Can you remember receiving a trophy for the first time? I played two years of Little League baseball, but don’t recall ever getting a trophy. I wasn’t a very good player – and my team wasn’t particularly good, either. They didn’t present trophies for mediocre.
I think my first official trophy came when I was in a Saturday morning youth bowling league. I was 13 or 14. I had bowled a high game of about 160, and with my handicap, it was the best for anyone that day. Other than that, I don’t recall winning many trophies during my pre-adult years.
These days, of course, trophies are standard equipment for any and every kids’ sport. They call them “participation trophies.” Doesn’t matter how good you are – or if you’re good at all. You get a trophy just the same; just keep breathing and showing up for the competitions. Maybe they should hand out all the trophies on the first day and get it over with: “Trophies, trophies! Get your trophies here!” It sure could save parents a lot of time and money.
I’ll not debate the pros and cons of the everybody-gets-a-trophy philosophy. But thinking about trophies, what comes to mind is how excited we feel when we receive them, and how quickly the thrill subsides. In fact, that bowling trophy I mentioned? I have no idea where it is. I suspect my mother tossed it in the trash one day while I was away at college. Something to do in her “spare” time, I suppose.
During my career, I’ve received several plaques representing recognition for a magazine I was editing or articles I wrote. But I don’t know where those are, either. If I’d won a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize, or something of similar magnitude, I probably could locate that. But I didn’t, so that’s not a “problem” for me. Even though professional or personal honors are nice, life goes on and awards eventually become relegated to the increasingly distant past.
The Bible offers a different perspective, however. It speaks in terms of “trophies” we receive not in this life, but the next. In His “sermon on the mount,” Jesus didn’t use the term trophies, but easily could have when He said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20). In the next verse, He explained why: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Competition was a metaphor the apostle Paul often used in writing to Jesus followers in various cities. In a letter to the church in Philippi, he stated, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). Paul had a “trophy” in mind, but not one some human “academy” would award.
Later, addressing his protégé, Timothy, Paul again employed a sports analogy in summing his life and ministry. “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 me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The “trophy” Paul envisioned was of far greater value and importance than any Nobel or Pulitzer, Oscar or Emmy.
These passages urge us to keep a heavenly, eternal perspective as well. Whether we’re young or old, accolades and achievements of this life will fade, often as quickly as they appeared. “Moths” and “rust” will tarnish them over time. Even being commended for serving God and His people, while gratifying, will pale in comparison to what we will see and hear when standing before our Lord at “trophy time.”