Rio 2016: what the world's top athletes can teach us about stepping up our spiritual game


The Rio Olympics are here! The opening ceremony of the 31st Olympiad, the first to be held in South America since the games began, takes place this evening or early morning, depending on where in the world you're watching from. Millions of people from all over the globe will be tuning in as more than athletes from 206 nations enter the stadium ahead of the biggest event in the sporting calendar.

Over the next few weeks, each athlete will learn things about themselves, their opponents and their sport as the games progress but as spectators we can also pick up a few pointers, and not just in relation to how we can improve our swimming style or get a new personal best in a triathlon, but in terms of how we can step up our spiritual game.

The beauty of teamwork
While there are solo sporting events in the Olympics, there is always a sense that the individual is part of something greater because of the medal and points awarding system and because they're not just representing themselves but their country.

Jesus spoke about the need for us to work together to be successful in a spiritual sense. Whether you feel like the only person in the race or don't feel you're in it at all, his words should provide you with encouragement that no matter how small you think your part is, you have an important part to play in his church. Just like the athletes, when you take your position on the world's stage or simply step out into the outside your front door, your behaviour isn't just reflective of who you are, it's also reflective of the God you believe in.

The necessity of commitment
Olympic athletes are some of the most committed people we'll ever observe in action. To achieve their goals they are have to stick to gruelling regimens, diets and often live by anti-social schedules. Their undeniable love for their sport and their countries is one of the main reasons that they are able to remain committed.

In the same way, to achieve our goals of being more like Christ, more forgiving, more loving, more appreciative of God, we also need to make certain tasks part of our regular routine and commit ourselves to them and him. While we'll never be perfect, practise helps us get as close to it as we ever will. Just like the Olympians and their love for their sport, our love for God and His for us enables us to achieve remarkable things.

Great joy from hard work
In addition to being extremely committed, Olympic athletes have to work extraordinarily hard to be selected for the games, let alone be on form when competing in them. The fruits of their labour and their subsequent joy are on display for all to see when they achieve selection, compete and, for those who perform best on the day, win.

Being a Christian isn't always easy and some of the central principles of our faith – forgiveness, generosity, loving our neighbours – take a lot of hard work to get right. But the rewards that we receive in return for putting in the effort to practise them bring us greater joy than we could ever hope to experience.