Inspire a Generation. There was a cartoon in one of the newspapers with the motto of London 2012 as the subtitle. It was a picture of a couple watching the Olympics. The husband says,

“This really is inspiring. We must get a bigger television.” I can sympathize- I suspect that the part of my body that got the most exercise during the Olympics was my index finger as it worked the remote control.

Yet whilst the Olympics didn’t inspire me to great feats of athleticism (besides I think I am now beyond the generation that the Games were intended to inspire…) they did challenge me in another way. Frequently the Bible- perhaps especially the apostle Paul- uses athletic imagery to describe the Christian life. I haven’t listened to it yet but I know Hebrews 12 (Let us run the race with perseverance…) was used for our Family Service on the first Sunday of the Olympics and I suspect that other churches have looked at that passage and others like it (2 Timothy 2:5, 4:7 etc) in the last few weeks.

Paul develops the analogy most fully in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  (NIV)

He talks about the strict training that athletes undergo to gain a crown (gold medal in the modern Games) that does not last. There have been plenty of stories to that end over the past few weeks. Alan Campbell who won bronze for Britain in the single scull played Christmas carols over his headphones in the run up to his race- a reminder of the sacrifices that he had made including training runs and strength work on Christmas Day. Apparently even synchronized swimmers spend ten hours a day training in the pool. And it never ends. I was also interested to hear on the radio this weekend a reporter from the Olympic village commenting that he had just been passed by the Brownlee brothers going off on a training run- less than a week after they had won gold and bronze in the triathlon. All of this work was done to get the body in shape in order to pursue the gold medal- a gold medal that does not last.

This should make me ask questions about my Christian life. I’m not sure we talk enough about the Christian life as a race or a battle. We tend to be much more laidback- an attitude that would not describe any of the successful Olympic athletes. But Paul is clear- to live the Christian life as well as to be a successful athlete involves saying no to our bodies. For the athlete it would involve saying no to unhealthy food, no when the pain was such that they wanted to give up and no when they simply wanted to relax instead of train. For us? Surely it means saying no to that temptation, no to a laziness that lives for pleasure instead of Christ, no to a lifestyle that feeds more on popular entertainment than on the Bible. We are training for an important race and we are fighting a huge battle.

If that sounds hard then it is because we are called to something hard. What drives us on? Elsewhere in Scripture we could be encouraged that we don’t fight the battle alone but with the help of God’s Spirit who lives inside us. But the motivation in 1 Corinthians 9 is clear- a crown that lasts. What a day that will be- far better than any medal ceremony. And for us it is guaranteed. No worries of getting bronze instead of gold. The Lord sees our pains and our sacrifices and on that day there will be a “Well done” for those who have lived for Him. We need to reflect constantly on that for it will be the motivation that we need to keep going through hardship.

So what should strict training look like for you?