Sport always divides opinion, and so it isn’t surprising that the Olympics have stirred up passionate controversy. At the one extreme are those who see life through a lens of sport. They are competitive by nature and you sense that they are never happier than when they are participating in or watching sport. And then there are those who happily cluster around the other end of the spectrum. They don’t see the point of it. Sport is an evidence of people not taking life seriously and, therefore, by definition, any money expended on sport is an offensive waste of money. And don’t even dare to mention the billions of pounds spent on the Olympics!
Most of us live between those extremes but I suspect that none of us will struggle to identify those who naturally adopt those positions! However, like it or not, the Olympics have taken over. I am writing this at the beginning of the first week of the Games and the news is already dominated by glittering new world records, amazing heroic feats and cruelly dashed hopes. When I visited London last week the Olympics dominated everything with special traffic lanes, banners hanging in the streets and endless colourful repetitions of that curious logo that we seem to have got used to. Personally I am more than happy to enjoy the spectacle of those sports that I haven’t bothered to follow since the last Olympics, and I find it inspiring to see consummate athletes giving their all. But what particularly strikes me is that we are seeing sportsmen and sportswomen who have trained for years to be ready for a few minutes, and sometimes just a few seconds of competition.
It is not surprising that the imagery of the athlete has often been used as a way of understanding life or faith. Sport explores the themes of success and failure in rapid succession. And one thing unites all Olympians - they are seeking to be the best. I have been struck by the number of sportspeople over the past few days who have drawn attention to the fact that they are not so much bothered about what medals they win, but about whether they improve on their “personal best”. Winning medals without improving their performance must surely have some degree of satisfaction, but their real quest is to get better and better.
Christianity is all about improving on our “personal best”. For sure however much we improve we will never be able to earn God’s salvation. But because God has only ever given his best to us, we are bound to seek to give our best to him. As we see the Olympians giving their all it is good for us to reflect on our daily work, our worship, our friendships, our evangelism, our service in the community and our work in the church. We need to ask the question whether we are ensuring that we are giving our best.
These are tough times. As well as speaking with Baptist leaders from all over the world, I have spent many hours over the past month speaking with leaders of major organizations and other denominations in this country. There has been a consistent theme. Everyone is under enormous financial pressure but what is unusual, and possibly unprecedented, is that no-one can see an end to it. At times such as this it might be tempting for us to put our head down and just try to survive. But God demands something better of us than that. He calls us to give our best and to work with those around us to become stronger and fitter and even more able to serve him. I am not really bothered whether sport is your personal source of inspiration or not, but we all need to be determined to give God the best that he deserves.