives is that relationship. Win or lose, success or failure – the real race still lies ahead of us.
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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)