Eighteen years ago with the Olympics about to be held in Atlanta, DPI published a book of devotions based on twenty-eight people or events in Olympic history. With the Winter Olympics being held now in Sochi, Russia, we will reprint two complete chapters from that book, The Heart of a Champion. Here, this week, is the first.
Spiridon Louis, Greece, The Marathon
In 490 b.c. with only 7,000 troops the Greeks defeated 20,000 Persian invaders in the celebrated Battle of Marathon. Following the great victory, the Greek commander sent out a lone runner from the battle site to Athens, to deliver the good news (as in Isaiah 52:7). When the runner reached Athens, approximately 26 miles away, he cried “Rejoice, we conquer!” then dropped dead on the spot.
When the Olympic Games were revived after a 1,400 year hiatus, the organizers decided to include a race from Marathon to Athens, and thus the grueling event known around the world today was born. In that first marathon 18 competitors, 12 of them from Greece, looked ahead to a race none of them had any experience in running.
The marathon was the final event of the competition, as it still is today, and began with an anxious Greek crowd of 70,000 seated in the Olympic stadium. Even with their athletic tradition and the presence of the most competitors of any country, the Greeks had not won a single event in track and field. The Greek press called for an end to the farce.
The progress of the race was reported back to the crowd via horses and bicycles. At times the crowd was visibly depressed as the lead changed back and forth between athletes from France and Austria. Finally, the first of the runners approached the gates of the stadium for the dramatic finish. Once the crowd realized who he was, the noise was deafening. “Hellas! Hellas!” (“A Greek! A Greek!”), they shouted. The two princes of Greece, George and Constantine, jumped from their royal box and accompanied Spiridon Louis to the finish line. A humble shepherd, he had trained for the event by running along side his horse as he delivered water to those in the countryside.
Spiridon was offered many prizes for his Olympic win including a sewing machine, free haircuts, and even a wife—but he refused all of these. He finally accepted a horse and cart because he said he needed them to carry water back home. His attitude was, “I have only done my duty.” He sought no fame for himself.
Since that fateful day in 1896, hundreds of thousands of runners have crossed the finished lines in marathon events all around the world. A humble shepherd led the way, and many have followed.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
The running of the marathon is a very fitting way to begin this book. At least seven times in the New Testament the Christian life is compared to a race. For most of us this race will not be a sprint. It will not even be a middle-distance race. It will be a marathon. We will run to the top of hills, and we will run down into valleys. Sometimes the road will be smooth, sometimes very rough. The race marked out for us is one that will require training, great endurance and a serious commitment to go the distance. We may never have undertaken anything like it before. Like Spiridon Louis, we may seem unlikely candidates for such an endeavor. But there is only one issue that is important: This is the race God has marked out for us. It may be a challenge. It may bring pain. There may be times when we wonder if we can go on. But this race is not optional. It is not just for the spiritually elite. It is for the ordinary shepherds of this world.
As we run the race, we must see and hear, with the eyes and ears of faith, the great crowd of witnesses cheering us on. We must feel the support of all the saints who have gone before us and all our brothers and sisters who are now in our lives. We must hear the crowd chanting, “Christianos! Christianos!” (“A Christian! A Christian!”). We must look forward to having the Son of God jump from the royal box and accompany us across the finish line. The principles we will study in this book will challenge us and stretch us, but we must keep in mind the great joy of the victory that will be ours.
Spiridon is remembered in Olympic history for his humility. While this cannot be said of every great star of the Games, it is the one quality that is most essential for us, as Christians, as we seek to run the race marked out for us. We must not be in the race for our glory, but for the glory of God. We must be confident not in our own ability, but in God’s power. We must not think the victory comes from looking within but from fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Into Your Life
1. Why did you decide to run the race the Bible says is marked out for us?
2. What is the impact on athletes of a crowd cheering, applauding and exhorting? What can you do to hear more clearly the cheers of those in the “Kingdom Stadium”?
3. What action can you take when you begin to think that the race is too hard or too long?