Five Things Athletes Know that Christians Don’t

Tuesday is for Thinking

Strenuous exerciseAthletes are different.

Exercise, strenuous exercise is a driving passion in their lives. They love it. And whether they are elite athletes being paid high sums of money or weekend competitors trying to stay active there are certain things that “they get.”

Exercise, strenuous exercise is a driving passion in their lives. They love it. And whether they are elite athletes being paid high sums of money or weekend competitors trying to stay active there are certain things that “they get.”

Many of those things Christians don’t get. Enter this post and five things athletes know and Christians don’t:

  1. The Pain / Gain Connection
    • Athletes understand that without a certain amount of pain and discomfort, they simply will not make progress toward higher athletic achievement. One year Magic Johnson and the Lakers beat Larry Bird and the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. Larry noticed that all through the championship, the Lakers played defense to his right side. That summer, he spent the whole off-season working on his ball handling skills and shooting skills with his left hand. Seemingly endless drills with no-one watching. For most of the regular season, he kept his new skills under wraps while at the same time working to improve them. When the playoffs came, and the Celtics were again playing the Lakers, Larry Bird pulled out his hard earned skill and led the Celtics to a win over their rivals. There was pain behind that victory (as well as some craftiness!).
    • Athletes know that going to the gym is nothing unless you are willing to put in the time and effort to grow beyond your current capabilities. Christians don’t seem to understand that hanging around the church or carrying a Bible makes no difference in their lives.  There is no gain without pain. That is true physically and it is also true spiritually. Growth in Christ is not automatic, and it is also more than desire. It takes real investment and intention to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
  2. The Knowledge / Progress Connection
    • The best athletes are always working at growing in their knowledge of both their sport and how their body works and responds best. They know that optimal performance follows better knowledge of both.
    • Chip Kelly, former Philadelphia Eagles head coach is revolutionizing the NFL with his science based conditioning training and his innovative strategies for scoring points. In just two years, he took a team that won three games in 2012, to the playoffs in 2013 and to the verge of the playoffs in 2014 before other coaching mistakes (knowledge he didn’t have) sabotaged his career.
    • Christians don’t seem to understand that to really grow in Christ, they are going to have to do more than just read their Bible’s. They need to study them. They need to apply it to their lives if they hope to make progress in grace.
  3. The Work vs Rest ConnectionStrenuous exercise 2
    • Elite athletes work hard, very hard. But they also know that their bodies need rest and recuperation time.
    • Christians, spiritually speaking, have got their lives almost completely backward. They are almost always at rest and never at work, spiritually speaking. They aren’t engaged in seeking the lost. Church attendance for example, is now counted as regular if people are in fellowship with other believers 20-25 times a year. Bible reading is a Sunday affair and maybe a verse or two a day rather the daily bread we need to nourish our lives. Personal evangelism is a myth.
  4. The Progress is Slow Connection
    • Athletes understand that progress is often slow and reward comes over time. You don’t just get up and run a marathon; you have to train for it.
    • Christians, like so many others in our culture, want instant gratification. “Pastor, can you give me a verse to deal with my anger?” Spiritual growth doesn’t come from a pill that you take but a path that you follow. And progress is often slow and imperceptible. But there is reward over time.
  5. The Consistency / Regression Connection
    • Athletes understand that to maintain peak conditioning they can’t stop. Workouts may change and vary. Some will be more or less strenuous. But just because heavy prices of pain and uncomfortable, sore muscles are now in the past does not mean that exercise can cease.
    • Christians don’t seem to get that. So you studied the Bible hard for a few weeks a couple of years ago. Does that mean you don’t need to study it now? No. In fact,
      • 1) staying consistently in the word of God,
      • 2) connected in fellowship with other believers,
      • 3) gathered in corporate worship,
      • 4) praying for and serving the body of Christ and your neighbor are the tools that are indispensable to your Christian life and all of them must be consistently applied (Cf. Acts 4:42ff)

Let’s be more like athletes in our pursuit of Christ. That’s the apostle Paul’s encouragement:

1 Corinthians 9:24–27 (ESV)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Let’s live passionately for and like Christ so we can truly love God, love others and serve the world.

Question: What would you add to the list?

7 thoughts on “Five Things Athletes Know that Christians Don’t

  1. While I don’t disagree that Bible study will help Spriritual growth, I do believe that the pain that keeps us growing more, is sometimes from our life’s painful situations that cause us to ‘exercise’ our faith and our dependence on God.


    1. I agree. God uses everything to develop us into the likeness of Christ. But this post is about the part we need to proactively take to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.


  2. Excellent article Brother! Shared on this subject in a spiritual renewal week in North Carolina a few months back. Just simply unpacked Paul’s usage of an athlete attaining the crown to faithful servants. (2Tim. 2:5,7) As an older former athlete, your post really speaks to my heart at a very necessary time. I’ve had to say ‘No’ to two invitations this week in order to prevent overextending and the edge of burnout. (your #3a above) After going through cancer and seeing the brevity of life, it is REALLY HARD for me to decline any opportunity. Thanks for your work in this, thanks for your prayers, and thanks for your friendship. God bless… Terry


  3. Athletes also are very well aware of how other factors, besides workouts, influence athletic performance. My son’s cross country coach used to call these “the little things” that differentiate the good from the great. What are you fueling your body with? How much sleep did you get the night before the race? What do you say to yourself at the end of mile 2? Spiritually speaking, we could ask the same questions.

    Is the media I expose myself to or the way that I spend my “downtime” building up or draining my spirit?. Is there any room for spiritual solitude in my life where I can really reflect on the passage I just read rather than getting on with the other things on my “to do” list? What are the first words that left my mouth this morning? Little things matter.


    1. Amen Ginger. Little things matter. If a cross-country runner expands his stride a half inch per stride, over the course of the 2.3 mile race (HS) or 5+ mile race (College), he or she will finish with an all time personal best time.


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