What makes a champion? Certainly there is a certain amount of genetics that produce the perfect storm of talents and abilities that take one athlete and elevate him or her above the rest. Yes, there is training and conditioning that brings those skills to a finely tuned point. To some degree, there is opportunity. I have often wondered how many kids in Siberia or some other long-forgotten place may have tremendous talents buried under a mountain of closed doors. Certainly, as we watch champions being crowned in the 2012 London Olympic Games, all of those things will factor into the results of the events—and who gets the gold medal. But there is another factor, I think, that plays a part in what makes a champion—determination. The champion is not just happy to be there, they are running to win. Anything less is unacceptable—perhaps even viewed as failure.
The Christian life is often described in the Scriptures as a race that we run. Paul told Timothy we must compete according to the rules; the writer of Hebrews said we must run with endurance; and Paul told the Galatians he feared that, in regards to his service among them, he had run in vain. All good and valid points to consider as we run our own race. But there is more. Paul told Corinth, the home of the Isthmian Games (second only to the ancient Greek Olympics), that there is another reason to run our very best:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).
An “imperishable crown.” We run because there is a reward. We aren’t just glad to be there. What might that reward be? Perhaps that question is answered in Paul’s final chapter of his final letter to Timothy, where he said:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
The crown of righteousness is a great prize and worth running for, but of even greater significance is that the Lord Himself bestows it! No prize could be better or greater than this—hearing the Savior Himself say to you at the end of your race, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . . Enter into the joy of your Lord!” (Matthew 25:21).
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain