The Olympics. How I love to watch the Olympics. My husband dreads them because I will watch every event possible. Seriously. I think the first time I watched them was the summer they were in Los Angeles. I remember wanting to stay up every night to see women's volleyball, swimming, and of course gymnastics. I loved hearing the life stories of these athletes who had given up so much to train for their event, to train to represent our country, to train to win that gold medal. I love that they stagger the Winter and Summer Olympics so that one is viewable every two years. Now I only have to wait half as long to see an Olympics.
Last year, my son watched speed skating with me and we both rooted for Apollo Anton Ohno. He decided he wanted to take up speed skating and go to the Olympics to win a gold medal. I explained to him that it takes years of training. You don't just show up at the Olympics and participate. You have to become the best at your sport, which means school in a different way, not a lot of play time, hours and hours of drills and skating. I was not trying to discourage him, but I knew he had no idea what it would take to achieve that level of competition. After listening to the amount of dedication it would take to get to the Olympics, he decided maybe he would just watch it on TV.
I am astounded at the discipline these athletes exercise to vie for that gold medal, once, maybe twice in their lifetimes. It means pushing your body to unbelievable limits. It means dying to self in many facets of life. It means pushing through injuries and adversities. We glorify the athlete (I think disproportionately) because we know the effort it takes to subject our bodies to those physical demands. We know the difficulty of exercising such will power when chocolate cake is calling out to us, and think, well maybe just this once, when a trained athlete will say, not even this once. We know when we want to skip a workout because we have had a draining week, and the competitor says, I will workout twice today. There must be a drive in them that compels them to keep going. And we've seen it. Who can forget Keri Strug's memorable vault which secured a gymnastics team gold medal? After spraining her ankle to record a lukewarm score, she vaulted into the hearts of America by braving a second attempt. Furthermore, she sacrificed her chances at the All-Arounds with this endeavor. She took one for the team. Had she not pushed her ankle, giving it a chance to mend before the Individual events, she might have had opportunity to take more than one medal home.
How much am I willing to sacrifice to give out the gospel? Missionaries do it. They represent us in all parts of the world, giving up the daily comforts we take for granted. They eat foods we would not even taste, let alone eat. They learn difficult languages that require years of study. In some places, they travel dusty terrain to reach the outlying villages. They encounter incurable disease, unsanitary conditions, untamed wildlife, government regime changes, inflation that alters their financial support. These seem like big things, but they also deal with daily nuisances. Insects, electricity blackouts, water shortages, rodents, corrupt officials, homesickness and a host of other things. Paul gives quite a lengthy list in II Corinthians 11 about just a few of the things that had happened to him as a missionary. He wasn't complaining, he was just explaining that the missionary life is not always easy. He was willing to go through all that because he knew that people who die without Christ will go through a lot more.
Athletes punish their bodies to achieve a gold medal. Sure, it looks great on the mantelpiece, the gold reflecting in the homefires. Yes, it brings international fame and recognition at every breakfast table chowing down on Wheaties. Surely, there is satisfaction knowing that those years of intense training had been rewarded.
Missionaries leave previous (sometimes lucrative) occupations to go to an unfamiliar culture. They raise their children far away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who deem them strangers when they return for furloughs. They make difficult decisions about how those children will be schooled, abroad or at home. They will not bring home a gold medal at the end of their tenure, but they will have something far more precious at the end of this life.
Is it a lot to ask for me to give a little time to pray for them? And not just a "Please bless the missionaries" but praying specifically for each family, for each field, for each need. Is it too much to give a little of my money to support missionaries? Maybe to even give a little more for special missionary projects? I'll admit it. I am embarrassed when I don't know who our missionaries are. I may not always recognize each face, because I don't have a missionary card for each of them, but I should at least recognize each name. Just yesterday, I was reading some of the missionary letters on the church bulletin board (something I should do far more often) and saw a name I did not recognize. Have I prayed for that family before? I didn't see it on our regular prayer sheet, so I'm not sure what the situation is, but now that I know it, I will do my best to pray for them regularly.
If athletes and missionaries can discipline themselves to give their all, can't I discipline myself to give just a little? In the Olympics, they are competing for a temporary reward, and I never see a one of them giving up even though the first three cross the finish line. Every competitor finishes that race, even it means pushing a broken luge across by foot. They do not want to let their country down. They want to finish their race with pride. Shouldn't I want to do the same for my God? I know I will never be Olympics material, but shouldn't I be a gold medalist on God's team? It might take a little work, and a little dedication, but a gold crown will last longer than a gold medal.