Olympic athlete Daniel Jervis praises God after he loses

Daniel Jervis Swims
Daniel Jervis, of Britain, swims in a men's 1500-meter freestyle heat at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Unlike most Olympic athletes making headlines these days, Daniel Jervis did not win a medal in the Tokyo games. In fact, he came in fifth in the men’s 1500-meter freestyle. After the event, however, he said something that is worthy of global attention.

He began: “I want to thank my village of Resolven. I want to thank my church, Sardis Baptist Church, [and] Ammanford Church in Ammanford, who have been really supportive of me. Everyone back home has been praying for me.” Then he added: “The thing I’m most proud of in my life is that I’m a Christian, and obviously God was with me tonight, and I’m just really grateful to be representing him.”

It is fairly common to see competitors win and then thank God for their success. However, skeptics can dismiss such faith, no matter how sincere it is, as the natural result of success. They often claim, as Satan said of Job to God, “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:10–11).

For this reason, it can be especially powerful when believers glorify God before they achieve success. For example, South African Olympic swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker posted on Instagram a prayer for God’s will to be done “no matter what the outcome,” days before she won a gold medal and set a new world record in the women’s 200-meter breaststroke.

And it can be even more powerful when we honor God when we lose.

“I’m planning my future, not my legacy”

This fact is on my mind in light of an interview Jane Marczewski gave to CNN’s Chris Cuomo Wednesday. The singer known as Nightbirde has been much in the news after her stunning performance on America’s Got Talent, her disclosure that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and her recent announcement that she will not be able to continue on AGT because of her cancer battle.

When Cuomo asked how she was doing, she was honest: “Well, to tell you the truth, I’ve been curled up in a ball like a cocktail shrimp, having an A-plus pity party for myself, because it’s just been a bad, bad month. It’s been really, pretty devastating.”

She described having to leave AGT: “I’m not a quitter. So it was really, really hard for me to say that I couldn’t finish the show. I got shocking news less than a week ago about cancer regrowth that has taken over my lungs and liver. So my liver right now is mostly cancer. More cancer than liver in there right now.”

Then she added: “But like I said, I’m planning my future, not my legacy. Some people would call that blind denial. I prefer to call it rebellious hope. And I’m not stopping anytime soon.”

She then asked Cuomo, “Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up? Don’t you want to see what happens? And that’s what I keep saying to myself and that’s what I say to everyone watching tonight. Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up?”

Just as she impressed the acerbic Simon Cowell on AGT, she similarly impressed Cuomo, who asked whether or not she has “always been like this.” She replied, “I don’t know. I think when you’re faced with so many blows to the gut in a row, like I have over the past several years, you find out what you’re made of in a sense, and you’re given the opportunity to choose what you want to become. So no, I don’t think I was always this way.”

“Therefore we will not fear”

Psalm 46 begins: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (v. 1). This is not a wish for the future but a fact in the present.

A “refuge” is a place where we go to be sheltered. However, we must choose to go there. A shelter is no help to us unless we use it. If we think we can withstand the storms and crises of life on our own, we will not humble ourselves enough to admit that we need God’s help and then to seek that help.

So, when the crisis comes, run to God. The Hebrew word for refuge is literally “a place to which we flee.” Don’t walk to him—run. Run to his help, his power, his love, his grace. And seek the “strength” he offers, knowing that his power can be yours if you will ask for it from him.

If you do, through the incontrovertible lens of your Father’s omnipotence and love, you will be able to testify with the psalmist, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (vv. 2–3, my emphasis).

Sometimes God calms the storms, and sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child. A troubled saint said, “I prayed for less wind in my sails, and God gave me more sails for the wind.”

“He must win the battle”

Martin Luther turned Psalm 46 into one of the best-loved hymns in Christian history, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. In that hymn he wrote these words, “Did we in our own strength confide, / our striving would be losing; / Were not the right man on our side, / the Man of God’s own choosing. / Dost ask who that may be? / Christ Jesus, it is He; / Lord Sabaoth, His Name, / from age to age the same, / And He must win the battle.”

Note the word must. If our Father is truly omnipotent, no power can defeat him. If he is truly omniscient, no need can escape his knowledge. If he is truly all-loving, he will only ever do what is best for his children.

The next time you lose a race, remember Daniel Jervis’ example and look for a way to thank and honor your Lord for his love and grace. Remember Jane Marczewski’s question: “Don’t you want to see what happens if you don’t give up?”

And remember this fact: it is always too soon to give up on God.

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