If you watched any of the Olympics in Rio this past month, you saw the stories behind many of the athletes that helped them become who they are. Many of them were informational as well as inspirational. As good as they were, I am still drawn to the story of an Olympian sixteen years ago at the Sydney Olympics. A twenty-two year old African had been entered to swim in the 100 meter free style event. This was due to a special invitation of the International Olympic Committee under a special program that permitted poorer countries to participate even though their athletes didn’t meet customary standards. The young man, Eric Moussambani had only learned to swim the past January and had only practiced in a 20 meter pool without lane markers. He had never raced more than 50 meters.
As it turned out, the other two swimmers in his heat were disqualified because of false starts, forcing Eric to swim alone. The fans watched in astonishment as Eric never put his head under the water’s surface and flailed wildly to stay afloat. With ten meters left to the wall, he virtually came to a stop. Some of the spectators thought he might drown. Even though his time was well over a minute slower than what would qualify for the next level of competition, the capacity crowd at the Olympic Aquatic Center stood to their feet and began cheering Eric on. After what seemed like an eternity, he reached the wall and hung on for dear life. After catching his breath and regaining his composure, the French speaking African said through an interpreter, “I want to send hugs and kisses to the crowd – it was your cheering that kept me going.”
As Christians, we have a special invitation from our Lord to compete in the race of life. Much like Eric, we find ourselves many times trying to keep our heads above water and flailing wildly to stay afloat. And more than once we have come to a stop and feel as though we are not going to be able to make it. But it’s during those times we need to understand that we are not alone and have others to encourage and cheer us on to do our best and complete the race. Hebrews 12:1 states that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” Not that the hosts of heaven are watching and cheering us on, but that they are examples of those who have entered the race and completed it. In other words, he is telling us that we are part of something much richer and deeper than we can imagine. We are part of a family that has been called and equipped to glorify or Lord and build His Kingdom. Not only do we have the examples of those in Scripture to cheer us on, but also fellow Christian brothers and sisters to support and encourage us. This is why church is so important. Worship, fellowship, intercession, and encouragement are vital elements needed if we are to stay afloat and finish the race of life.
The writer of Hebrews also encourages us to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, to not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, and to consider how we may encourage and spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb.10:23-25)
Make a commitment to be an encourager. It will help fellow Christians in their race and demonstrate God’s love and concern to those who desperately need to know Him.
To His Glory,