“God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure,” so said Eric Liddell, the 400m gold medalist from the 1924 Paris Olympics Games.
Such a view may appear strange to many of our ears, partly because God is the idea we are trying hard to leave behind. Who needs God today? But also, we have accepted a popular myth; God is baggage that keeps us from having success and happiness. Over the course of the Tokyo Olympics we have heard multiple athletes showing us otherwise.
Like millions of Aussies, COVID lockdowns have been softened a little by the Olympic Games. Last night we were treated to an epic high jump final. Australia’s Nicola McDermott won silver and achieved an Australian record in the process.
In the post medal ceremony interview, Nicola McDermott was asked about her faith,
“I think as a teenager i was always an outcast; and I got welcomed into a faith community that loved me. And I just remember encountering god’s love and it changed the way I though of my self – as a misfit why was I created so tall and stuff – and it gave me passion and purpose to use it.
“In 2017 was my big moment when it flicked the switch and I decided to pursue God over sport.- whatever comes from sport is a bonus but I am already complete and perfect and loved as a person regardless of it.
“That just allowed me to soar over high jump bar and not be scared anymore because I am loved and that is the most important piece.”
In a recent interview for the Guardian, Mcdermott offered this insight,
“I keep the focus on making my identity outside of sport – I do sport, but it’s not who I am. That’s been the breakthrough for me – realising that my performance does not determine my identity. Once you do that, you realise that it doesn’t matter whether you win the Olympics or come last, you’re still the same person.”
Sydney McLaughlin is an American athlete who won 2 gold medals at the Tokyo Games, including breaking the 400m hurdle world record. Following her 400m hurdle final, Mclaughlin spoke to NBC, saying,
“All the glory to God…Honestly, this season just working with my new coach and my new support system, it’s truly just faith and trusting the process. I couldn’t ask for anything more and truly it is all a gift from God.”
“I think the biggest difference this year is my faith, trusting God and trusting that process, and knowing that He’s in control of everything. As long as I put the hard work in, He’s going to carry me through. And I really cannot do anything more but give the glory to Him at this point.”
McLaughlin’s Instagram bio says,
“Jesus saved me.”
“I no longer run for self recognition, but to reflect His perfect will that is already set in stone. I don’t deserve anything. But by grace, through faith, Jesus has given me everything. Records come and go. The glory of God is eternal. Thank you Father.”
Last week the gold medal winning Fijian Rugby 7s team sang of this reality that exists above.
These testimonies expose a large crack in the myth that belief in God prevents us from having the fullest life. These athletes winning Olympic glory speak of an even greater glory that belongs not to them but to God. For them, this greater identity and meaning exceeds winning athletic Olympic medals.
Of course, there are extraordinary athletes who follow Jesus and there are extraordinary athletes who do not. In every field of endeavour this is the case. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world today are followers of Jesus while others are not. Many of history’s most influential thinkers were professing Christians and others not. Today, in the fields of medicine, law, science, music, film, and economics, there are men and women who profess the name of Jesus and there are men and women who do not.
The difference does not depend on a persons intellect or effort but in the category that is greater than all others. Neither is the distinguishing characteristic success, as though Christians are more likely to win Olympic medals or non Christians are more likely.
You don’t need to sacrifice God for sporting achievement. You don’t need to ditch God in order to find success. We are not required to ignore God in order to find our truest self. Nicola McDermott and Sydney McLaughlin are among the many athletes who prove this myth to be false. And what these athletes have shared is a message of good news that surpasses sporting achievement. Eric Liddell who felt God’s pleasure as he raced to gold, also said this, “Many of us are missing something in life because we are after the second best.”
The Apostle Paul once wrote a letter to a young man. He used a sporting analogy to describe the greatest race worth running.
“ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
No doubt many young Aussies are dreaming about future sporting success. Many more are thinking about the future and considering the possibilities before them. We do not need to make the mistake of denigrating God from life. Indeed, through Jesus Christ he promises something of eternal meaning, joy and satisfaction. A few may eventually win an Olympic medal, but let’s not miss out because we are after the second best.