During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, I was impressed by numerous countries represented at this great event. On Friday evening, at the opening ceremonies we watched as hundreds of Olympic athletes marched in representation of their countries in the Parade of Nations. For years each athlete had devoted his life to grueling and dedicated training, focusing on one event: to compete in the sport where he exhibited unusual talent, reaching for the goal of taking home “The Gold.” The best coaches were sought to assist the athlete in his training and pursuit of his dream.
Just to be in Sydney, with the opportunity to compete, was in itself a great accomplishment. Yet not one of these athletes would be satisfied with “just being there.” The ultimate goal remained ever before them. Each kept fixed in his mind the prize: to stand on the highest podium, receive the gold medal and proudly sing along as the national anthem of the country he represented was being played.
During the years of training it often became very difficult for many of them to continue their quest. Because of the various barriers that often presented themselves, the attention of the athlete might have been easily diverted had he not kept his goal clearly in view.
Emotions ran deep and passion flooded the soul of each athlete as the time drew near for competition. For some, obstacles appeared. In some cases, injuries completely prevented an athlete from competing. Sometime an injury just made it more difficult for one to perform at his full potential. Disappointments arose. For those who were able to continue with the competition ceaseless and uninterrupted focus on “the prize” must remain steadfastly before them. With the focus continually on the prize, the athlete would leave behind him the obstacles that too often presented themselves.
People have been called from every nation to run the Christian race. We cannot enter this race with a nonchalant attitude, hoping to attain the prize that is set before us. We too, like the Olympians, often enter the race full of hope and deep emotion. So many obstacles appear as we run our race. When they do, causing us discouragement, we can be sure that Satan will be here to place in our view a glittery, but counterfeit reward. We must never walk away from our coach, Jesus Christ, nor take our eyes off the genuine prize, that of living eternally with him in heaven. There will be times when we slip and fall, when we step out of bounds, or simply miss the mark. Yet, we have an advantage with Jesus as our “ coach.” Unlike the Olympic athletes, we have the opportunity to start over, with no marks counted against us. And to help us begin anew, he is there to pick us up and give us strength to continue the race. There are times that he even carries us until we receive the strength to carry on. Knowing that he is always with us, as well as being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, helps us to keep the “prize” distinctly in view.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) When trials present themselves, attempting to obscure our vision of that great “prize,” we must say as Paul did in Philippians 3:13,14: “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.” Then we, too, shall enter that great parade of nations.
Therefore, let us be persistent in keeping our focus on those things which are above, ever looking forward to that time when we can hear that welcome, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21)
We know that if we keep our focus on Jesus, our race here on earth will end in joy and victory. John reveals to us the wonderful culmination of our walk on earth as he paints a word picture of that great tremendous throng of the redeemed. The multitude will be so great that no one can count all of those that make it up. There will be those “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV). Then we shall march in that “Great Parade of Nations” and sing with the angels the ultimate anthem: “to him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13, NIV).