Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, in one way or another we are all competitors. Each day we take up the challenge of becoming a better person. The Bible is filled with comparisons between life and athletic competition. For example:” Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)
Most of the New Testament was written in Greek. To the ancient Greeks there was no division between physical development and spiritual development. In fact, they have a saying which is translated “a sound mind in a sound body.” After all, these are the people who invented the Olympic Games. So, they knew a thing or two about athletics. You may have seen statues or movies about the ancient Greeks. They always wear those long robes. The runners literally had to strip off those robes if they wanted to run, otherwise they would trip and fall. Winning in life also requires focus. We have to eliminate those non-essential tasks that can stop us from doing what is most important.
The term “sin” also originated in the Greek games. When the archers missed the target, someone would call out “sin” which literally means “to miss the mark.” When we fall into the habit of doing what we know is wrong, we have sinned or missed the mark of God’s best. So how can we “win the race” of life? The author tells us in the next verse, it says: We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)
I titled this message Focus and Discipline: The Qualities of a Champion. Because that is what it takes to win, focus and discipline. The followers of Christ were originally called “disciples.” Today, that word has lost its original meaning, but a disciple is literally “one who is disciplined.” So, a disciple is someone who is committed to a way of life or belief system. Discipline is simply the ability to make yourself do what you know that you need to do, whether you feel like it or not .Research shows that the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do are the same things that successful people don’t want to do, but successful people do them anyway.
Back to our text: “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)
We all need to exercise discipline if we want to achieve success and be a champion. Sometimes, discipline comes down to just putting one foot in front of another. When we can’t see the finish line, we have to dig in and do the right thing day in and day out. Sometimes we just “walk by faith.”
James J. Corbett won the first heavyweight championship prize-fight in which the contestants used boxing gloves. Prior to that, they would often go as many as 27 rounds, with bare knuckles. James J. Corbett also had a way with words. Knowing his background, we can appreciate it even more when he said:” Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms as so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round—remember that the man who always fights one more round is never beaten.” (source: The Preacher’s Word)
In his letter to the church in Corinth Paul wrote “I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.” (1 Cor. 9:26-27). When it came to his mission, he was very focused, he wrote “I focus on this one thing: forgetting the past and looking forward to what is ahead, I press on to reach the goal and win the prize.” (Phil 3:14)
Jesus used one word metaphors to describe Himself “I am the door, I am the gate, I am the way.” But when it came to His mission, He said “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). He paid the ultimate price for our salvation. There is nothing we can do to deserve it or earn more of it. Everything we do as a follower of Christ is out of gratitude and the desire to use the life we have been given to impact others.
A true champion spends a lot of time in the gym. He prepares, trains, exercises. He is a disciplined athlete. I can tell you from my own experience, having lost a total of 75 lbs. It takes discipline to get your body into shape, to eat right, to give up pleasures that others are enjoying. But it is done to win the prize. As author and speaker Zig Ziglar said “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does taking a shower – that’s why I recommend you do it daily.”
In closing: Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The word conform means to just go along with the crowd, to do what everyone else is doing. Being transformed is a change of mind, body and spirit. Like this passage suggests, it’s something we have to do every day, it’s not a one-time thing. It has to be ongoing.
In the same way, we have to exercise spiritual discipline, invest time in spiritual growth, train our minds and hearts in godliness, practice restraint when temptations come, and exercise the disciplines of Bible study, prayer and fellowship. It’s not always easy, but in order to grow, to “build some muscle” we have to have some resistance to overcome. We have to push ourselves each day to become more. I leave you with these words from the F.C.A. ( Fellowship of Christian Athletes) competitor’s creed:
“I am a competitor first and last. I am created in the likeness of God almighty to bring him glory. I am a member of team Jesus Christ. I wear the colors of the cross. I am a competitor now and forever. I am made to strive, to strain, to stretch and to succeed in the arena of competition. I am a Christian competitor, and as such I face my challenger with the face of Christ.”
Until next time, Stay Strong and Live With Faith!