August 20, 2008
by Katherine Britton, Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
“I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.'" – Zechariah 13:9
As I watched Michael Phelps swim in his 15th event of this year’s Olympic Games – in case you missed it, he won again – I felt curiously apathetic about his performance.
Just moments before I had cheered and yelled at my TV screen while underdog Rebecca Soni squeezed by her Aussie competitor and the world record, earning her first Olympic gold. But as Phelps got into the water again, my concentration started to wander. Another gold medal – for Phelps, big deal. He barely seemed challenged anymore, while Soni had worked her absolute hardest and beaten the odds.
Really, I wanted to see someone other than Phelps win for once. It wasn’t because he hadn’t earned his way to the top, but because swimming against him belittled his competitors. Racing Phelps was a trial by fire that consumed everyone else. I wanted to see that one man who could jump into the water and swim the race of his life and beat the trial. I wanted to see someone who had refined his skills against the winningest Olympian ever and come out with gold. Oh well.
I think my secret wish, however, actually hid a double standard. I wanted to see each athlete pushed to his limit. I cheered only if I thought an athlete really earned it, like Soni. I just watched if an athlete won by a full length, like Phelps. I wanted to see someone who had been through the fire and won. But heaven forbid the trial by fire come my way.
In 1 Peter 1:6-7, the apostle Peter encourages believers who are going through “all kinds of trials.” The pressure was on, and this extended training period threatened to break them before it made them stronger. But the trial by fire didn’t engulf them. Peter told them simply, “These [trials] have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The believers were brought face to face with their weaknesses, and watched those inferior qualities being melted away to reveal the best—to reveal Christ working through them.
These Christians went against the Olympians of their day and knew they were in for the race of their lives. They dove in and swam a race with their eyes set fully on the grace and promise before them (1 Peter 1:13). These Christians prepared their minds for action (1 Peter 1:13) and trained themselves to walk a godly life, because the trial by fire was coming.
Thousands of believers across the world—including those in the Games’ host country, China—face these Olympic-scale trials every day. My fat-dumb-and-happy American mind can’t grasp that kind of devotion to winning the prize. But Peter demands that every Christian train with the motivation to win, to be ready to face the smallest and the mightiest of them all, and to overcome.
It’s not so much about winning gold as about becoming gold. We can’t train vicariously by reading about great Christian heroes or supporting missionaries. We have to pursue Christ with all that is in us – ready to reflect his glory when the race is on.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Are you ready for the race? Like the Olympians in the pool, the real work is not in the race, but in how you train daily. Set aside daily time to pray and prepare, and lift up those Christians who face the hardest trials