Sure, we saw some athletes celebrated, headliners like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, and Usain Bolt. Yet the organizers of the 2016 summer Olympic Games report that more than 11,000 athletes are competing this year. Among those 11,000 are hundreds whose stories of discipline triumphant will never be publicly celebrated.
The level of commitment that it takes to even make it to the Olympic Games is staggering. I’ve managed to string together 2 weeks of early morning walks – not runs or swims or rowing, mind you, just brisk walks – and I’m proud of myself. Now imagine pushing yourself to your limits not for 2 weeks but nearly every day for years on end and we begin to catch just a glimpse of the commitment of athletes to their sport.
What is true in the sports world is true in the church. We have our Phelps-like “superstars,” leaders like Billy Graham and Rick Warren, Joyce Meyers, Tibi Joshua and Pope Francis. They are the headliners, the ones people know about. Yet there are many who never garner attention or praise, never capture the public spotlight who are nevertheless the journeywomen and journeymen whose quiet discipline and low-key faith in Christ make the church work. We won’t hear much about them, yet without them and their commitment to service under-girded by spiritual discipline, the Kingdom would stall.
Yet whether we are a headliner or one who is little known, Paul’s charge to us is the same:
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 Cor. 9:24, NIV).
While some will win a “crown that will not last” (v.25a), we all are focused on the “crown that will last forever” (v.25b). What is Paul saying? For most of us, the spiritual discipline that fuels our service in the Kingdom will go unrewarded on this earth. Yet we have a God who sees and who one day will recognize excellence. Discipline uncelebrated here and now will be rewarded there and then (Matthew 25:23).
Reward on the last day is extrinsic, yet there is an intrinsic motivation for spiritual discipline. Yes, God will one day reward faithfulness, but spiritual discipline has value in itself, and that value is participating in the life of God (2 Peter 1:4). God is our recompense.
Though she had won the gold medal, Olympic wrestler Helen Maroulis admitted: “Yesterday was about stepping on the mat and just wrestling to the best of my ability and really taking joy in what I do.” Yes, the gold medal was an honor, an extrinsic motivation, yet the greater motivation was intrinsic, “taking joy in what I do.” Such an internal motivation is primary, and – in her case – fortunate, since the media seemed more interested in reporting on the juvenile antics of male American swimmers outside the pool than her exploits on the mat.
One day, God will reward every unsung disciple for service often unnoticed and underappreciated this side of heaven. Meanwhile, let’s remain faithful, knowing that the greatest reward is here-and-now, and that reward is God himself. He is enough!
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