The Ironman Triathlon: a timed, 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, 26.22-mile marathon, done in that order. Who would ever voluntarily sign on for such a physically exhausting race? To be clear – not I! But there are hundreds and hundreds of brave (crazy?) people who are game for just this sort of beating. In fact, I see several at the gym each morning, going through grueling workouts, panting, sweating, red-faced, veins bulging. One guy, in particular, gets on the rowing machine (the Erg) and pushes himself to see how fast he can row 1,000 feet. As he nears his goal, rather than letting up a bit, rows faster and harder to beat his previous time and heart rate. His gasping can be heard from across the room. But then, he suddenly jumps up and begins a series of rapid-pace, punishing sit-ups. Next are ‘burpees’ which are a repeated combination of push-ups immediately followed by full-extension leaps in the air. And those are just his warm-ups! I often wondered why he was pushing his 42-year-old body to this extent. Then, I heard him talking to others, saying that there was an Ironman Triathlon coming up for which he was preparing. This begs the question: what is so important that he would regularly push himself to his limits and cause himself so much pain? I haven’t asked, but I might assume it is for the joy of knowing, after all his preparations, he was fit to finish the race.
God has a race for us, too, and He wants us to finish the race as fully mature, shining examples – His Magnum Opus. To that end, using everything that has been given to us in Jesus, we enter into training: pushing away from old patterns of living, taking captive our thought lives, learning more and more to obey Jesus’ instructions, submitting to his Lordship (simultaneously refusing to establish our own little ‘kingdoms’). We get to reveal to the world the utter joy, the supreme pleasure, of being intimately in relationship with Jesus. Some of the journey following Jesus includes Ironman-like pain – choosing to move away from the ‘old’ and then choosing to move toward the ‘new’ as Scripture promises. Maybe, like the young man mentioned above, the individual choosings hurt some, at times a lot. Maybe, also like that young man, there’ll be moments when the thought of giving up will rush at us like a tidal wave. But, like that young man, what if, for the joy set before us, we endure the pain and straining and exhaustion and repetition? Is it possible that finishing the race and hearing: “Well done, good and faithful servant” will make all the rest worthwhile? Come to think of it, why settle for iron when gold is offered? Just sayin.’ PD