The Olympics has had most sports enthusiasts glued to their television screens. I have enjoyed cheering on the Australian team with shouts of "Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie, oi, oi, oi," (no offense to my U.S. friends and wife). However, what I have liked most about the games are the stories behind each of the athletes and the difficulties they have faced just to make it to the Olympic Games. You may have heard of Simone Biles, the Team USA gymnast and world champion, whose biological mother fought with drug and alcohol addiction and was unable to take care of Biles and her younger sister, Adria. Or Yusra Mardini, the Syrian-born swimmer who pushed a boat filled with people fleeing civil unrest in Syria for three hours in the Aegean Sea after the vessel's motor stopped working. Her heroism saved the lives of the passengers that frightful day.
We all face struggles in life, even if you're an Olympic athlete. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John wrote, "Do not fear what you are about to suffer...Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:10). I used to think that the crown of life John was talking about was a royal crown, however, after some study of the text I was surprised to discover that the crown here mentioned by John is called a "Stephanos." A Stephanos is not a royal crown, but a crown of victory; a garland of leaves or flowers. It was given to the victorious athletes in the Olympic games held in Smyrna during Bible times.
Like Olympic athletes who endure and persevere to gain a gold medal, here John illustrates that those who seek to follow Jesus will also experience suffering in this life. Some of us may have experienced the pain of family crisis or the loss of a loved one. Some have experienced the pain of being unloved by their spouse or facing difficulty at work because of their faith. Some may be struggling with feelings and voices telling them that they are unworthy to be loved by God or others.
The apostle John assures us that Christ is with us. We do not have to fear; He has already won; His victory becomes our victory, and His life becomes our inheritance to eternal life. What is waiting for us is not a crown of defeat but a crown of victory that is better than gold. Faith doesn't remove our struggles in life, but it shows us how to handle them. Instead of praying for God to remove a problem, maybe God is calling us to embrace the answer - do not fear but be faithful to the end and you shall receive the crown of life. Ask God to use your struggle for His glory to produce His purpose in your life.