Paul wrote of the Olympic competitions: “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25 ESV).

Since I am an Olympics junkie, it is with great delight that I turn my keyboard once again to the topic of the games. The Olympics were as pervasive in Paul’s culture as they are in ours. We, however, have the advantage of television. We are onsite as Michael Phelps makes Olympic history and Missy Franklin smiles and encourages her teammates on her way to four medals (so far).

Every day we have living, vivid illustrations of how to exercise self-control in pursuit of Olympic gold. Rather than an imperishable wreath, our athletes receive metal in their medals.

They fight the good fight in several ways:

  1. They discipline their bodies, running, swimming, or rowing with purpose.
  2. They eschew any type of food, pursuit, or pastime that hinders their progress.
  3. They know their giftedness and use it, developing their potential to the full.

Now doesn’t that sound like the Christian life?

As these remarkable athletes discipline their bodies, so we discipline our spiritual lives. We pursue Christ as he pursues us. We long to know more about him, think of him day and night, and grow in self-control as we obey him, relying on him for the power to do so. We follow his leading. We listen to his voice. We meditate on his words. We say, “Yes,” to his instructions.

“I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27 ESV).

We take a serious view of sin in our lives. We get at the root of the problem. We repent daily of our brokenness, our habitual turning away. We (again) rely on him for the strength and wisdom to do so. We turn from the habits, customs, emotional promptings, and urges of the flesh that hinder our progress.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13 ESV).

We believe this. By God’s grace, we live it. When we fall, he picks us up. We try again.

Now, here comes the tricky part. We know our giftedness and use it for God’s glory. Gifted runners don’t take up rowing. It would be a waste of their legs. Elite gymnasts don’t compete in weight lifting. It would be a misuse of their small size, flexibility, and fearlessness. Athletes tall enough to play volleyball or basketball don’t compete as gymnasts. It would be impossible.

Before the foundation of the world God already knew the gifts he would bestow on us, the strengths he would give us, and the good works he wanted us to do. We are equipped.

Because God designed us and knew his plan for our lives, he gifted us with strengths and passions. These are where we excel—our hopes, ambitions, aspirations, dreams, and pursuits. These he harnesses for his glory and our good. At salvation, he bestows spiritual gifts, expanding, enlarging, and sanctifying what he already built into us. He uses our gifts for his glory.

We are God’s handwritten poem, his masterpiece, his creative tool to crack open a dark world so his light can be seen more clearly.

Peter divided the gifts neatly into two types: speaking and serving. Paul listed a plethora of gifts. His inspired scatter-shot approach tells us that the gifts are rich, individual, and abundant, manifesting in each believer in a unique way. No list can encapsulate them.

But the point isn’t the gift. The point is what you do with it. Any of these athletes could be sitting on a couch, watching other people compete. Likewise, we could be watching the rest of the Christian world entertain us.

Peter said, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…serve by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:10, 11b ESV).

Are you using the gifts God has given you? Are you competing in the games? Are you glorifying God with your life? Or are you sitting on the couch?