Theology 101

Olympians & the Book of Hebrews: Running with Perseverance

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The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which officially ended Sunday, has received much press for athletes protesting social injustice. From the United States’ women’s soccer team kneeling before the first match to an American shot-putter placing her arms in an “X” over her head on the podium after her silver medal presentation, there has been much in the news surrounding these numerous protests.  

Yet, not all U.S. athletes have protested the flag or national anthem. Kevin Durant, a star of the United States’ gold medal men’s basketball team, scorned media critics by telling one critic to “act like you’re American.” Wrestler Tamyra Mensah-Stock who also won a gold medal wrapped herself in the flag and declared, “I love representing the U.S.!”

Representing the Kingdom of God

There is one story you probably did not hear on the news. Track star Sydney McLaughlin ran in women’s 400-meter hurdles, winning the gold medal, and setting a world record.  Later that night, she posted this on Instagram:

Let me start by saying what an honor it is to be able to represent not only my country, but also the kingdom of God. What I have in Christ is far greater than what I have or don’t have in life. I pray my journey may be a clear depiction of submission and obedience to God. Even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it doesn’t seem possible. He will make a way out of no way. Not for my own gratification, but for His glory. I have never seen God fail in my life. In anyone’s life for that matter. Just because I may not win every race, or receive every one of my heart’s desires, does not mean God had failed. His will is PERFECT. And He has prepared me for a moment such as this. That I may use the gifts He has given me to point all the attention back to Him.

She signed it: “2x Olympian, Olympic Champion, World Record Holder, Thank. You. God.” Before the Olympics were over, she went on to win another gold in the 4×400-meter relay.

Running with Perseverance

In the book of Hebrews, the author uses the analogy of a race to describe the Christian life. In this remarkable passage, we are given both the “what” and “how” of the Christian life:

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. (Heb 12:1-2)

The “what” is to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Notice that we are to get up every day to run. This is the Christian’s responsibility and is what the scripture calls “faithfulness.” Yet it is God who establishes “the race marked out for us.” This verse seamlessly combines man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. 

We run not to prove ourselves but because of our love for our Savior and our desire to please him. Some days it’s easy to run, the wind is at our back and the road is downhill. But some days the wind is in our face and the road seems to get steeper the farther we go. 

This passage tells us “how” to continue to run faithfully on days when we want to throw in the towel by “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Often it is not easy but as the Apostle Paul writes, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

My father grew up in central Florida during the Depression. I once heard him tell a story about how as a small boy, he went with his father to a local farm. The old farmer had just finished plowing a large field, and the team of mules was still hitched to the plow when my father and grandfather arrived.

My father, amazed at how straight each of the long rows was, asked the old farmer how he kept the rows so straight. The old man replied, “Well son, it is really pretty simple. I pick a point at the end of the row, a post or a tree, and then I keep my eyes fixed on it until I finish plowing that row. As long as I keep both of my hands on the plow and my eyes on the point at the end of the row, each furrow will be perfectly straight.”

What Sydney McLaughlin is telling us in her Instagram post is the same thing that the author of the book of Hebrews is telling us. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus if we want to finish the race well. Our race is much longer than 400 meters and the prize is much more valuable than a gold medal.

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