On July 27, an estimated 1 billion people worldwide turned on their televisions and computers to watch perhaps the most memorable event of the summer—the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. Over the next 16 days, an even larger number of viewers would follow the stories of the more than 10,000 athletes who participated in the games.

There’s just something about sports that everyone loves and can relate to. Maybe it’s the competitiveness, which is inherent in all of us. Or perhaps it’s the inspiration that comes from seeing athletes like double-leg amputee Oscar Pistorius overcome staggering circumstances to accomplish amazing feats. Maybe it’s just the knowledge that if we put our minds to it and work hard enough, we too can possibly achieve extraordinary success, like 22-time Olympic medalist Michael Phelps.

The apostle Paul must have loved sports too. He uses many athletic metaphors in his epistles, comparing Christians to athletes and life to a race.

In Paul’s day, athletes didn’t compete for medals. They competed to win a wreath of laurel leaves, leaves that would eventually die and crumble. Paul contrasts this “perishable wreath” with the eternal crowns that Christian “athletes” will be rewarded in heaven for service to God.

One day, even Olympic medals will pass away, just like all things on this earth. On Judgment Day, it won’t matter who is the fastest man on the planet. Only the things we do in this life for the glory of God will matter forever.

So as we begin this school year—this leg of our Christian race—it’s imperative that we keep our focus on what is really important.

In order to be the best, an athlete must have a vision of his ultimate goal: a place on the gold medal podium.

In the Christian race, our ultimate goal should be to bring glory to God in all that we do. We all have personal goals for this year, and that’s fine. Getting a certain GPA, landing a part in a play or winning Schol Bowl are great goals to have, as long as you don’t lose sight of the big picture. Use those personal goals as checkpoints toward the ultimate goal of glorifying God in all things.

And when you feel like your path is filled with hurdles—sickness, difficult projects or failed relationships—tackle those hurdles with God’s strength.

This year won’t be easy. But if we do our best and keep God as our focus, He will reward us. Then we can say like Olympic gymnastic champion Gabby Douglas, “The glory goes up to Him, and the blessings fall down on me.”