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Overcoming when you feel overwhelmed: 5 tips to win the spiritual Olympics

Tokyo Olympics
A general view of the new National Stadium prior to a media tour of Tokyo 2020 Olympic venues on July 03, 2019 in Tokyo, Japan. |

The Apostle Paul lived during the time of the ancient Olympics. The first games date back to 776 BC and consisted of a one-day event. In 684 BC, the games were extended to last three days. In the fifth century BC, the Olympic Games covered five days and included running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration, and equestrian events. Women were not allowed to compete; they would eventually have separate games of their own. It may have had something to do with the fact that many of the male contestants competed naked (clothes were said to have impeded endurance, stamina, and speed). 

Unlike today, the wrestling and pankration (a mix of boxing and wrestling) events had few rules — mainly no biting or gouging. One grueling event was the hoplite race. Competitors were required to run either 384 meters or 768 meters while wearing standard hoplite armor that weighed about 50 pounds. Finally, winners of the Olympics received not gold medals, but crowns made of olive leaves taken from a wild and sacred olive tree near the Temple of Zeus. Back then, it was believed that whoever wore those particular leaves acquired divine qualities like the god Zeus. The lucky victors also had a statue erected in their honor in their hometown. 

If you look closely, you’ll notice that some of the letters Paul wrote to the Church were peppered with competitive language, as if he is comparing the journey of faith to the Olympic Games. Take the following Scriptures: 

"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" (1 Corinthians 9:24). 

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). 

I love the imagery Paul uses in Hebrews 12:1–2: 

"Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." 

I think of this passage as Paul’s pep talk to Christians as we engage in our own spiritual Olympics. Untie what holds you back, run with endurance, keep your eyes set on Jesus. This is great coaching for us today.  As you find yourself scrolling through negative feeds that paint the devastating picture of systemic racism, the removal of religion from society, hatred spewing on all sides, legislation after legislation passed not in alignment with the Word of God, I want to offer you five tips on what it means to occupy on this earth, to wait with anticipation for Christ’s return and also to engage in the race of life.

Tip #1: Strive to master 

Ecclesiastes 9:10 gives us solid advice: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Another way of putting it is, “Be the very best that you can be at whatever you do.” If you teach, be the best. If you’re an athlete, train to win. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, give your all. 

Traveling almost forty miles per hour, Olympic divers enter the water from a ten-meter (3.3 story) platform. If the divers don’t hit the water just right, the impact is enough to break their wrists. It’s one reason you probably see divers’ wrists all taped up when they’re competing. In addition to hours of dryland training, these competitors practice in the pool daily for three to six hours. They know how to get the training they need to master their craft. Like those divers, we need a spiritual attitude that says, “I’m striving to be the best.” 

Tip #2: Strive to win 

Live with a winner’s mentality. During ancient times, only one winner in each event was awarded the prize. There were no gold, silver, or bronze medals. You either won and collected a crown, or you didn’t. When it comes to our spiritual lives, I wonder how often we settle for second best. We resign ourselves to a bad habit. We accept cheap substitutes for the abundant life Jesus came to give us. 

I wonder if Paul had the imagery of the Olympic Games in mind when he penned these words: “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” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Get in it to win it! 

We must not be comfortable with less than winning. Put your heart and soul into the dreams God has called you to achieve and the lives He has entrusted you to reach. There’s no trophy for participation here. Either you win or you don’t. Go for the gold! 

Tip #3: Take responsibility for your effort 

There were no team events in the ancient Olympic Games. Everyone competed on an individual level. Likewise, now in your spiritual race, even if your parents went to church or your grandmother was a prayer warrior, their legacies don’t just become your achievements. Paul wrote, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). When you stand before the throne on Judgment Day, you’re going to have to speak on behalf of yourself for what you’ve done with your life. Did you give to the poor? Did you lend mercy? Were you an asset to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, or did you just show up? 

Tip #4: Never quit 

The winners of games — and of life — are those who don’t give up. Athletes who wanted to compete in the ancient Olympics were required to take an oath saying they had trained in their event for ten months prior to the games. Thirty days prior to the games, they gathered for preliminary training and were judged to see who would participate in the actual games. Once they were assigned as participants, they could not quit. May we all live in such a way that when we meet Jesus, we can say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Press through. Remain faithful. Don’t give up. 

Tip #5. Remember who is cheering for you 

When Paul encourages us to run the race with endurance in Hebrews 12, he talks about how “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”  I imagine he might have seen the crowds that packed the Olympic site, where thousands upon thousands of enthused voices were thundering with passion, pride, and encouragement. 

Being a Christian today doesn’t warrant much encouragement from the world. Taking a stand for God, or choosing His standards over our culture’s priorities, will not prompt applause here on earth. But remember, even though we’re not in their presence yet, we have a cloud of witnesses jumping out of their seats and screaming at the top of their lungs, “Run the race! Win the medal! Go for the gold!” 

Here’s the best part of all: Jesus is standing at our finish line. Look again at the final part of Hebrews 12:1–2: 

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

One day, you are going to stand before the judgment seat. What will you have to say for yourself? What investments will you have to show? What legacy will you tell God that you left behind? What souls can you point to whom you have led to Christ? 

I am not writing these words in judgment. I am preparing you for what’s to come and prompting you, in love, to stop and think. Are you ready? Is your house in order? Have you done all that God has asked of you? Are you using or burying your talent? 

It’s time to stop settling for second best and get your eyes on the eternal prize. Instead of being fearful of or paralyzed by the knowledge of what will happen in the last days, remember that God is preparing you for this. Now is not the time to slow down, but the time to continue enduring and aim for the prize. 

Excerpt from Jentezen Franklin’s Overcoming When You Feel Overwhelmed. Five Steps to Surviving the Chaos of Life, releasing from Chosen Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, on June 7, 2022. 

Pastor Jentezen Franklin is the Senior Pastor of Free Chapel, a multi campus church. Each week his television program Kingdom Connection is broadcast on major networks all over the world. A New York Times best-selling author, Jentezen has written ten books including his most recent Acres of Diamonds, along with Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt, Fasting, and Right People-Right Place-Right Plan.

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