The long delayed Summer Olympics got underway in Japan this week with opening ceremonies and great excitement. Athletes from around the world have finally converged in Tokyo for the 32nd edition of skill and speed. Sadly, the events will be conducted without in-person audiences or even family members due to COVID-19 concerns.

While the Winter Olympics feature snow and ice, the Summer Games highlight track, field, and aquatic events with some of the greatest hype reserved for footraces on the 400-meter oval. Titles such as “fastest man (woman) alive” are at stake as runners bolt out of the blocks at the starting gun.

Many of the track events are individual contests. Who has the fastest legs to get him or her to the ribbon first? Medals will be awarded in different categories of solo competition as fans from the around the world are glued to their televisions.

Perhaps the most interesting track events are the relays. Instead of relying solely on fast individuals, teams of runners must cooperate to win gold. Although it seems one could add up the four fastest times to identify the winner beforehand, nothing could be further from the truth for the crucial part of a relay involves the passing of the baton.

This hollow tube is roughly 5 inches long and made of wood or metal. Although its 2-ounce weight is negligible and creates no burden for runners, this small cylinder is often the difference between first and last places.

The passing of the relay baton is one of the most challenging and difficult aspects of the sport. In past Olympics, some teams practiced baton passing for months and ended up with medals even though none of their individual runners were all that fast. Conversely, teams of incredibly quick athletes have often failed to place because they neglected to train for this crucial component of the race.

This essential Olympic skill reminds us of our spiritual teachings and values. Although parents and grandparents may be strong Christians, we may fail to pass our beliefs along to our children and grandchildren. Too often, we neglect to concentrate on the handoff and like some track coaches, we just assume the next generations will absorb and acquire our beliefs without intentional effort.

The baton of our faith is the most important one we will ever carry or pass. We should take great pains to endeavor to successfully pass it along to those who run life’s track behind us. Intentional times of devotion and planned discussions, as well as impromptu teachable moments are all valuable methods of getting the baton into the hands of younger generations. Of course Sunday school and regular worship are critical aspects also and reinforce what’s taught in the home.

Although none of these strategies guarantee that our children will follow and love Jesus, they certainly provide them with enough good information, examples, and training to make informed decisions. In truth we want our children’s faith to be their own. We don’t want them to be mere robots following habits and customs handed down by others. But failing to plan for the passing of this most important baton is planning to fail. It takes our intentional effort.

The old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink is certainly true in this regard. But an old cowboy once noted that you can let the horse lick the salt block long enough that he’ll want to drink when given the opportunity. Training our children in godly ways and modeling godly behavior is the salt that can make them thirsty enough to take their own drink of living water when given their chance.

As we watch the summer Olympics over the next few weeks, let’s allow the passing of the relay batons to remind us of the importance of passing our faith along to others that they too might run their race with perseverance and cross life’s finish line faithfully.

Blessings, George

George Bowers is the Senior Pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored sixteen books including Blessings Volume 3 which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at gabowers@shentel.net.