In a couple of weeks, we’ll again have the chance to marvel as gifted athletes from around the globe compete in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Skiers will race down slopes at breakneck (hopefully not) speeds; figure skaters will glide across the rink with their collection of lutzes, axels, spins, and maybe a camel or two.
Ski jumpers will soar through frigid skies, straining for the bottom-most patches of icy snow lying many meters below. And speed skaters will chase around a frozen oval, even though a diagonal path would have been much faster.
Already, favorites for each event have been identified. But as happens every Olympics, some of those favored will falter.
Unexpected champions will emerge, happily embracing their moment in the sun – or snow, or ice – new “household names” being awarded medals of gold, silver and bronze.
In a real sense, those champions have already been determined in the months and years leading up to this Olympics. I was reminded of this while visiting the YMCA recently for a workout. Someone wore a T-shirt that said, “Champions are made when no one is looking.”
We find everyday examples in the middle-aged guy who’s finally decided to shed excess, health-threatening pounds; the gal prepping for her first half-marathon, the person determined to become the fittest person at the office, or the elderly individual rehabbing from a physical setback.
The same applies whether it’s the area golf champion or the winner of the Masters; winners at the local tennis club or Wimbledon; spelling bee champs; skilled surgeons; inspiring high school teachers, and accomplished business leaders. We can witness and appreciate the end results and yet have no idea of the work, sweat and determination it took for them to achieve their objectives.
What about becoming a spiritual “champion”?
Similarly, men and women become champions for Jesus Christ when no one was looking. Rarely – even in our churches – does anyone focus attention on the person spending time daily communing with God in the Scriptures and in prayer. Strong, enduring faith isn’t gained by attending a stirring worship service or a spiritual conference, but in the bunkers of pain and struggle, where we have no alternative but to persevere, trusting God and His promises.
Virtually every effective Christian leader, whether speaking from the pulpit, facilitating a Sunday school class, or heading up a faith-based company, has been aided in his or her growth by disciplers, mentors and accountability partners, interactions usually unseen by those who benefit from their direction.
The apostle Paul admonished his protégé, Timothy, to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). How could Timothy do this? Initially, he learned from Paul. Then he persisted in applying those lessons in quiet, personal hours. Knowing – and using – the Word of God correctly comes only with time, attention and prayer.
Abraham, from whom the people of Israel trace their lineage, went through the refining furnace of faith in many ways, so that when God gave him the curious command to sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, he did not waver: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son” (Hebrews 11:17). When no one was looking, Abraham’s faith was being established so he could trust the Lord would somehow resolve this dilemma in a redemptive way. As He did.
Looking back over my life, the times I’ve learned most and grown have not been easy, smooth-sailing moments, even though they’re preferable to times of intense challenge. It’s been circumstances when there was nothing else I could do but to look up, believing in God’s faithfulness even when the limits of credibility were being stretched, that have advanced my spiritual maturity.
As James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.”
This is what God calls each of us to do. So that one day we’ll agree with Paul, who wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). In God’s eyes, we’ll be “champions” He has fashioned when no one was looking.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at email@example.com.