The stories of Michael Phelps and Ray Lewis, David Boudia and Steele Johnson at the 2016 Rio Olympics inspired me to write this post. It is encouraging to see videos and articles about (super professional) athletes who dedicate their every win and medal for the glory and honor of God. They are rare yet valuable to find.
Truth is, athletes, because they are trained to be tough and competitive, are usually blinded by the idea that their own perseverance, talent and willpower/ determination can get them through any training and competition. Thus, their wins should point out to how good and hardworking they are as an athlete. I attest to this as I have seen and experienced this myself during my ten years of journey as a competitive tennis player.
I have seen many athletes (locally and internationally) who immensely improved because of so much belief in themselves. I have been with many athletes who talk about their athletic lives like nothing else mattered. And yes, I was one of them. There was a point in my life when depression and suicidal thoughts had hit me because of many non-fulfillments in my tennis life. I remember a season in my tennis career in which I had nothing but losing and disappointing my coach, teammates, sponsors and family.
Looking back, by God’s grace, I now understand why I experienced such heartache. I was an athlete who did not have a personal relationship with God. I trained and used my God-given talent for my own glory and improvement. It was all about me, me and me – my ranking, my win-loss record and my tournament results. Thus my source of hope and strength was weak. Sure, I do pray and rarely attend church, but that was about it. It was just all about religion and trying to reach God through my efforts and prayer, there wasn’t really a personal relationship. I was physically-healthy and emotionally-driven but soulfully empty.
So if you are an athlete, here are three reasons why you should consider a personal relationship with the Lord today.
- In Christ, you won’t fall into the trap of self-glorification and self-centeredness.
Many athletes push/ obsess themselves to perform well even if it is destructive/ unhealthy already especially with social relationships (i.e., hurting/ offending your teammates because of self-exaltation), physical aspects (i.e., trying to prove your athletic worth even with an injury or sickness) or if still a college student-athlete, studies (i.e., giving more importance to athletic achievements than learning or studying well). Sports can ultimately reveal a person’s self-righteousness and hunger for self-glory and self-centredness (pride, ego).
This is why if an athlete’s heart is filled with Christ, although tempted, he or she won’t easily fall in the trap of self-glorification or self-centredness because of a change in perspective — “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” – Colossians 3:17.
An athlete who has a personal relationship with Jesus will train hard and perform because his or her desire is to give God all the glory, honor and praise – focused on Him and not on game results.
“We are more like Christ when we can humble ourselves. I have so many things to work on and so many ways that I fail, but that’s what grace is all about. I constantly wake up every morning trying to get better, trying to improve, trying to walk closer to God.”…”At the end of the day, it’s about glorifying God.” – Tim Tebow
- In Christ, your identity is secured.
My heart melted watching the post-Olympic win interview of US diving duo David Boudia and Steele Johnson. Even with the sense of pressure, Boudia said this:
“It’s just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this [diving], and I’m thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ, and we’re thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It’s been an absolutely thrilling moment for us”
Both Boudia and Steele know that even without diving and their Olympic gold medals, their identity is made complete because of Jesus. How amazing is that sense of security? They actually do not need their gold medals. Jesus does not need it, too. He wants their hearts, and because their hearts are so secured in Christ, they do not go crazy/ overwhelmed. Instead, they proclaim who Jesus is on global TV without any hesitation.
A personal relationship with Jesus will complete and sustain you… with or without an Olympic gold medal.
- In Christ, you will find out and understand what your purpose is as an athlete and as a person.
“Knowing that I’m a child of God and that His love for me is determined by nothing I can achieve or do on my own has given me a quiet confidence. I think that my faith has helped me chart my own course and pursue my goals when people around me may be going in different directions. Jesus’ love for me and all humanity is something that always helps me better love people around me when things get difficult. As for my swimming career, my faith has helped me remember that there are so many more important things in life worth doing. Swimming is a pretty selfish activity, and so I’ve always known that it can’t be my whole world” – Maya DiRado, three-time medalist of the 2016 Rio Olympics
Of course, athletes introduce themselves based on the sport they do. And when they constantly attach their life purpose in their athletic accomplishments and failures, it is when things get shallow. Our life purpose is only found in Christ, not in any sport. Our purpose should not revolve around the balls we hit or miss, the bodies we kick or punch and definitely not the medals or trophies we get. We are called to be Christ-followers, a purpose/ calling we can either choose or reject.
Based on DiRado’s statement, her confidence is gained because of the fact that she is a child of God and that her understanding and experience of God’s love points her life to things that matter more which is apparently not swimming, but loving God and loving others. It is definitely more valuable to be an athlete who glorifies the Lord and loves others through his or her talent.
“I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is just a game that can be taken from me at any moment. But I love that basketball gives me the opportunities to do good things for people and to point them towards the Man who died for our sins on the cross. I know I have a place in Heaven waiting for me because of Him, and that’s something no earthly prize or trophy could ever top” – Stephen Curry