‘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’ 1 Corinthians 9v24-25
‘No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules’ 2 Timothy 2v4-5
Paul obviously watched the Games! Like us, he could see the discipline and training required to succeed and to win – what Mo Farah called pure “grafting.” All of the athletes we have been watching, losers and winners alike, have given their time and dedication over the last 4 years in getting ready for these Olympics and only one of them, or one team, can win the gold medal and title of champion – what in Paul’s time was the victor’s laurel crown. (Perhaps that’s why they give these hunky men bouquets of flowers to hold?!)
Yes, of course silver and bronze medals are also amazing achievements – you still have to be better/faster/stronger than all the other entrants. Certainly 18 year old Tom Daley’s joy at his bronze win was genuine and much more enthusiastic than the 2 divers who bettered him; the Chinese silver medallist was actually weeping with disappointment at the same time – so it must all depend on individual expectations and the journey taken to get there. They say the focus on winning and belief that it will happen is an essential psychological element in attaining victory: that is the power of faith… so how devastating when it doesn’t happen.
We saw a lot of devastation – well, there are bound to be far more losers than winners. But how could these young people think they had let anybody down when they had worked so hard? It made me sad that they put all their worth in winning and I was worried for them coping with the loss: these are the things that make or break people, especially at such a young age… But then the most moving stories were, like Tom’s, about those who had come back from past failures and injury, or walked through loss and struggle to come out on top – the victors who make us proud because they have overcome. Ussain Bolt is amazing, talented, awesome – and a nice guy: no-one resents his championship status, even his compatriot runner up; what a wonderful way for Jamaica to celebrate her Jubilee of Independence from British rule – in London too! I was proud to have some friends over in Jamaica during these weeks, doing a ‘Lifeline’ expedition, apologising for European and African roles in the slave trade that has made the Caribbean what is is today: this photo of Ussain Bolt’s restaurant sign was taken by one of them (thanks, John). Perhaps that triple medal win in the 200m and the team 4x400m relay gold and new world record is actually a whole nation’s story of triumph rising out of the ashes of history – a jubilee indeed!
But world champions aside, the more ordinary young people – who have had to develop inner strength, risen up against all the odds, shown resilience and determination in making huge sacrifices – these are the heroes of the common people. We especially relate to the stories of the Team GB athletes – Jessica Ennis, coming back from missing the 2008 Games with broken bones in her foot to win gold in the heptathlon, Gemma Gibbons, who won a judo medal and whispered a thank you to her mum who died 8 years ago, the dressage champion, Charlotte Dujardin, whose mother had spent the inheritance money from her mother’s death on buying her horse, Nicola Adams from Leeds winning the first ever woman’s boxing gold and the women rowers, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, who fell into each others arms in disbelief when they won the first Team GB gold of the 2012 games. The women seem to have done really well 🙂 – but so have the men, of course, including the Brownlee brothers who ran, cycled and swam their way through a Yorkshire childhood to gold and bronze in the triathlon, the boxer Luke Campbell who burst into tears on becoming bantamweight champion – even Ben Ainsley having to sail out of his skin to beat the Danish competitor after getting a penalty that put him behind until the very end of the last race! SO many amazing stories to make not just families but a nation proud… and I haven’t even mentioned the cyclists – sweetheart Laura Trott, the amazing Sir Chris Hoy – or Andy Murray, finally laying the ghost of 4 lost Grand Slam tennis finals! 🙂
It has been an emotional time, a wonderful time: the cheering home crowds have been a heart-warming, unifying factor – the jubilant atmosphere and incredible uplifting ROAR; the beauty of London dressed in her best, colourful even in the rain, full of flags and smiles, the sense of the country coming together – and Team GB is third in the medal table with 28 golds as the last day dawns! Surely after all the doubt and criticism our Olympics have been a resounding success – and we still have the arguably even more moving Paralympics to come. Is this jingoistic? Is not this focus on winning through human effort and strength, a manifestation of ‘the pride of life’? Surely these perfect physical specimens cannot be a model for the rest of us ordinary mortals? In ancient Greece the champions were lauded as god-men, like Zeus – yet our God-man, Jesus, overcame through weakness, submission and obedience to death.
While remaining on our guard against pride and idolatry, as Paul says in the Scriptures above, there is also something wholesome for us to learn from these athletes as we apply their methods to a more lasting spiritual goal. And there is always so much to admire in those who overcome weakness and adversity to come out on top – which is, of course, the resurrection story! Isn’t that what we are cheering as they cross the line, score the winning goal or clear the biggest distance? We want heroes who make us feel that life can be lived to the full.
So who remembers Friday 27th July, the day this all began? It seems a long time ago now! That was the morning Big Ben struck 42 times in a row as ‘All the bells’ were rung for 3 minutes across the nation to welcome the start of the Olympic Games. A number of people had spoken about the spiritual significance of such an act, going so far as to say God had shown them this would be an important moment for our land – a time of spiritual change and a turning point. If you want to follow this up, read some of what Jonathan Bellamy wrote here, shared at the Mercy Cry prayer meeting I led in February in preparation for the Olympic year.
Of course we loved his prophetic vision of the Bells of Change here in Loughborough, where the biggest working bell foundry in the world is based – ringing the warning bells over the nation has been my prayer focus here for many years! On top of that, as well as the prayer walk by faithful Stokies that Jon mentions, there has also been a ‘bell-shaped’ prayer walk round England. Bear in mind that none of these people knew about each other – and add to that an email from Australia saying prophetess Kathie Walters had heard heavenly peals of bells and been impressed to pray for the UK – afterwards finding out about the plans to use bells in the Queen’s Jubilee river procession and at the start of the Olympic Games. Soon after that I discovered Beni Johnson from Redding, California had put something on You Tube sharing what God had said to her about the “bells ringing again in the UK”: listen here!
It seems praying people around the world – as well as in our own nation, where there has been a 5 year prayer focus ever since the announcement of London’s successful bid was followed by the London bombings the next day – have had this expectation for God to start something irreversible on 27th July! Alongside that we are in a season of unmatched united prayer as More than Gold co-ordinates multiple strategic initiatives, from the 70 day prayer relay alongside the torch relay to outreach and mission among the nations who have come to our shores for the big event – and it will culminate in a National Day of Prayer at Wembley stadium on 29th September. We pray to call through what God has promised and a move of prayer always precedes a move of God – or what we call ‘revival’.
So what will that look like, and has our Olympic experience given us any clues?