originally posted February 13, 2011
With the significant number 60, staring at me from my not-so-distant future, my thoughts often wander to my next season in life. My beautiful daughter, Emily, has assured me that “60 is the new 40”. I’m not completely sure what that means, but I like the sound of it!
Yesterday, the community of Chiangrai, Thailand, where we are currently ministering, held a triathlon. It was a fun event with the intention of strengthening the community and physically pushing ourselves a bit. It majored on fun and encouragement with a smidgen of competition thrown in for good measure. Although I consider myself fit, having regularly exercised for years, I found the idea a little intimidating. So, looking 60 unflinchingly in the eye, I realized I needed a challenge and decided to go for it. The swim was a half mile, the bike ride 12 miles and the run/walk was around 3.2 miles. This is actually a half-triathlon by real athletic standards, but for us – it was a big deal. Patty also joined the event, participating in the biking and run/walk divisions. She did great! – but that is another story.
As I was making my final laps, with the finish line in sight, my mind begin to see the triathlon as a metaphor for our ‘journeys’ with the Lord.
Insight number one: Although we seemingly all began from the same place, in reality we did not.We started from the same line, but we were not the same. There were people of various ages, weights, ethnic groups, levels of physical strength and health issues. One man, fighting terminal cancer, bicycled with his son. So in reality we all had different beginning points. When we begin our journeys with the Lord, we come from some background mixture of healthy and unhealthy, good and bad, truthfulness and deception. Our beginning points are different for each of us and they may affect how we follow our particular race, but the finish line is the same.
Insight number two: Different stages of the race were difficult for the various participants. My most difficult stage of the race was the swimming, which was the first event. The biking was my strongest event, the walking/.running was fine, but the swimming was the toughest. It was the only stage where I considered quitting. I thought after two laps, “there are 28 more to go, I can’t do this”. But, with Patty and others cheering me on, my determination awakened and I completed the course. I certainly set no record, the victory was not quitting! There are parts of our journey that are incredibly difficult, like with my friend who has cancer, but we are not alone. By the Lord’s abiding presence, the whisper of His Spirit, the encouragement of others and the prayers of the saints, we can finish our course.
Insight number three: There is no competition in the kingdom of God. Sadly, the culture of the world has tainted the atmosphere of the church. We laud and praise certain people because of their achievements and pass over others. We relegate certain tasks or ministries as less important than others. Jesus showed us the little the widow gave in secret was more valuable to His heart than trumpet blowing attention seeking acts of the spectacular. Our journey, with its starting points, is our own and no one else’s. There is to be no comparison, no competition, we are simply to keep our eyes on the goal, the prize – the very person of Jesus Himself.
In 2nd Timothy 4:5-8, while staring at his own death in his not too-distant-future Paul penned heart felt honest words to his beloved Timothy. With humility Paul was able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished my course”. Paul had his course to run with more hard times than we can imagine and we have ours. But the goal is the same. One friend wisely said, “there are no winners and losers in the kingdom of God. Only winners and quitters – if you don’t quit you win!”
Jesus is cheering us onward and homeward. He is in our lives not as a distant observer, but an active participant. His love for us and His commitment to us is unwavering. Keeping our spiritual eyes set on the smile of the Savior will get us safely through our course and into His welcoming embrace.