When You Feel Overwhelmed: 5 Tips for Winning the Spiritual Olympics

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

The apostle Paul lived during the time of the ancient Olympic Games. The earliest 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. AD, 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 their own separate games. This may have something to do with the fact that many male competitors competed naked (clothing was said to have hindered stamina, stamina, and speed).

Unlike today, wrestling and pankration events (a mix of boxing and wrestling) had few rules – mostly no biting or gouging. A grueling event was the hoplite race. Competitors had to cover 384 yards or 768 yards while wearing standard hoplite armor which weighed around 50 pounds. Finally, the victors 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. At the time, it was believed that anyone who wore these particular leaves acquired divine qualities like the god Zeus. The lucky winners also had a statue erected in their honor in their home town.

If you look closely, you will notice that some of the letters Paul wrote to the Church were peppered with competitive language, as if comparing the journey of faith to the Olympics. Take the following scriptures:

“Do you not know that all who run in a race run, but only one receives the prize? Run so as to 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 images Paul uses in Hebrews 12:1-2:

“Wherefore we also, being surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, cast off every weight and the sin which so easily overtakes us, and run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I regard this passage as Paul’s pep talk to Christians as we engage in our own spiritual Olympics. Loosen what holds you back, run with endurance, keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s great coaching for us today. As you find yourself browsing negative feeds that paint a devastating picture of systemic racism, the elimination of religion from society, hatred spitting on all sides, legislation after legislation passed that does not conform to the Word of God , I want to offer you five tips. what it means to occupy on this earth, to look forward to the return of Christ 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 saying it is, “Be the best you can be in everything you do.” If you teach, be the best. If you are an athlete, train to win. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, give it your all.

Traveling nearly forty miles per hour, Olympic divers enter the water from a ten-meter (3.3-story) platform. If divers don’t hit the water properly, the impact is enough to break their wrists. This is one of the reasons why you probably see divers’ wrists all bandaged up when competing. In addition to the hours of training on dry land, these competitors train daily in the pool 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 strive to be the best.

Tip #2: Strive to Win

Live with a winning mentality. In ancient times, only one winner in each event received the prize. There were no gold, silver or bronze medals. Either you 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 that Jesus came to give us.

I wonder if Paul had the image of the Olympic Games in mind when he wrote these words: “Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run to get it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Enter it to win it!

We shouldn’t 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 to you. There is no participation trophy here. Either you win or you don’t. Go get the gold!

Tip #3: Take responsibility for your efforts

There were no team events in the Ancient Olympics. 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 accomplishments. Paul wrote, “So each one of us will give account to God for himself” (Romans 14:12). When you stand before the throne on the day of judgment, you must speak for yourself for what you have done with your life. Did you give to the poor? Have you shown mercy? Were you an asset to the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, or did you just introduce yourself?

Tip #4: Never Give Up

The winners of games – and of life – are those who don’t give up. Athletes who wanted to compete in the ancient Olympics had to take an oath saying that they had trained in their event for ten months before the games. Thirty days before the games, they met for preliminary training and were judged to see who would participate in the actual games. Once designated as participants, they could no longer give up. 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 it. Stay faithful. Do not abandon.

Tip #5. Remember who cheers you on

When Paul encourages us to run the race with endurance in Hebrews 12, he is talking about how “so great a cloud of witnesses surrounds us.” I imagine he may have seen the crowds cramming into the Olympic site, where thousands and thousands of cheering voices thundered with passion, pride and encouragement.

To be a Christian today does not warrant much encouragement from the world. Taking a stand for God, or choosing his standards over our culture’s priorities, will not bring applause here on earth. But remember, even though we’re not in their presence yet, we have a swarm of witnesses jumping out of their seats and shouting, “Run the race!” Win the medal! Go for the gold!”

Here’s the best part of all: Jesus stands at our finish line. Read again the last part of Hebrews 12:1-2:

Let us run with endurance the race 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 sat down on the right hand of the throne of God.

One day you’re going to stand before the judgment seat. What will you have to say for yourself? What investments will you need 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 prepare you for what is to come and encourage you, in love, to stop and reflect. Are you ready? Is your house in order? Did you do everything God asked of you? Do you use or bury your talent?

It’s time to stop settling for second best and focus on the eternal prize. Instead of being frightened or paralyzed by the knowledge of what will happen in the last days, remember that God is preparing you for it. Now is not the time to slow down, but the time to keep enduring and aiming for the prize.

Excerpt from Jentezen Franklin Overcome when you feel overwhelmed. Five steps to survive the chaos of life, rpublished by 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. Every week, his television program Kingdom Connection airs on major networks around the world. A New York Times bestselling author, Jentezen has written ten books, including his most recent Acres of Diamondsin the same way Love like you’ve never been hurt, Youngand Right person, right place, right plan.

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