Within one week, my wife had witnessed both of our adult sons compete in athletic events. John, our older son, competed in an event called a “Tough Mudder.” As a former Marine, John continues the disciplined physical regiment he learned as a Marine. While he does not like running, he trained for months for the half marathon held in Washington, Georgia. The event was filled with multiple obstacles designed to test the physical and mental toughness of the participants. More than 5,000 men and women took on the challenge. They dove into a tank of ice water, waded through a muddy pond, climbed a thirty-foot wall of hay bales, jumped off a 20-foot tower into a pond, ran through dangling lines that gave off a series of electrical shocks, and faced more than a dozen other challenges. The cold temperatures and 15-20 MPH winds made the accomplishment more impressive. The grueling event raised money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Only a few days later we witnessed our younger son Ryan dive in the Southeastern Conference Diving Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee. Ryan, a senior at the University of Tennessee, practices three hours a day, year round, and maintains an academic All-American status. Ryan became the first diver in the SEC to win the three-meter and one-meter championships since 2006. Like his brother John, he is highly disciplined and focused on his goals, both athletically and academically. These disciplines have carried over into their spiritual lives.
The Apostle Paul was impressed by the athletes of his day. He noticed how athletes went into strict training before a race. Perhaps he noticed them running at the same time every day or saw them running the same route as they prepared for a race.
It’s quite likely that Paul was present one day as awards were being handed out at the end of a race. As the winner was crowned with a laurel wreath, it must have occurred to him that such a reward wasn’t long lasting. He knew that in a few days the greenery would fade and die. He juxtaposed that type of reward to the kind God gives to those who do work in His name. Paul told the people in Corinth that those rewards would last forever (1 Corinthians 9:25).
We glorify the body and lift up the achievements of athletes in our society. And while the discipline required for their achievements is admirable, Paul reminds us that their achievements are short lived. There are things we can do, though, that have eternal significance.
Jesus noticed the widow who gave her last two mites in the temple collection. The Lord knows about those who give generously and those who give sacrificially. Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow who kept asking until her request was granted and reminded his disciples that we should pray with such persistent passion. He told the story of the Samaritan who had compassion enough to stop and help a wounded traveler, suggesting that we should have the same kind of compassion for others. These things, the scriptures tell us, will last long after our bodies are in the ground and no one remembers us, long after our medals of physical achievement have been passed on or forgotten. Instead, Jesus told us to “store up for (ourselves) treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where (our) treasure is, there (our) heart will be also” Matthew 6:20-21 (NIV).