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TEAM GB & the power of a cloud of witnesses in going for gold

5 August 2012

So last night was truly an epic night – ‘Super Saturday’ – the greatest night in British Olympic history with 3 gold medals following on from the 3 gold medals we had won earlier in the day. Leanne cried; I was close. As Ricky Gervais tweeted “if Carlsberg did nations…#Great Britain”. It was amazing to see Jessica Ennis (a Yorkshire girl no less) smashing the field, Greg Rutherford being the dark-horse winner and Mo Farah in a very tricky race keeping a cool head and getting his tactics just right. Love it! A night we’ll never forget (even our football team losing on penalties didn’t really matter).

What I wanted to reflect on is that every single British athlete (whether rower, cyclist, gymnast, swimmer or track and field athlete) are all saying that the crowd is making a massive difference and giving them the extra push they need. Rebecca Adlington said the crowd means that you move from 4th place to 3rd place or from 3rd place to 2nd place (i.e. they give you such a boost that you gain a position higher than you would have done otherwise). And it is here that we see a great truth from the Christian life – we are athletes being cheered on by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12.1-2).

The Christian life has many different metaphors that all need to be taken together to help us understand what is involved in living as a Christian. Here are just a few:

  • A fruitful tree, dependent on the Spirit of God (Psalm 1)
  • Aliens and strangers in the world, living totally different lives (1 Peter 2.10-12)
  • Kings on the earth, extending the kingdom of God (Genesis 1-2 & Psalm 8)
  • Priests on the earth, mediating the presence of God (Exodus 19.4-6 & 1 Peter 2.9)
  • Repairers of broken walls, bringing mercy and justice to the poor and oppressed (Isaiah 58.12)
  • Athletes running towards the prize (1 Corinthians 9.24-27, 2 Timothy 4.7-8 & Hebrews 12.1-2)

Here are 3 lessons we can learn about being athletes but it is number 3 that so stirred my soul last night.

(1) Being an athlete requires discipline

1 Corinthians 9.25 – Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

I think this is often a forgotten message amongst many young Christians today. To change the metaphor, we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ (Mark 8.34).

(2) Being an athlete requires long-term perspective

2 Timothy 4.7-8 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day —and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Again, I think in our ‘instant gratification culture’ the idea of delayed gratification and living for the eternal crown Christ will award each of us who ran faithfully is not something that dominates our thoughts (as it did Paul).

(3) Being an athlete is easier with a crowd cheering you on

Hebrews 12.1-2 – 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,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

And it is this that has been the repeated message from Team GB at London 2012. However there is one MAJOR difference about the 80,000 that gathered last night to cheer on our 3 gold medal heroes and the great cloud gathered to cheer us on Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 12 they are not just ‘random supporters’ or ‘fans’ who have turned up but ‘fellow athletes.’ In chapter 11 we have the some of the greatest athletes and heroes of faith that have ever run the Christian race – Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab the prostitute, David, Daniel and so on. So we are not to imagine that we are being cheered on by fans but by some of the best athletes in history; ‘witnesses’ who can witness to finishing the race and winning gold. We are to picture ourselves running the 10,000 metres not just alongside Mo Farah but with Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Bradley Wiggins, Michael Johnson, Rebecca Adlington, Jessie Owens, Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis – and whoever else you think is a hero – sitting in the crowd!

Now imagine the adrenalin rush and boost you would receive as you looked up during your race to see those kind of heroes, who have been there and done it themselves and who didn’t give up or lose heart when they were weary. Imagine that when you look up in the race and you are tired and tempted to give up Usain Bolt is going wild on the sideline cheering your name. Imagine when the pain kicks in and you can’t be bothered with any more self-denial there is Jessica Ennis wearing her gold medal jumping up and down shouting “come on!”  You would feel electric, you would fight the temptation to give up and you’d finish with a sprint. Imagine that power, not of 80,000 ‘fans’ but of 80,000 ‘witnesses’  – witnessing to you that if you are disciplined and if you take a long-term perspective then the prize that awaits is worth it.

So can I encourage you this Sunday morning, in light of Team GB last night, to be disciplined, to run the race with perseverance, to fix your eyes on the crown of righteousness and enjoy hearing the voices of people like Abraham, Moses and Rahab cheering you on.

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