I remember when Andre Agassi burst onto the tennis scene, with his wild long hair and cocky attitude. I was always more of a Pete Sampras fan, with his clean-cut look and quiet demeanor. An Agassi-Sampras match always made for good television.

Now, Andre Agassi is taking his final bow at the U.S. Open. He’s gone from the top of the rankings to near rock bottom and back up again throughout his career. Plagued by back pain and considered a veteran at 36, Agassi is making his last professional tennis tournament appearance in the Big Apple this week.

There is something graceful about an athlete bowing out while there’s still some fight left in him. It’s sad to see players hauling themselves around the bases or up and down the field or gym floor way past their prime.

At the same time, it’s thrilling when an athlete is able to perform well beyond expectations at an age when other players are calling it quits. What causes some athletes to last longer than their teammates? Why do some fade out after a season or two, while others endure for decades?

Certainly there are a lot of factors, including their physical health. But I think their motivation to succeed plays a large role as well. Focusing on the end result–the Lombardi trophy, the Stanley Cup, the World Series ring–can keep many athletes lasting longer than their peers.

Paul frequently used sports references throughout his letters, likening Christians to athletes. In his second letter to Timothy, he takes note of the reward waiting for his efforts:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (II Timothy 4:7-8)

As athletes of God, there are many days when we feel ready to give up and quit. Days where it seems like we can’t possibly win. Yet, we are not called to shine for a season or two and then head to the sidelines to retire. The Hebrew writer reminds us to not give up, but rather to run a lifelong race with perserverance:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

We may be considered “veteran” athletes for God, but we should never consider ourselves retired. With God, there is no point of being past our prime. No matter how old we are, no matter what condition our physical bodies are in, God can and will use us to accomplish His will for His glory.

Take time today to rejoice in the race that God has set before you!

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