I never imagined I would have enjoyed the London 2012 Olympics as much as I did. From the moment the Opening Ceremony kicked things off, I found myself, along with millions of others up and down the country, caught up in a spirit of patriotism and excitement.
Over the course of the games, a number of things stood out for me.
First, there was the Opening Ceremony, where Danny Boyle, together with the thousands of volunteers, left the nation basking in all that represented Britain, while leaving the rest of the world perplexed or impressed (or perhaps both). Either way, it was an incredibly emotive occasion and, perhaps most of all for me, one that was distinctively creative. The lighting of the flame, accompanied by a gorgeous piece of music, was symptomatic of this.
As the ceremony drew to a close, it was sharply brought home to me that behind the creativity of man lays the creative heart of the Creator God – full of colour, beauty and originality.
Second, when I went to the Olympics with my friend, Sam, to sample the Olympic atmosphere and watch a spot of Table Tennis, I couldn’t help but experience a London I hadn’t previously encountered. I recall saying to Sam as we sat in Starbucks outside the Olympic park how it didn’t feel as though I was even in London, such was the uniquely festival feel the city had. Wherever you walked, there was a real positivity and excitement in the air, perhaps best illustrated by the hundreds of volunteers who were literally at every street corner displaying a wonderfully hospitable, enthusiastic and approachable attitude – not to mention huge smiles and a few big pointy hands! I really hope – and pray – that this spirit doesn’t fade away now the Olympics are over. As Des Kelly wrote in his column for the Daily Mail last Saturday…
“For a time London and Britain was beautiful; it was the best it could be — and all because of sport. ‘I’ve got a permanent smile on and my jaw is aching,’ said Jessica Ennis. She’s not the only one. Let’s try and keep it that way.”
And at the forefront of this, I hope, is the church – a community that is called to be hospitable, joyous and serving at all times, to all people – and all with a smile.
And third, it has been amazing to see the success of the British athletes. Part of this success, along with the long hours of training and the support staff, has been the support of the British public. While I did not attend any of the events where a British athlete competed, it was clear to see and hear the huge noise emanating from the stands and streets urging the competitors on to the finishing line – ‘Super Saturday’, where Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah all won gold inside an hour at the Olympic Stadium, captured this best of all. In the many interviews that followed these events, a common theme has been the support of the British public and the way in which they have spurred them onto success.
As I reflected on this, for me fresh light was shed on a well-know passage from the Bible:
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” – Hebrews 12:1-3, The Message.
Life can be hard. And when life gets hard, it is so easy to give up and bring to a halt our own race, with the finishing line a distant and unreachable goal. We can look to others and see their success and the excitement generated by their race that we doubt whether there is any point in running ours.
I’ve often been in that place.
The thing is, God is so excited and passionate about the life of each individual – my life, your life. And what’s more, He is there, spurring us on to the finishing line.
In the above passage, the writer makes reference to the many individuals such as Moses, Abraham, David and Jesus, who, despite the struggles many of them faced, persevered in the faith and finished the race. The Greek translation of the word ‘veterans’ is martyr, which essentially means bearing witness to what he or she has seen or experienced. In the context of the passage, the imagery is most likely intended to convey the idea that as we run our own race, we should look around us and imagine a crowd filled with men and women who testify that each race, though at times wearisome, tough and seemingly unending, is worth running. By studying their example in the Bible, we are reminded of the way in which they persevered and finished the race – and in doing so, their lives exuding the faithfulness, love and power of God.
I am sure that for so many athletes there were times when their bodies were hurting so much they doubted whether they could finish or finish well, but what kept them going and pushed them to give that extra 10% was 70,000 people reminding them that the finishing line was in site, they could reach it and in the end the race would be worth it.
The next time I am flagging and feel like giving up, I will remember London 2012 and recall the unwavering, enthusiastic support of the British public for each competitor.
Because it will remind me that, as individuals throughout history can testify, the reward of finishing the race – of knowing, serving and being with Jesus – is a race worth fighting for.
Cue a rush of adrenaline shooting through my soul? I think so.