As I sat in the tennis stadium last night watching the overhead squat event. Three things went through my head.
- USAW is improving, but man I would love one day for us to compete in a venue like that.
- At least a couple men attempted 400. I give them props for at least trying.
- It has to be extremely hard for believers on that floor with that many people idolizing them and screaming their name to stay grounded.
Watching that event and the amount of fans amped up about exercise led me to Romans 12.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
(Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
Any athlete or high profile personality has this struggle. I would imagine that when you find yourself on that level of exposure, the popularity and admiration has to feel awesome! Those athletes have to love and struggle to not let that position become an idol. I find there are 5 principles from Romans 12:1-2 that can help athletes stay ground and remember who got them there, where their talents have origin, and make much of the position they hold.
- You Are Not Your Own. Remember that your body (and talent) is not yours for your glory or your praise. It was given to you such that you may use it as a “living sacrifice.” Your body, life, talent, and time is given to you not that you can make much of it for your pleasure but instead to lay it down for the glory of God. Our lives aren't given for us to live but to die, in sacrificial living for the glory of One who is greater and for our ultimate joy.
- Worship the Lord as Primary. We all worship something; our family, our job, our social status, our fitness. Whatever it is, we are worshippers. We were made for it. In Genesis 1 that creative design for worship was met perfectly with Adam and Eve's worship of the Lord in perfect harmony with Him. In Genesis 3, satan deceived Adam and Eve and caused their eyes to shift from their perfect, harmonious intimacy with God to a desire and idolization of their own flesh. How do we know if we are worshipping Him and not our own desires? How do we know if our performance and our actions and our victory is making much of Him? How do we know if our worship is “holy and acceptable” in His sight? Take a look at your heart. If God were to take the stadium away, the talent, or the victory, would your heart and life crumble? Would there be a hole in your identity? That's an indication that you are worshipping something above the Lord. Take a look at your heart and be sure your desires are for Him and not resting on your performance or status as an athlete.
- Keep The World in its Proper Place. The world with its flashy materialism and mirage of self-satisfaction is satan's primary tool for drawing mankind to sin. The world seems like it has so much to offer and if we can just reach the top of whatever ladder we're on, we will be satisfied. Our flesh will hunger and thirst for false promises of success and joy that the world appears to offer. DO NOT BELIEVE THOSE LIES! Romans 12 says not to conform to it. We could win the Crossfit Games 10x in a row and at the end of our run of championships, amidst our multi-million dollar lifestyle, we would still be left empty. Satan is crafty and deceiving. He will get us to believe almost anything that involves our own glory and our own success and we are so easily deceived. When we believe those idols are our end and that our own elevation in the world's eyes will satisfy us, we are left disappointed, depressed, and empty. Paul yells at us here not to conform to the world because if we make the world our end, we miss out on the only true source for joy and eternal satisfaction found in Christ. Do not conform and fall in with the ways and idols of the world because even when you reach the top, you will not find what you're looking for. Ask Tom Brady. What you're looking for is not OF this world but is the One who CREATED it.
- Transformation NOT Conformity. In line with point 3, not only should we avoid conforming to the world around us but should turn the opposite direction and desire transformation. This is probably the biggest point of the 5. Believers, not immersed in the truth of God's Word, not avid in their prayer life, not constant in their dedication to the Church, and not persistent in their service to others are left without life support and without aid. Transformation into a more holy, more Christ-like person is what the Bible calls sanctification. Sanctification does not just automatically occur because we profess with our mouth that we love Christ. Philippians 2:12 reminds us that we have to WORK to grow more into the image of Christ and God in is His power and grace will honor that work and make us more into His image. He will transform us. That work is a dedication and desire for intimacy with our Lord that comes from accomplishing spiritual disciplines like time in the Bible, prayer, etc. If you love someone, you pursue them. This the truth of our relationship with the Lord. There is no middle ground in the Christian life. We are either running after transformation unto the Lord on a moving sidewalk moving against us OR we are standing still (or running backwards) on a moving sidewalk toward conformity. Athletes and high profile individuals must be all the more diligent in their pursuit of the Lord because satan wants their high profile failure more than ever. Pursuit of transformation is a lifetime pursuit, a lifetime battle, and is not easy. But the process is sweet, the joy eternal, and the results are daily satisfying. Pursue transformation unto the Lord to stay grounded in the Gospel. The only other option is conformity unto your sin and flesh.
- Pressure makes Diamonds. The purest gold and the most expensive diamonds are those that are revealed through the purification of fire and pressure respectively. Trials and hard stuff happens. Praise God. Without fire and pressure our most precious jewels aren't half of their value and clarity. Without trial and hard times, our relationship with God is not half of what it is designed to be. Romans 12:2 tells us that it is the testing and trial that helps us see the Lord more clearly. Testing often drives us to Him. That time of trial may often be some of our most intimate times with the Lord. Often athletes who run into injury or fail to meet their own expectations blame God for their failure. Blame is the wrong word. Grateful is the right one. My pastor, Matt Chandler, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. This rocked his world amidst a time when the church needed him most. I'm sure there were times when he asked God why. Just like Job, Moses, and probably David did. However, 5 years later, he uses language like “God was gracious enough to allow me to endure cancer” and “Praise God for His mercy amidst cancer.” His relationship with the Lord matured in a way that even he has a hard time describing but all of us watching it could see it. The testing drew him closer to the Lord and helped him to see the Lord more clearly. In your athletic career and professional lives, things will go wrong. I can promise that. Remember who holds you. The Lord has His hands around you. His power and sovereignty are perfect and thus what is going on in your life is ultimately for His glory, your joy, and the good of those watching you. The fire that will always interrupt our plans will be both an indicator for where your heart rests and also an opportunity to draw nearer to the Lord. Embrace it.
As the Games kick off, I pray athletes around the world, and specifically the Games athletes this weekend will remember these principles. Our platform is granted by God for His glory. Nothing else.
- Why is it so hard to keep the Lord at the forefront of our desires as athletes?
- How can we be actively pursuing the Lord daily to make sure He remains our greatest desire?
- Where in my athletic life have I replaced God with some goal or desire or talent?