On Super Bowl Sunday at Centre Grove, I focused on the theme, “Finish Strong,” wearing the Saints’ Finish Strong t-shirt from Finish Strong. “Finish Strong” was the motivating theme for the New Orleans Saints this season. But it’s also an important theme for followers of Jesus!
Here’s a sampling of sports references from Scripture …
1 Corinthians 9.24-27
24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
13 … but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
2 Timothy 4.7-8
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. 8 And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.
Do you hear the drivenness in Paul’s language? He’s driven to finish strong! The truth is, nobody accidentally finishes strong. It takes drive to overcome one of our biggest enemies: apathy/complacency.
Only the driven finish strong!
If there was a Hall of Fame for the people of faith, Hebrews 11 includes a list of those who might be among the first enshrined into the Hall, people like Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Enoch, as well as a number of others.
In Hebrews 12.1-3, the writer suggests that this list of incredible people of faith ought to inspire us to finish strong.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. (Hebrews 12.1)
Of course, the greatest example of someone finishing strong is Jesus. The writer adds …
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. (Hebrews 12.2-3)
All these people of faith, as well as Jesus, himself, should inspire us to stay the course and finish strong. It takes motivation to strip off every weight that slows us down, to run with endurance, and to keep our eyes on Jesus so that we may finish strong!
Saints’ coach, Sean Payton, used this idea of a “crowd of witnesses” the night before the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. According to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Coach Payton projected “great moments in sports history went by in rapid-fire order” while Aerosmith’s “Dream On” blared through the speakers.
Babe Ruth homering, Michael Jordan scoring, Pete Maravich floating, Roberto Clemente fielding, Tiger Woodsfist-pumping, Eddie Robinson coaching, Wayne Gretzky scoring, Jim Valvano leaping, Larry Bird shooting, Muhammad Ali punching, the Bears Super Bowl–shuffling, Doug Flutie passing, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team celebrating—on and on, as goose bumps rose to the pulsating chorus: ‘Dream on, dream on, dream on….’
And when the lights came up, there was Ronnie Lott, a four-time Super Bowl champion … and said, ‘What I wouldn’t give to have the chance to go out there, just one more time, to do what you’re going to do tomorrow. To become a champion again.’
The images and stories of those who’ve gone before us have a powerfully motivating effect on us.
On Sunday evening, the New Orleans Saints definitely finished strong. They were outscored in the first quarter (they were outscored in the first quarter all season), 10-0, but in the other three quarters, they dominated, 31-7, to win the championship game, 31-17.
I think it was the “finish strong” attitude that made the difference in championship game.
During the regular season, when the Colts were 14-0, they stated that a perfect season wasn’t one of their goals (according to team president, Bill Polian, having the longest regular season win streak and the most wins in the decade were more important to them ).
Incidentally, resting players hasn’t worked out real well for the Colts, historically. As I understand it, the one year they won the Super Bowl was the year they couldn’t rest their starters at the end of the season because they had to play all 16 games to get into the playoffs. It could be argued that because of that, they maintained their momentum/intensity until the end and finished strong that year. Peyton Manning’s post-season record is now 9-9.
On the other hand, the Saints, at 13-0, publicly stated that they were going for a perfect season. While they didn’t achieve that goal, that finish strong mentality was evident.
People who exhibit tremendous drive inspire us to be driven, too. As the Scriptures illustrate, we should learn from their example and be equally driven in our quest to follow, and be like, Jesus!