The Bible often compares the Christian life to the life of an athlete. The similarities between the two give us reason to take a closer look. If we’re going to do our best in the Christian life, we might need to take a few lessons from the discipline and training of athletes. Although the Bible makes multiple references to athletes, I chose five that paint a clear picture of how we can reduce spiritual fat and gain spiritual muscle. Let’s take a look at God’s training program for us.
Athletes Train Hard
You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You’re after one that’s gold eternally. I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. I’m not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.
–1 Corinthians 9:24-27, MSG
Athletes train long and hard for their given sport. They get physically fit and learn the skills they need. They practice relentlessly. They train alone. They train with a trainer. They practice with a team. It’s a long and varied training, but it makes them who they need to be.
As Christians, we can view our lives as ongoing training for God’s purpose for our lives. We are to keep ourselves in top condition so we are always ready to get off the bench and get in the game for God.
God Is Your Trainer
But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.
–Hebrews 12:11, MSG
Athletes have a personal trainer who pushes them to do more than they think they can. When the athlete is ready to quit, the trainer makes them keep going. When the athlete is straining, the trainer motivates them to finish. Sometimes a trainer seems mean, but it’s only a means to push an athlete to become better, stronger, and more capable.
God is our personal trainer. He pushes us to our limit and beyond. Sometimes we think He’s mean to give us so much to handle, but it’s how we grow. He is constantly stretching us to become better, stronger, and more capable servants of Christ.
Go from Spiritually Fat to Fit
Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
–Hebrews 12:2-3, MSG
Unless you’re a defensive player on a football team, whose purpose is to block the other team, having a lot of excess weight is just going to slow you down. Athletes train so they can go from fat to fit. The same is true for Christians. We need to put away the spiritual Twinkies and get rid of our sinful habits that trip us up. Nothing can hinder us in our pursuit of Christ.
Eye on the Goal
I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
–Philippians 3:14, MSG
It’s easy to get turned around. Every once in a while you’ll see an athlete get turned around and run toward the wrong goal. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often, frankly. Between changing sides at the half, and all the scuffle on the field, I can see how easy it would be to become disoriented and run the wrong direction, carrying the ball to the wrong goal post.
That can happen to Christians, too. With the hubbub in our lives, we can get disoriented. We lose our bearings. We’re still running, but we’re running the wrong way! Let’s keep our eye on the goal and run toward Jesus. Once we start running, don’t look back and don’t stop.
Clear the Path for Others
So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!
–Hebrews 12:12-13, MSG
Teammates help each other. This is true in sports and in the Christian life. We need to look out for each other and plan ahead so we can see potential problems and address them. Let’s clear a path for others and help each other out. Rather than scolding someone for falling, give them a hand. That’s what teams do.
Does the athlete analogy resonate with your heart and help you think about following God in a new way? Why or why not?