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Photo British Athletics

"I love the sense of satisfaction that I get when I’ve done a swimming workout or race, and know that I gave my whole being and heart to God in every moment of the swim. It’s the best worship I can offer him."

Penny Heyns

The secret place

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

Jesus got up early to pray. It is a mystery how and why Jesus, who is God himself, needed to pray. Is it just to set an example to us? Annabel Robinson* suggests that it was to “keep his human will attuned to the divine will”. Simon Peter came looking for him. Did Simon feel that “Jesus’ responsibility was to be with them, preaching and healing and not playing hookey** on his own” (Robinson)?

There is a need for all of us in our Christian lives to get the balance between quiet time with God and service. Jesus sets us an example here.

I have used the following quote from Muhammed Ali before but it is relevant again: “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out on the road, long before I dance under those lights”. The public sees the star player execute the perfect shot or race and thinks, “I wish I could do that”. Rarely do they realize that for all the player’s talent, it is hours of practice, which have honed the talent to produce that shot. As Gary Player used to say, “the more I practise, the luckier I get”.

Holiness is not learned “under the lights” but in the gym, in the solitary place while it is still dark. Most of us find it easier to live a godly life when we are with other Christians, singing an inspiring worship song. If we are to lead a godly life when we are in our club, with our sports friends, in the heat of the game when the opponents, the officials and even our own coach seem to be against us, it has to start with prayer in the solitary place. Finally I could not help thinking that elite athletes will recognize the scenario: “Everyone is looking for you”. With the demands of sponsors, media, fans, appearances, invitations etc. finding time in the solitary place is hard but necessary.

*Annabel Robinson, Encounter with God, 2020

** playing hookey, an Americanism meaning to skip school, most likely comes from the Dutch hoekje, a name for the game of hide and seek.

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