I grew up in a Christ-following family — my grandparents were missionaries and I went to church every week — so if you had asked me when I was a youngster if I believed in God I would have said, “Well yes, of course I am a Christ-follower, and I go to church every Sunday.”
But it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that being a follower of Christ was about having a personal relationship with Jesus, and that was something I had to decide for myself, a choice I had to make. I made that choice when I was 15, and that was the beginning of my personal walk with God. I grew each year learning more, but it wasn’t until I was 20 that I had a real overwhelming sense of God in my life.
It had been the worst year for me having missed out on selection to the Sydney Olympics. I questioned God and why He had put me here. I thought that I had wasted two years of my life rowing when the tables turned and I ended up having the best year of my rowing career up to that date. At that point I looked back on my life and could clearly see the path God had brought me on. I realized that God really did have my life in His hands and that I needed to trust Him.
As in any relationship, I have times when I feel close to God and times when I feel far away. But I always come back to that point in my life when I was 20 and remember how I felt there and think of Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” I have total trust that God has my life in His hands and that He is with me through any situation, any up and down.
Just because I am a follower of Christ doesn’t mean that everything is smooth and rosy. In the sports world there are lots of challenges. Sir Steve Redgrave commented on the BBC that as an athlete training for the Olympics, the motto “Higher, Faster, Stronger” becomes your existence and becomes your life. In many ways it does, and to make the cut it must.
But as a Christ-following athlete, God must come first in my life. Being involved in rowing at the national level has taken up a lot of my time over the past 11 years. In the busyness of life it takes real discipline to set aside time for God, to take time to say thank you and to grow in my relationship with Him. It is important that I make that time, but it is not always easy.
I believe Jesus wants me to be involved in the world of sport. That is the talent and gift that He has given me. I really believe that God put me in rowing to be a witness for Him — to glorify Him through my racing but also to honour Him with my actions and the way that I behave, win or lose. I do sport for an “Audience of One,” and that’s Jesus. Jesus is part of my motivation. I want to do well for Him and use my abilities fully and not waste my life or what He has given me.
It is an honour and a privilege to be able to represent my country at the Olympics, but an even greater honour to be representing Christ in my team.
Jesus is more important than a gold medal. Gold medals will ultimately be forgotten and I won’t be taking it with me when I pass away. In the light of eternity, Jesus surpasses everything else and I feel that gives me a wider perspective when I train and race. Yes, I am disappointed when I do not do as well as I want to – I want to win, I am very competitive — but I also know that my real identity is not in my successes, it is in my life with Christ.
— Debbie Flood, British rower