A while back a man in our church told me that each year he celebrates his birthday by riding his bicycle one mile for every year of his age. Well that’s not so hard for a teenager or a twenty-something, is it? But my friend is in his seventies! I don’t know about you, but I was pretty impressed. And then I got to thinking, “I’ve got a big birthday coming up this year, I think I could do that!” I’m not going to tell you how old I’ll be, but my goal is seventy miles. So I challenged the group of guys who ride together occasionally to join me on this adventure. One of the group has dubbed our challenge “Seventy in September”.
You may ask, “Why wait until September?” Well the obvious reason is it’s way too hot in August. But the other reason, and more importantly, none of us are in good enough shape to go out and ride that far right now. We have to train: get in shape and get ourselves gradually accustomed to that kind of long term effort. I’m not an expert on these things but I know that you have to work out regularly, going longer and longer distances each time so that the body gets stronger a little bit at a time; so that eventually we’ll be able to make it the full distance, and accomplish the goal.
Since I love sports I am drawn to all the sports analogies that are in the Bible, especially in the letters of Paul. It is so easy to see the parallels to deeper spiritual truths when we think of the effort, the training, the discipline that athletes must have in order to compete.
Read what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.
25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.
27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
One of the saddest things I have seen is someone who was a strong, well respected Christian leader, successful in life and ministry, have a moral failure and live the remainder of his life in shame and sorrow. It happens way too often for anyone to think it could never happen to them. I don’t want to be like that. The deepest desire of my heart is to finish well. So what can we do? How can we train our bodies and souls to be victorious to the end?
Here is my best answer: Just like training to ride a long distance or to run a marathon, we have to be prepared for the challenge. And that is by regular training. It is so very important for every believer in Jesus to spend time with Him every day; reading and studying His Word, talking to Him, meditating, communing, cultivating the relationship. A long distance athlete needs to learn how to refuel his or her body because the constant activity depletes what can be stored up, and provision has to made to take in more food and water to make it to the end. We must learn that we can completely trust God as our provider and protector; that He not only meets our needs, but that He satisfies our souls.
When temptations or challenges come in life (and they will come), you will come to a point when your own resources for inward strength are totally depleted. At that point we need to have open communication through the Holy Spirit to receive strength from outside of ourselves. In the middle of the storm of suffering or temptation, I will be able to remember what God showed me in the peaceful quiet moment; that He is really with me. He is my shepherd, I have everything that I need.
A few years ago I was training for a long ride. I had gone out early and had not eaten enough to sustain me for the whole ride. I can remember exactly the spot ten miles from home when my legs refused to turn the pedals one more turn. I was out of energy, I hit the wall. I can show you the mailbox where I stopped and sat down to rest. I realized I had an energy gel in my pocket and after I ate it and rested a while I was able to make it home. If only I had taken that gel a few miles sooner I would have made it home without a problem.
We dare not wait until we are totally depleted spiritually to finally call on God for His help. He will always help. But if we will walk with Him daily then we have confidence He is always there, constantly giving us the strength for the next mile.
I do want to be able to ride seventy in September. So I’m going to train and build up the miles in the next several weeks. But much more than that, I want to finish the course that God has for me and finish it well. I want to be obedient to His voice and available to His leading. I don’t want the joy of knowing Him now to be diminished by my failure.
Here is one of Paul’s finest sports analogies, and I want to be able to say this with him:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
And then at last to hear him say “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord”.
That’s my challenge. Will you make it yours?