“So, Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men, what makes you think you can race against horses?" — Jer. 12:5, The Message
Every New Year's, many of us spend a few moments reflecting on our lives thus far and make resolutions for the new year, resolutions ranging from losing weight to reading one’s Bible. Speaking for myself, the end of each year is usually a time of immense depression as I am reminded of just how little I have achieved and how short a distance I have traveled since the previous New Year. Making resolutions rarely helps because they too are soon tossed upon the garbage heap of my failures. Rarely do any of my New Year’s resolutions make it to mid-January.
But within all of us is a longing to be better than what we are, to reach higher than we have reached, to go farther than we have gone, to love more than we have loved.
Our problem is not one of desire, but one of results. I have the desire to be the greatest football player the world has ever seen, but I can’t run to my refrigerator without sounding like the fat kid at camp. Desire alone is not enough.
Our problem is not one of effort, but one of results. I can try really hard at a variety of things, yet still not succeed. At this moment, I wish so badly that I could compete in an Ironman triathlon. Presented with the opportunity, I am sure that I would try really hard and give it my best. But I would still fail. Effort alone is not enough.
Neither is inspiration. There is no one I love more in this life than my wife. If she asked me to summit Everest, I would give it everything that I have inspired by her love. But I would still come home in a frostbitten body bag. Inspiration is not enough.
Something else is necessary to achieve a goal. Training.
All of us are thrilled by the great accomplishments of athletes. We often say to ourselves, “I would give everything to do something like that.” But we're only kidding ourselves. In reality, we would NOT give up everything to be a champion. If that had been our true desire, we would have already done so. "Everything" is exactly what is required to be a champion. Michael Phelps swims an average of 1600 laps in the pool each week. Olympic sprinters run 100 or 200 meters at a time and then start all over. During his playing career, Michael Jordan shot 1000 baskets a day in practice. The price of being a champion is a high one. How much more is required of us to be a champion for God?
There are three metaphors that I want to explore when it comes to training ourselves for service in God's Kingdom.
Spectators vs. Students
The church was placed on earth to disciple those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Jesus commissioned his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). The word "disciple" is the origin of the word "discipline." To disciple someone is to discipline that person to help them learn (i.e. discipline in a positive sense). In Jesus’ day, the concept of disciple had less to do with a student in a classroom, and more to do with an apprentice on a job site. There is learning involved, but it is not an academic exercise. Instead, we are being trained to do something difficult, yet great and worthwhile.
Tourists vs. Pilgrims
When some people go on vacation, they like everything managed for them so that they can enjoy being a tourist. They ride on buses and ships, are herded like cattle from one historical marker to another, from one museum to another. Even their meals are all planned out. I'm not knocking this way of vacationing—I'm sure it's awesome.
But when I go on vacation, I want to go as a pilgrim. I want to experience all the good and bad of a journey. I want to drive the roads myself, experience the culture first-hand, eat in local dives and diners like the locals. I want to camp under the stars and breathe the air and drink the water and immerse myself in the place I'm visiting.
A tourist simply wants to be taken around and shown the highlights. Many preachers willingly serve as tour guides in our churches, offering up the highlights of the Christian life, but unwilling to show the entire picture. A Christian cannot mature as a tourist and God does not want us to be tourists, but rather pilgrims.
Monuments vs. Footprints
William Faulkner once wrote, “They are not monuments, but footprints. A monument only says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says ‘This is where I was when I moved again.’” I love that quote. I don't want to be a monument to my past spiritual self, but a footprint that is constantly moving, striving "toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14).
Have you stagnated in your Chrisitan life? Are you not where you need to be spiritually, yet you've made your peace with that? Are you not aware that God has magnificent things planned for you if you would only be willing to train yourself in godliness? What habits need to change in 2016 so that, come 2017, you're a better man or woman of God?
Before I let you go back to surfing your Facebook feed, I want to illustrate my point one last time. Over the last few years, I've written several books on various book of the Bible. I've enjoyed the thrill of being published and the extra income has helped ends meet. My goal is to write one book on every one of the 66 books of the Bible. But I can honestly say that if not a single book sold in the future—if I finished this endeavor without any financial compensation—it would still be worth it. Here's why.
All this time, I thought I was being a blessing to other people by writing. I liked to think that these writing projects were benefitting other Christians in their desire to understand God's Word better. But along the way, now I realize that God was working on me, training and preparing me for the day when I would lose my son so very unexpectedly. You don't endure the death of your only son, whom you love, by sheer desire, effort, or inspiration. You only endure because God has graciously and tenaciously training you, without you ever knowing.
- Writing on Genesis taught me a lot about what it means to trust in God's nature and promises, even when the evidence says otherwise.
- Daniel taught me that God rules the earth as the Most High, and though his people may suffer, he remains sovereign over all.
- Thessalonians taught me to live in eager expectation of Jesus' return, a future even that is as assured as is the sun rising and setting in the next 24 hours.
- Ruth taught me to trust in the sweet and bitter providence of God, that blaming God for our problems only blinds us to his providence.
Writing these silly little books was meant to benefit me, not everyone else. I've discovered that in the last four weeks and have glorified God for it. What do you need to do to allow God to train you for the unexpected awaiting you tomorrow? Do you need to study the Bible more? Do you need to deepen your prayer life? Do you need to be more involved in the life of your church family? It won't always be a fun or enjoyable experience, but neither does a fat defensive lineman enjoy running wind sprints for his coach...
Until he sacks the quarterback, the ball is fumbled, and he scoops it up and runs 60 yards to give his team the winning touchdown to with the Super Bowl. Training is never valued until it matters...
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