An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. – 2 Tim 2:5, RSV
Michael Phelps. The name kind of says it all, doesn’t it? To say he is an amazing athlete is an understatement of Olympic proportions. Every person in America…and probably the world… knows that Phelps won 8 gold medals in the Beijing Games: more medals in one Olympics than any other athlete in the history of the Games. He has brought world-class swimming to a tipping point, and the sport will never be the same again.
But what can we, as believers, learn from this young man? For starters, let’s talk about Divine Design. Phelps has five unique physical qualities (yes, 5!) that make his body perfectly suited to his profession: his long, thin torso, arms which span 6 feet 7 inches, relatively short legs, joined to size 14 feet by hypermobile ankles he can extend beyond the pointe of a ballet dancer, enabling him to whip his feet as if they were fins, for maximum thrust through the water.
If you read about him, you’ll find that he was teased for his awkward build when he was growing up, but it’s now clear that his structure has purpose. You and I may not be called to race through the water, but we can rest assured that we have been perfectly designed to fulfill our purpose in the Kingdom. True, we may feel awkward at times, but we must realize that God has fit us into the Body to fulfill a specific function. We are perfectly designed by Him. Think how ridiculous it would be for Michael Phelps to try to be a gymnast! It is just as senseless for us to ignore our Divine Design and try to be someone or some gift that we are not. Imagine, too, what a tragic loss it would be for the sport if Michael had allowed the ridicule to prevent him from pursuing his dream. So often, we allow set-backs or persecution to become our excuse for not fulfilling God’s plan and pursuing our role in the Body.
During last year’s Games, a former Olympic champion was quoted in the newspaper as doubting Phelps’ ability to win 8 gold medals. He was obviously qualified to have such an opinion; he must have known what he was talking about. He had observed Phelps for many years and had recognized his weaknesses. But what did Michael do with the whispering from his opponent? He taped the article in the back of his locker and used it to spur him towards victory!
Satan has observed us our whole lives and knows our weaknesses. When he whispers accusations and tells us we are not capable of fulfilling our destiny, we must recognize that he is a liar and the father of all lies; therefore, what he says about us is also untrue! Take his words and use them as inspiration to do exactly the opposite of what he is saying to you… to go on and succeed at everything God has called you to do!
Did you happen to see the men’s 400m medley last fall? Phelps had the third leg on this race. He started behind the field and had a lot of ground to make up. In fact, he was 7th at the turn and ended up catching the field and pulling ahead enough to give his last team member a great lead! When the race was over, announcers wanted to talk to him about his 8th gold medal, but Phelps wanted to commend his team. He plainly said that nothing he had accomplished would have been possible without his teammates. We must remember that God has placed us IN the Body of Christ and set us amongst particular members. We need to learn how to use our strengths while still giving honor to those members on our team who are weaker. In that way, the entire team becomes strengthened, and the whole team receives glory.
How often have we grown weary in well doing? How often do we feel that we have raced all we can, and there is nothing left in us? Again, we can look to the athlete to give us inspiration. We are prepared in our everyday activities: praying in tongues, meditating the Word, worshipping, and fellowshipping with others in the Body. Phelps had a goal. He kept a list with him of all that was necessary to become the greatest Olympic champion of all time. We have been strengthened by grace to complete our race. All we need to do is keep our eyes on the prize and press on. As we do, we overcome obstacles of seeming Olympic proportion to become all that God has ordained us to be!
(First published 08.24.08)
PS. I wrote this at the end of the 2008 Olympics. I realize that Phelps has been in some trouble lately and is currently suspended (but only for 3 months) from competitive swimming. So, here’s my thought…. the young man is pursuing his dream and he has achieved a level of success, but his life isn’t over. There is more for him to still achieve. OF COURSE he is going to make mistakes along the way, be swallowed in by pride, tested in his character.
This latest story on Phelps still fits with our analogy to the Believer in Christ. DON’T FORGET that you have an adversary, the devil, who seeks whom he may devour. Any time you experience success as a Believer, the enemy is going to come and try to limit your effectiveness by pulling on your character flaws. So, what do you do? Do you quit? Say, “I guess I wasn’t really called to do this afterall?” NO! You deal with those flaws, repent, and keep on striving to be ALL God has called you to be!!!