When Your Ministry Falls Out the Window

Paul only had a week in Troas—not long to share everything God had placed on his heart, to encourage all the leaders, and to meet new people with whom he could share the Gospel. The week passed quickly. On Paul’s last night in the city, the church planned a special service where Paul would speak, and they would all share communion.

Paul didn’t just share a thoughtful devotion.

Acts 20:6-12.

Now I’m from the south, and I’ve heard some long-winded preachers. Very rarely do they truly have that much to say. Did I say “rarely”? In fact, only once, in my experience. Most of the time, they have a good message but lack a good editor. Continue reading

Watching and Waiting

The guard stands in the tower, eyes cast downward, searching through the thick night for any change, ears tuned for any out-of-the-ordinary noise. He raises his eyes to the distant mountains, their peaks muted by the sameness of the sky. He leans against the edge of the window for a moment, but he cannot relax. He will not descend until the sun ascends.

sandstone tower
watchmen’s tower in the Middle East (c) Carole Sparks

Even in the deepest, loneliest part of the night, the guard never doubts the rising of the sun. With absolute confidence, he glances to the east for a moment, eager to catch the first graying of the dark sky, the first dimming of the stars. Continue reading

The Ones Who “Also Ran”

The last two weeks, our entire schedule was disrupted. We don’t watch a lot of television, but we didn’t even change the channel during this time. We stayed up late, eyes glued to the screen. Breakfast found us checking news feeds for updates, and TV during dinner? Yes, for these two weeks, it was acceptable! As you probably guessed, we are Olympaholics! It doesn’t matter what sport or what level of competition (heats, semifinals, medal rounds), we watch it. We even have special words that only come out every two years (because we’re just as bad about winter Olympics). For example, eating during a good competition is an Olympicnic.

Of course, we rooted for the USA (final medal count: 121!), but we also cheered for anyone who was trying their hardest and anyone representing a country that hadn’t ever won a medal, such as Singapore in men’s swimming 100m butterfly.

What makes the Olympics so special?

  • The comradery: Bolt and De Grasse (sprinting) smiling and joking as they crossed the line in the semi-finals of the 200m.
  • The sportsmanship: Hamblin and D’Agostino (running) help each other up after a fall in the 5000m qualifying race, the USA women’s gymnastics team cheering each other on as they competed.
  • The patriotism: Ryan Crouse (shot put) at 23 years old, 6’7”/245lbs., with tears in his eyes as they played the national anthem; Michael Phelps (swimming) looking the same even after standing on the highest podium twenty-two times before.
  • The joy: Nijat Rahimov (weightlifting) of Kazakhstan dancing when he won gold.
  • The celebration of the human body’s ability rather than its appearance.
  • The platform for Christ: testimonies of Helen Maroulis (wrestling), David Boudia and Steels Johnson (synchronized diving), among others.

My favorite tweet from the Olympics:

The Olympics are rich with lessons for our spiritual lives, and you’ve probably read multiple articles to that effect. Let me add one more. *smile*

These guys got lapped.
In the Olympics.

The image that sticks in my mind even after the closing ceremonies is this: Mo Farah of Great Britain fell in the 10,000m finals then surged ahead to win gold—an amazing feat. As he ran around the track alongside the Kenyans and Ethiopians, they passed a couple of runners. These other guys got lapped. In the Olympics. Farah has been winning these middle/long distance races for years. He was the favorite, and most commentators could have predicted the top five, if not the exact order of their completion. How discouraging for the rest of the field.

What does an Olympic runner think when he gets lapped? (click to tweet)

It makes me wonder what was going through their minds in those moments, as they watched the backs of Farah and the others speed past them.

Did they regret their decisions to travel to Rio?

Was their effort worthless?

What was the point of running, knowing they would not win?

I don’t think they thought any of these things.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24…Is anyone surprised by my choice of a verse? I doubt it!). We need to be careful here to see what Paul intended and what he didn’t. He did not say, “Only run if you can win.” He also didn’t say, “Do whatever it takes—even cheating—to win,” or “Hey, everyone is a winner.”

When Paul said run in such a way as to get the prize, he meant run as if you will win, run your absolute best every time, put in the work to win even if you know you can’t.

But why bother?

Very few of us will reach the pinnacle of achievement in our given fields. As a Bible study writer, I will never be Beth Moore or Kay Arthur. That doesn’t mean I’ve missed my calling. It doesn’t mean I shut my computer and walk away. I will strive to be the best regardless of how much attention I get. Because somehow that’s where God’s glory lies: in my best effort. As my friend, Leigh Powers, put it in her post about the Olympics, “We are not defined by what we achieve but by what Christ has done for us.”

Mo Farah and Usain Bolt were designed to run, then they were cultivated to reach their peak potential. But so were those guys who got lapped. They may not go home with medals around their necks, but I believe they did their absolute best. They still made their countries proud. They are still Olympians.

At some level, the Olympics are no longer about the individual athletes but about their nations. In the same way, the things to which God calls us are not about us but about Him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… -Colossians 3:23 (Yep, Paul again.)

Even if you can’t win the prize, run (or whatever your version of running is) as if you were going to win. You were created to do it, you are called to do it, and now you are cultivating your ability to do it.

So run your race.

Represent your faith family and your God.

Relish the privilege of appearance regardless of the final standings.

I’m called to run my race regardless of the final standings because the race is not about me. (click to tweet)

What was your most inspirational moment in the Olympics? What made you think twice? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Update 9.20.16   Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern-day Olympics, established the Olympic creed after being inspired by a speech he heard (given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot). Looks like he thought the same way we have here! This is it: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”