The Race Ahead

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I love cycling.

And I don’t use the word love lightly either. At times I wonder how I’d have gone on if not for cycling. It was my release – huge to me in my high school years, and I still love to get out when I can.

There are tons of things I love about cycling.

Summiting a mountain solo. Alone, but not lonely. Guided by my bike light; a hum in the darkness. Morning fog thickening as I rise higher. Sounds of my raspy breathing. The occasional dog bark or cow’s moo. The chain cranking as it propels the wheels around. Life’s problems fading on each pedal stroke. The sun rising over Adelaide – a whole city wakes from sleep. Wind in face as I’m propelled down the mountain. Sweat in hair, eyes wide open. Feeling of aching, tired legs. I’m stuffed, but I’ve never felt more alive. Back home for coffee before school.

I love it.

And some thought I was a bit mental. The amount of time I put into it each day was somewhat unbelievable to them. But to me, it wasn’t crazy at all.

There was something about cycling that made dedication to it easy.

Getting up at 5:30 every morning – rain, hail or shine. Making training programs. Spending hours on the bike. Rarely eating bad food or having soft drink. Shaving my legs (don’t hold it against me). Following other dedicated cyclists on social media. I would admire the professionals, talk about them, watch their races.

I was committed, but I was loving it. The sacrifices I was making were nothing in comparison to the perceived rewards of joy, temporary release of problems, and the increase in fitness.

So where am I going with this.

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Paul uses the analogy of running a race to explain how the Christian life should look. It goes like this:

‘…let us lay aside every weight, and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race set before us.’ – Hebrews 12:1

And my past dedication to cycling should look like my dedication to Christ.

Just like I would lay aside bad eating and drinking, and the minimal weight that was my leg hair – this passage says we are to lay aside every weight that slows us in our pursuit of God. Anything that gets in the way. What a statement.

I was regularly setting aside time early in the morning, 5:30 – to dedicate myself to cycling before the day. In the same way, there is a need for me to dedicate myself to God and his will before every day. To seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.

All this cycling took endurance, perseverance. I wasn’t going to get much better at the sport after a week of cycling. It took a long time. But as I’ve stated, I found huge joy in the dedication to it.

Likewise, growing as a Christian and forming a strong relationship with God is a life-long pursuit. We need endurance. I need endurance – I sure don’t claim to have this covered. But we find immense joy in the reward ahead of us – eternity with Jesus and perfect community with his people.

How much greater is that reward than temporary gains in fitness!

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‘Looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross…’ – Hebrews 12:2

As part of my cycling addiction – I would follow professional bike riders and watch some of their races. I particularly admired the likes of Cadel Evans, Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome.

Whilst Lance Armstrong might not the best example nowadays, the fact remains. I admired each of these men’s grittiness and strength of character. The way they shone above the rest through sheer determination.

Particularly in Cadel, who had this way of making suffering his friend.

Cadel was characterised by his ability to endure. Pain and suffering written all over his face, yet this uncanny ability to power through it – even in the late stages of a grand tour (see picture above). These men embraced pain, adversity – but found a weird sense of joy and success through it.

In a similar way, Paul says (in Hebrews 12:2, highlighted above) we should look to Jesus as our example in this race of life.

We are encouraged not just because Jesus endured suffering, but that suffering was central to Jesus’ victory.

Cadel pales in comparison to what Jesus went through, and I wouldn’t ever wish to put Jesus on the same level as Cadel. But for the sake of this cycling analogy stuff – understand the context of the comparison I’m making.

Jesus is the picture of suffering if there ever was one.

In a prophecy made 680 odd years before Jesus was born, Jesus was described as becoming The Lord’s suffering servant. A man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief, oppressed and treated harshly (Isaiah 53). The prophecy was spot on.

Jesus, the Son of God was whipped, skin tore off his body. Blood poured freely. Thorns were shoved into his skull. He was tortured, spat on, crucified, killed. Unrecognisable. God turned his face away.

So, all this pain and suffering – how did Jesus endure it all?

Because the joy set before him was so great. His love for us is so much greater than the (literally) excruciating pain he endured. He was making a way for us, his people, to be in full relationship with him.

And we are called to live with the same goal in mind. We cannot fully mature in faith without trials. Therefore, we should be careful not to betray God’s invitation to maturity. But in the same breath, we can find strength in knowing all suffering, all pain on earth, is just temporary in our pursuit of his kingdom.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

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Sometimes the wind will be at our backs as we gun it downhill. Life is just a cruise along the esplanade at sunset. Everything is going great.

But then we will turn a corner. The wind is suddenly all in our face. Rain is spitting into our eyes. Ahead of us is a big-uphill. The chain comes off, a wheel is punctured. It’s remarkable how often these things seem to happen all at once – in cycling and in life.

What was once an easy cruise has become a battle against the elements. A battle against our will to push through. Others whizz past on the other side of the road as they head downhill, wind at their backs. The other way looks so much easier as we trudge uphill. We begin to envy other’s lives and the lack of suffering they have. Turning around to join them becomes an appealing prospect.

But we do not turn around. We keep moving in the right direction, slow as it is may be. For we know the strong winds and the hill climbs build up perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:4). Keeping our eyes set on the goal ahead of us, looking to he who completely shattered the elements of death itself.

The Everest we face today just an ant mound in comparison to the joy ahead of us.

Eyes set.