One thing Christians have in common with Olympic athletes

Tucker Ficklin

Few things grab the world’s attention like the Olympic Games. Even as someone who doesn’t follow sports and athletic events, I admit the Olympics are pretty exciting. 

Beginning Aug. 5, 2016, billions of people around the world will watch the best athletes on earth compete for gold medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We’ll see people who have dedicated their lives to spend minutes doing the thing they love in front of a global audience. 
 
Take gymnast Gabby Douglas, for example. She left her home and family in Virginia at 14 to train full-time in Iowa. She gave up everything – a normal childhood, being with her family and friends, a traditional education – to become the best in the world. She eventually won the gold medal at age 16 in the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
 
Every athlete has given up a lot to be at the summer Olympics. Sprinting and swimming aren’t just afternoon activities for them; it’s why they get up in the morning and put tons of time, money, and effort into what they do. 

It might even seem crazy (especially those of us with no athletic capabilities) that someone would give up everything for just one event. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that divers spend years perfecting what takes 3 seconds to perform. It blows my mind that people spend hours a day trying to shave milliseconds off their track time. It’s unimaginable that athletes live and breathe for one purpose and give anything to make their goals reality.
 
But what if I told you that we are all called to do the same? That we were put on this earth to sacrifice?

Olympic Feats Outside the Stadium

For those of us who are Christians, our calling is to live and breathe one, singular purpose: To make the Gospel known and to grow in relationship with Jesus. And just like being an Olympic athlete, that task comes with a lot of sacrifice but it also comes with a whole lot of good.
 
Jesus said to a rich young ruler in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 
In church and Christian circles, we hear a lot about how our salvation is a free gift we cannot earn, which is true. But to continue to share God’s love and grow closer to Him is not an easy journey. It requires a lot of sacrifice and dedication. The Bible tells us that following Jesus isn’t a cakewalk, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. The apostle Peter writes, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name” (1 Peter 4:16).

Training For More Than Games

I was a sophomore in college when I felt God calling me to work at a summer camp for youth groups. I could have spent my summer doing so many other things that could have benefited me more professionally and financially, but God was calling me to give up a bigger paycheck and higher credentials to do what He had planned for me. It seems like a small sacrifice now, but at the time it wasn’t easy and it gave me an understanding of sacrifice that I didn’t have before.

You may not be training for the Olympics, but there is something you have dedicated your life to. It could be your job, family, or even a personal goal you want to achieve. Following Jesus could mean you have to give up a hobby or habit that could cause you to lose a few friendships along the way. For some people it means selling everything they have and moving to a different neighborhood or overseas to become missionaries. It could even mean giving up one relaxing night a week to volunteer with your church’s student ministry. Sacrifice looks different for everyone, but we are all called to do it.

Sacrifice looks different for everyone, but we are all called to do it.

Your Moment to Leave a Mark

Jesus said to His followers in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

What are you called to sacrifice? What will sharing the Gospel cost you in your workplace? What will your friends and family think of you for taking a stand for the Lord, and standing by others in our church? What will it cost for you to speak out against racial injustice, hate, and things that aren’t according to God’s love? 

It’s easier to sacrifice when we know we will reap the benefits. Would athletes train as hard if they knew there wasn’t a chance to win a gold medal at the end? Probably not. But what sets followers of Jesus apart is that we aren’t making sacrifices to see ourselves on a Wheaties box; we sacrifice so God can be seen as the gold medalist. 

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