“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” is a profound way to describe many experiences we face in life.
I have been captivated watching the Summer Olympics these past two weeks. There were countless stories of dedication and hard work by athletes, coaches, trainers, and families in pursuit of an Olympic medal. What makes each story so incredible is the sacrifice one endures to win the prize. Some athletes have overcome the extreme odds to rise above, while others have capitalized on their great gifts with discipline and determination to win.
The Olympic Games may be wrapping up, but we do not need to watch the Olympics to see every day champions in life. People who face extreme hardships and setbacks are the other heroes who will never stand on a platform and receive adoring cheers or applause. One characteristic we see in people with such resolve is perseverance. Perseverance is defined as a “steady movement in a course of action, purpose, state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.”
In the Bible we get a clear description of what it means to live out perseverance in life. Paul wrote these words to people in a church he loved dearly: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14).
Paul understood that the most important thing in life was to know God by being in relationship with Jesus. He also realized this relationship is lived out daily through connection with God and living for Him. Practices of prayer, reading the Bible, being in fellowship with other followers of Jesus, are ways Paul encouraged others to seek and understand God. Paul did not put stock in past victories or failures. He was raised to be very religious, but he did not think that was more important than knowing Jesus. He also knew his actions were not always right and he did things which hurt God and others.
Paul’s ultimate goal for this life was to “win the prize” of knowing Jesus. He used the imagery of an athlete running a race to describe how to live as a follower of Jesus. In Paul’s time of the first century the winner of a race was called forward by the games master to accept a victory wreath. The Bible explains on the day of resurrection those in relationship with Jesus will be called forward by God to receive the prize of eternity with their Creator. What a joyful day that will be! Not just to see the finish line, but to be in the presence of God. Whatever you are facing, be encouraged that there is a God who loves you and has created you to be in relationship with Him and you can run the race in this life with perseverance and “win the prize.”
Frank Alioto serves as a Spiritual Care Coordinator at Central Peninsula Hospital and a Central Emergency Services Chaplain.