Christians were never promised an easy life. In fact, the Word tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. "And we are to let steadfastness have its full affect, so that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4). As a fan of NBC's, American Ninja Warriors (ANW), I have been intrigued with the steadfastness and determination of these athletes.
For those unfamiliar with the show, most of the men and women who compete hold jobs, but each has a passion to be the best and strongest trained warrior. To achieve that goal, they daily train for hours and months and even years to become physically strong and mentally fit to tackle an extremely difficult obstacle course. Those with the fastest times in completing the course qualify for the national finals in Las Vegas where they battle to win the title of American Ninja Warrior and one million dollars.
It is fascinating to watch these highly trained athletes navigate each obstacle. Most, at one point in the course, will stop, take a breath, shake off any nerves or weary muscles, size up the next challenge, and focus on successfully getting through that challenge. Their goal is to complete the course in record time and hit the red buzzer. Some "warriors" fail in their quest, but surprisingly, they don't make excuses. They simply state that they will train even harder and return the following year to tackle the course again.
While reflecting on the difficulties of becoming an ANW, I noticed correlating traits that are required and necessary for both trained athletes and committed Christians to successfully complete their course. Both must remove all excuses, set goals, be dedicated and committed, follow rules, move past failure, refuse to be discouraged, and have eyes fixed on the prize.
Although we expect these traits in athletics, should we really expect them in Christendom? Unequivocally, "Yes!" God expects Christians to train just as hard in His Word as athletes train in the gym or at home. Therefore, we are to:
· Remove all excuses. "I just don't have the time to read the Bible. Besides, I don't understand it." Learning and understanding require study "for whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures" (Romans 15:4).
· Set goals for studying God's Word. Just like athletes require equipment to train, we need the right reference materials to study God's Word, such as a Bible dictionary and the Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary (free online). For "the Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God" (Psalm 14:2).
· Be dedicated and committed to renewing our minds through God's Word. Whether or not athletes feel like exercising, they are committed and dedicated to their daily mental and physical training. Every day, we must be committed to renewing and training our minds by reading, studying, and praying God's Word—even when we don't "feel" like it.
· Follow rules. God's Word gives us guidelines and rules for our own safety and well-being. "Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5 NIV).
· Move past failure because we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Failure can bring growth, but true failure is giving in to defeat.
· Do not be discouraged. This is My command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NLT).
· Fix our eyes on finishing the course well. The American Ninja Warrior's entire goal is to finish the course and hit the buzzer that announces, "All that time, pain, and hard work paid off!" Christians must press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heaven ward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14 NIV).
Can you imagine any one of us trying to complete the course set before ANW athletes? Unless we were properly prepared and conditioned, most likely we would not complete the first obstacle, let alone make it to the next. That truth applies to the Christian walk. Life throws obstacles and challenges our way. If we are not strong in the Word of God, we are unprepared and unable to handle despair, unbelief, doubt, anxiety, discouragement, weariness, and the most dangerous of all—becoming rebellious.
God's Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is the most powerful tool we have in building and maintaining faith and trust in God. Without God's Word to lead, guide, strengthen, comfort, and provide truth, we are vulnerable to lies, distortions, and fallacies. His Word is an anchor for our soul and a safe harbor where we find rest in this very uncertain world. No matter our circumstances, we must keep moving forward towards the prize and realize that God is developing and strengthening our faith.
The most amazing attribute of these athletes is their steely resolve to overcome failure. With conviction and determination they press forward, work harder, and then return to navigate the course once again. The Word compares us to the athlete, "all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (I Corinthians 9:24). For we want to be able to say, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).
Lord, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the struggles and challenges of life. Help me to be Your warrior of faith, as I turn to Your Word for truth, direction, comfort, strength, and shelter. Help me understand and memorize Your Word, so that I can always hold it high as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. In Jesus name, amen.