Dedication, some people have it; some don’t. Olympic athletes are often lauded for their extreme dedication to their sports. The amount of time, physical endurance, and mental toughness required to prepare oneself to compete for a medal on a global stage is staggering. But pick your athlete, any athlete; when it comes to giving it their all for Olympic glory, they don’t hold a candle compared to Arrhichion of Phigalia. Arrhichion was the champion of the Pankration event in the 564 BC Olympic games. The Pankration was similar to our MMA, being a combination of boxing, wrestling, kicking, joint-locks, and lots of pain infliction. To make things even more exciting, there was no referee to end a bout when someone was being beaten to a pulp. No sir! The end of the fight only came when one of the contestants said, “Theios!” (that’s “uncle” in Greek) and gave up. In the epic contest that took place in the 564 Olympics, Arrhichion of Phigalia faced off against a very worthy opponent (whose name is now lost to history). The two fought and fought until they ended up in a scrum on the ground. Arrhichion’s opponent was behind him, squeezing his midsection between his legs while wrapping his arms around Arrhichion’s neck in a choke hold. Arrhichion, meanwhile, had used his legs to clamp down on his opponent’s ankle, one above the foot and one locked behind the heel. (Okay, you can see where this is going. If you don’t have the dedication to go on, that’s fine. The blog becomes “Christian” again in paragraph two. For the rest of you—the few, the proud, the philistine—I’ll try to be delicate). Knowing that he had to escape his opponent’s holds, Arrhichion violently threw all his weight to one side. Imagine that Arrhichion was eating Rice Crispies—you know “snap, crackle, pop.” That was the noise everyone in the stadium heard as part of Arrhichion’s opponent’s ankle went south, while the other part went north. Not surprisingly, there was also a loud scream. Instantly, Arrhichon’s opponent submitted, and all of Phigalia celebrated. The referee held out the victor’s crown for Arrhichion to jump up and claim, but instead Arrhichion remained on the ground. Was he simply overcome with emotion? Was he just being humble to honor his worthy opponent? Was he just too exhausted to rise? None of the above. He was dead. That choke hold did him in. But here’s the thing: since Arrhichion had already been declared the winner, there was no going back. In the history of the Olympics, only one dead athlete has ever won an event, Arrhichion of Phigalia! Now, that is dedication.
Okay, it is now safe to read again.
Dedication – some people have it; some don’t. But let’s be honest: most of us are in that second category. The “Little Feat” song is our theme: “It’s so easy to slip; it’s so easy to fall.” It’s so easy to slip into temptation. It’s so easy to fall into sin. Oscar Wilde said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Me, too! What we need is a good swift MMA/Pankration kick to the back side. Thankfully, the Book of Common Prayer has just the perfect prayer for us who need to get serious about our focus in life. Here’s the prayer (I highly urge you to consider it as one of the ten prayers you are going to take with you as you journey through life):
Almighty and eternal God,
So draw our hearts to you,
So guide our minds,
So fill our imaginations,
So control our wills,
That we may be wholly yours,
Utterly dedicated unto you;
And then use us, we pray, as you will,
And always to your glory and the welfare of your people;
Through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Years ago, some leadership guru suggested that one of the best ways to stay focused on your life’s goals was to write them down and put them on your bathroom mirror. That way, you were reminded of them every single day of your life. First thing in the morning, you would be reminded of what was most important to you and towards what goals you were working. That was good advice, but there was something else in his suggestion. Just seeing this list of your top ten goals somehow (almost magically) moved you closer to accomplishing them. Now, I am not arguing for a “name it and claim it” approach to spiritual health, but I do think having a list of what’s essential for our spiritual lives firmly implanted on our heart and soul will only help us as we seek to grow. That’s what this prayer does. It makes us aware of the main things, and it urges us to pray for them and see them as crucial for our spiritual health. Plus, it eliminates having to paste these seven goals onto our bathroom mirror.
Note the petitions. We ask God to “draw our hearts” to him. It’s a plea for grace. James KA Smith underscores the importance of this petition. He writes: “We are what we want; our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behavior grow. Our wants reverberate from our heart, the epicenter of the human person.” In other words, we are what we love; and our heart directs our love. Asking God, therefore, to draw our hearts to him is asking God to shape our hearts so they love him and love others.
We also ask, “so guide our minds.” Plutarch said: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” Here, we are asking God to stir the embers of our mind so that we will think God’s thoughts after him. Aye, there’s the rub! See, we would much prefer to be amused than to invest our time in thinking deeply. But here, in this brief prayer, we commit ourselves to seek wisdom and not to give in to laziness and to thinking too little. After all, as Leonardo da Vinci said: “He who thinks little, errs much.” But maybe you’re not a da Vinci sort of person. Maybe you are more of a Winnie-the-Pooh sort of person (I know I am): “Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.” Bottom line: we need a good swift kick in the backside to remember we are to love God with all of our minds and that we are called to be a thinking people.
We also ask God: “so fill our imaginations.” This is the petition that really caught my attention. We don’t often talk about the imagination and how it shapes our thoughts, loves and behaviors; but it is a powerful force in our lives. But this much we know: our imagination is influenced more by the world than it is by God’s Word. I love that quote from CS Lewis: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” We need God to fill our imaginations. One way we do that is through vibrant worship, a worship that excites our will, strengthens our resolve, fuels our will and empowers us to love God. James KA Smith wrote: “Worship is the imagination’s station that incubates our loves and longings so that our cultural endeavors are indexed towards God and his kingdom.” Bottom line: We need to spend more time thinking about how we can unleash our imaginations.
We also ask God: “So control our wills.” The Afghan international cricket player, Aftab Alam, wrote: “Will power defeats all powers.” When God controls our will, good things happen. And what is the goal here? That we may be wholly God’s, utterly dedicated to him. Someone used to say, 95% devotion to God is 5% too short. We are asking God in this prayer to fill us with his Spirit so that we will be totally devoted to him.
But this short prayer is still not done! Yes, it asks that we would be totally given to God, but it asks more than that. It asks that God would use us as he wills to love him and to love our neighbor, to glorify God and to bless our neighbor.
If you want to ask God to do a work of grace in you so that you will grow spiritually, I’m not sure there is a better prayer to pray. It is simple and yet powerful, and it focuses on what is truly important. We are asking God to renovate our whole being, emotion, intellect, imagination and will so that we may be completely God’s person and so that we would live a life where we take this renewed heart and love God and love others. And let’s face it, we all need a prayer of self-dedication. Stephen Covey tells us why: “Beginners are many; finishers are few.”
So let us give ourselves completely to God so that we can run the race set before us in such a way that we will be delighted with the outcome. Coach John Wooden said it this way: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” I love that! And with that I close. Honestly, that quote got to me; and I’m beginning to feel a little choked up—but not nearly as much as Arrhichion of Phigalia!