Why are the Olympics electrifying? Where were you when you saw Michael Phelps swim his last race and win his historic 18th gold medal? Who were you with when you watched Jamaica’s Usain Bolt win his final 4 x 100 meter relay to secure his unprecedented 6 gold medals? What about Gabby Douglas and the Fab Five of U.S. Women’s gymnastics dramatic victory?
Is the thrill of the games strictly about winning or is there more? Pierre de Coubertain, founder of the modern Olympic Games stated, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”
On this grand stage viewers are mesmerized with a primordial stirring of identification – unspoken reflections that relate as much with winners but, perhaps, even more with losers on the road to greatness, who approach it in a way different from those who’ve received a seeming sprinkle of athletic magic be it in genetics, upbringing or sponsorship.
I sat beside my father to see Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who is the first double amputee to compete with prosthetic legs. He finished in 9th place of the 400 meter sprint finals, but, the first thing the gold medalist did was ask Pistorius for his moniker to keep as a memento of history.
I was having breakfast when I read about Sarah Attar, the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in track and field. Head completely covered honoring religious tradition, she came in more than 30 seconds slower than the person second to last and still hundreds gave her a standing ovation.
The spirit of the Olympic Games has much to say to Christ-followers when it comes to fulfilling the privileged, yet often neglected commission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Society and the trappings (or distractions) that come with it hypnotize the average believer into thinking “It’s not that big of a deal.” Beware. In a day of sweltering overactivity and stress, there has rarely been a better time than right now to reach people with the Good News. So what can we learn from the Olympics about evangelism?
Olympic Insight #1 – The Only Way to Make Evangelistic Progress is to Participate
No athlete who entered Olympic Stadium in London, England, made it there by solely dissecting the the philosophies and theories of Olympic traditions and the antiquities of their given sport. Action was required. Somewhere in some relatively unknown location – imagine a dusty, uneven trail with splotchy patches of grass, a young Jamaican boy with spindly little legs began to run, to race. He got involved. As he participated his skills grew, his success increased, his sinews strengthened – as he engaged.
The apostle Paul charged a young minister named Timothy saying, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). He was not asking him to cogitate whether or not he had the gift. He was saying, “Get involved. Stay active. Meet people. Cultivate deeper meaning in friendship. Stick with people. Build relationships. Show them you care. Pray for God’s guidance. Share with them the hope you have in Christ when the time is right.
You cannot do evangelism by living in your own world expecting people to come to you. Go out to them. My children are all involved in sports. This allows me to be with friends, many of whom do not go to church, but, more importantly may not have a personal relationship with Christ. I am stepping out into a place of common interest for me and my friends who I believe God wants me to reach.
Olympic Insight #2 – You Can Be A Winner in Evangelism Even Before You Are Recognized
A female wrestler from Hawaii named Clarissa Chun won the the bronze medal in the 2012 Olympic games. She beat Irini Merlini of Ukraine who is the 2004 (Athens, Greece) gold medalist, who defeated Clarissa in 2008 (Beijing, China) to win the bronze. It was a moment of redemption for Clarissa. This time she was fully aware of Merlini’s ability to intimidate. She was ready and pulled out the victory in decisive fashion. For Clarissa Chun, her bronze medal may be as good as gold. She did not become a winner by achieving the medal, she became the winner she is in the process of getting there. The medal is an outward expression that affirms what she already knew on the inside, even before she was recognized.
I had a friend in his 70’s from a reserved cultural background, who would reach out to people each week in world famous Waikiki. During those many years he shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with literally hundreds of people. Yet, you may not recognize his name if I told you. There are many people doing the work of evangelism as unsung heroes. It may be you. In Acts 3:8-9, a crippled man experienced God’s healing through the ministry of Peter and John. After jumping to his feet, “…he went into the temple courts, walking and jumping and praising God. When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him…and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”
We are never given his name other than the description, “a man crippled from birth” who was a beggar. Peter used his testimony as a launching pad to preach the good news about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Many who heard the message believed (Acts 4:4). Rest assured God knows the good work you do for the sake of the gospel even though you may not be recognized publicly. In actuality, that’s what matters most – God’s approval!
Let’s go further.
Olympic Insight #3 – Let Your Style Evolve While Your Message Remains the Same
A sport is a sport. The rules are what create the frame of competition. The level of expertise, however, requires constant development. To get to the upper echelon of Olympic level competition, more focus, more sacrifice, more finances, more practice is required. Yet the sport is the same. You may say the professionals of any sport, essentially do all the basics with phenomenal precision that often evoke an emotional reaction when you see it. No shortcuts. They work at it more than everyone else. In that sense, success is no secret.
In a similar way the good news message of Jesus Christ does not change. Men, women and children around the world are given access to God by faith in Christ, the divine Son of God who loves us, died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). At the same time, the way in which we connect with people relationally and the progress we make in leading people to the Lord requires continuous development.
One of my favorite men in the Bible is Andrew. Each time we see him he has someone with him whom he is bringing to Jesus. Starting with his brother Peter (John 1:42). When I was a teen, a woman from my church had taken it upon herself to visit people in the hospital. She would sing songs to patients, hold their hands, pray for them and tell them, “Jesus loves you and I love you, too.” She did it for decades and has touched thousands with God’s love. A good friend of mine actively builds relationships with specific people of influence in my home state. He prays for them, spends time with them, is there when they need him. He invests years. Some have open their hearts to Jesus, but, not all. Still, he is relentless. Over time, he has seen results. There are even moments when his constant focus and passion are met with accelerating instances as though the Lord was kissing him with approval saying, go on my son, keep at it. It’s worth it.
Christians are involved in an arena significantly larger than Olympic Stadium. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter provide connection with more friends quicker than ever – who share openly. The door is open. Every one is eligible. You may need to get started. Or, you may need to hone your skills and keep going. Whatever it is remember 1) the only way to make evangelistic progress is to participate, 2) you can be a winner in evangelism even before you are recognized and 3) let your style evolve while your message remains the same.