Strive for Mastery

By Curtis Rittenour
Posted August 08, 2016

“Break a leg” is phrase often said by well-wishers to actors and musicians before they go on stage to perform. It’s akin to saying “good luck.” French gymnast Samir Ait Said could have used some last Saturday when he was practicing during the men’s qualification rounds at the Rio Olympic Arena. After clearing the vault, he landed at a bad angle and broke his leg, leaving it at a gruesome angle.

People sitting near the vault area heard his leg snap. Medical personnel immediately rushed over to help the injured athlete, who broke both his tibia and fibula. When Said was carried away on a stretcher the crowds cheered to encourage him. It was difficult for the rest of the French team, especially since Said had qualified for the rings, his best event. One U.S. coach commented, “This is a hard sport, getting harder. Not only gymnastics, any sport, things happen.”

But some athletes don’t wait for the pain that comes with reaching for the gold. Michael Phelps practices cupping, an ancient Chinese therapy that helps circulate blood through suction. People have wondered about the deep-purple circles on Phelps’ limbs created by special suction devices that pull the skin away from the muscle for a few minutes. While many athletes strongly believe it helps keep them free of injuries and speeds up recovery, most research indicates that at best it offers a placebo effect.

There is nothing imaginary about the painful race of life spoken of by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. Using an analogy with the athletic contests held in Greece, the church leader emphasized the self-denial and suffering required to achieve victory in the Christian life. “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).

He explains, “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things” (verse 25). The word “competes” come from the Greek word agonizomai, from which we get the word agony. Much like the athletes competing in this year’s Olympic Games, Paul explains how each of us must struggle for mastery, fighting to move forward to the end. We must not run “with uncertainty,” but toward the prize of reaching heaven (verse 26). We must discipline our bodies and minds and bring them into subjection so we do not “become disqualified” (verse 27).

The life of a Christian is not like sitting in the bleachers watching athletes compete. It is putting forth earnest work to overcome sin, to abide in Christ, and to be cleansed from all unrighteousness. “Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (verse 24). Olympic athletes like Samir Ait Said are willing to risk pain and injury as they grasp for the gold. What exertion are you willing to make to receive a heavenly crown that will never fade?

Discover how to press forward in your Christian life—listen to Pastor Doug Batchelor’s message titled, “Dealing with Discouragement.
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