Higher, Faster, Stronger


“Fascinating”—that is how one commentator described Olympic athletes.  It is fascinating for a “normal person” (like us) to watch them train, recover from falls and injuries, train again without compromise, and compete.  “They willingly trade personal safety for the pursuit of the Olympic ideal: higher, faster, stronger.”

Willingly?  Why?  “A single-minded devotion to the pursuit of victory,” is how one athlete described it.  “Did you do every single thing you could do today to be the best?” he asks himself every single day.

“That’s legalism,” professing Christians argue.  “It’s passion,” says the Olympic athlete.  “Victory,” imagines, strives, hopes, dreams the athlete.  “That I may win the Prize, that I may know Him,” cried the apostle Paul as he meditated, fought, trusted and believed.

“Why is God doing this to me?” we often ask, and our lives witness our questioning to the world.  “Victory is worth it,” the Olympic athlete’s life cries to the world daily.  Is victory, being perfect as He is Perfect (Matthew 5:48), being holy as He is Holy (1 Peter 1:15), is pursuing Him worth it?  Is it?  Are we victims or are we enduring, training, running for a Prize?

“What they’re willing to do in the name of competition makes them so fascinating to watch,” they say of the athletes when reviewing the risks they take in light of the speed they seek, the heights they tolerate, the injuries they endure.  “They’re not like us.”  What are Christians willing to do in the Name of Jesus?

Do we take the same mindset as the Olympic athlete, the same mindset as the apostle Paul?

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.  Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

–Philippians 3:7-14 (nkjv)

Trials don’t prove whether He’s Faithful—He is.  Trials prove whether we are faithful.  There is no question whether He is Trustworthy, Wise, or really Loves us.  Circumstances cannot change Him.  But will we trust, obey and love Him when we cannot see the end, when our ways seem better, when we just don’t understand?  Or will circumstances change us?

God is not testing us to be cruel.  He is wrestling with us, fighting for us, like the skilled trainer of an Olympic athlete, that the victory He won may also be ours. 

Or maybe it is sometimes better understood by a different illustration.  I was just reading the words of a mother whose daughter is fighting a brain tumor.  “Why are you being so mean?” the little girl wanted to know, crying, when her mother made her take her medications.  “How do you explain to a six-year-old how much you love them,” the mother wanted to know, “and that I would be momentarily ‘mean’ to get a chance at a lifetime with her?”  So she kept silent, she said, a few tears falling.  And she said she wondered if that is what Jesus so often says to us.

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet, saying to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.”  

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled.  And He said, “Where have you laid him?”  

They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.”  

Jesus wept.  

So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!”

–John 11:32-36 (esv)

We have a disease called sin.  Sometimes it is painful when God perfects us, sanctifies us, fights for us that He might get a chance at an eternity with us.  Sometimes He is silent, because like a parent with their little six-year-old, He cannot yet explain to us and make us understand the meaning of it all.  Sometimes we ask Him why, and He just weeps—that is all He can do to communicate His Love with us, His suffering little child.

But I doubt.  I fail to trust.  I’m not that strong.  I couldn’t endure those kinds of trials.  “This really isn’t me, I’m not faithful, I’m not perfect—I’m not like Paul,” you may think.  “Oh no, I’m a hypocrite!” is what I usually think when I look back on my writings after trying to live them out.  I’ve wondered if possibly I shouldn’t write these things.  Yet I wonder if Paul ever felt that way, too.  I wonder if he ever doubted, made mistakes, failed to achieve the ideal he esteemed.  And what if because of that, he had refused to write?

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

–2 Corinthians 12:9-10

“The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.”

–1 Timothy 1:14-16

Maybe your life’s testimony will read: Christ Jesus came into the world to save the weak and weary—among whom I failed the worst. 

But for that very reason He offers you mercy so that in you, the worst of failures, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life.

I know this.

“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

–Philippians 1:6 (esv)

How lovely is Your dwelling place,

O LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

I long, yes, I faint with longing

to enter the courts of the LORD.

With my whole being, body and soul,

I will shout joyfully to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,

and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young

at a place near Your altar,

O LORD of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God!

What joy for those who can live in Your house,

always singing Your praises.


What joy for those whose strength comes from the LORD,

who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,

it will become a place of refreshing springs.

The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings.

They will continue to grow stronger,

and each of them will appear before God in Jerusalem.

O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies, hear my prayer.

Listen, O God of Jacob.


O God, look with favor upon the king, our shield!

Show favor to the one You have anointed.

A single day in Your courts

is better than a thousand anywhere else!

I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God

than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.

For the LORD God is our sun and our shield.

He gives us grace and glory.

The LORD will withhold no good thing

from those who do what is right.

O LORD of Heaven’s Armies,

what joy for those who trust in You.

–Psalm 84 (nlt)

Copyrighted material, used with permission.