I imagine a number of us have caught various events of the Winter Olympics. I love to watch the Olympics if I get the opportunity. The athletes competing are at the top for their game. They are the best of the best at the moment, and it’s thrilling to see them compete in their various fields of expertise. This past Sunday, I was watching one of the cross-country ski events. I was amazed to watch these athletes skim across the snow with effortless motion. They would pump their legs and arms up hills and crouch low and compress their bodies as they slid down inclines. What appeared like effortless motion was years’ worth of training and effort.
As I watched, I was reminded of a book entitled Resurrecting Excellence by Gregory Jones. In his exploration of what excellence looks like in Christianity, he draws attention to an essay written by Daniel F. Chambliss entitled, “The Mundanity of Excellence.” In the essay, Chambliss focuses attention upon the difference between Olympic swimmers and those who get close to the Olympic level. He concludes that what sets apart Olympic swimmers from those who don’t quite make it isn’t talent or hard work. Rather, what sets Olympians apart from the rest is their focus and attention upon the mundane. As Chambliss notes, ‘“Of course, there is no secret; there is only the doing of all those little things, each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit, an ordinary part of one’s everyday life (Resurrecting Excellence, 57).”’
There is no secret. Rather what sets an Olympian apart from the rest of the pack is a constancy of attention toward the small things. The minute details that can easily be overlooked (like constant diet, placement of fingers on the ski pole, angle of chin, etc.), are given attention. And they work daily to get those details right. As a result, these details become habit. They become natural and allow the athlete to excel.
Certainly, this is a reminder to me the attention necessary to the Christian life on a daily, regular basis. Paraphrasing John Wesley, he once remarked the goal of the Christian life is the movement of sporadic love in one’s life to a consistent love over the course of a lifetime. In order to achieve this goal, it requires to attention to the details of daily living. How do I think about other people? How do I speak about my brothers and sisters in Christ? Are my words tempered with grace? Do I give people the benefit of the doubt? How do I interact with strangers? Am I practicing the spiritual disciplines consistently? Am I half-heartedly giving my attention to my prayer life when I need God? All to say, to be the follower of Jesus God desires of us requires our attention to the details. May we consistently focus our attention on the daily aspects of our walk, so we can be who God desires us to be!