Matthew 6:6 And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Our culture conditions us to look for outward signs of success, whether that be money, possessions or achievement. But these things are only one measurement of what it might look like for you to be successful. What success might look like to one person could look different to someone else. That’s why we need to come to our own conclusions about it is we are actually aiming for in life. God gives us another definition of success and that is “obedience” to the call he has given us to fulfill. Obedience is not a popular concept in a world of free will and personal autonomy but it’s an eternal concept that bears upon our future reality when we die. Our current choices have consequences both in this life and the next. Whilst people may applaud our external accomplishments the true secret to success is found in what we do away from the eyes of the world around us. No champion boxer was made in the ring but in the gym. No superstar musician was made on the stage but in the studio. From Gods perspective, it’s what we do behind the scenes, where nobody can see us, that defines who we are and what we are rewarded with. Elevate your view of success and find purpose in a relationship with God. Ultimately, we receive what we achieve based on Gods grace and our willingness to do what’s required in the secret place, when nobody is looking.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse in recent days. The reason is I’m training to compete in the Melbourne Ironman Triathlon in 2014. It’s a gruelling multi-sport, one day event that is filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth as competitors complete a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and 42km marathon run just to finish you off.
Each day that I train for this event, as well as several half-Ironman races leading up to the big kahuna, I constantly have to keep coming back to this verse and remind myself to never give up. Every time I swim, bike, run, lift weights, eat healthy and focus on recovery, I have to keep the big picture in mind and remember that although I may endure pain and suffering for a moment, the end result of crossing that finish line is well worth it.
The Psalmist said it like this, ‘Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.’
The Apostle Paul in several of his letters used athletic imagery to point to spiritual principles relevant to all of us in the race of faith. Perhaps the most famous words Paul used in this context is 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. In summary Paul calls us to run the race of faith to win… Don’t run merely to finish but finish well. To do so requires focus and discipline, no matter what discouragement or temptation comes our way.
Running the race of faith requires us to get over our petty excuses and focus ourselves on seeing the race God has called us to right through to the very end. Everyone at some point thinks and feels like quitting and sadly some of us do and spend years living with the pain of regret. Don’t give into your flesh but stay the course. It will be worth it in the end, even if you’ve got to grit your teeth and push yourself through the discomfort.
God’s watching and perhaps your refusal to never give up could lead to your finest hour.
All of us at some point make a decision but don’t always see that decision through. The decisions we make are significant because they shape our lives but there are some decisions that define our lives more than others.
One of those defining decisions is answering the call to follow Jesus as one of his disciples. It should be life defining and yet I’m observing a trend in the church that has been consistent throughout the ages. People put their hand up to make a decision but don’t necessarily follow through to actually becoming a disciple. Jesus didn’t call us to make converts but disciples.
You can make a momentary decision to follow Jesus but never actually discover what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Many shall come in that day and say Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name and cast out demons in your name and I will say depart from me, I never knew you.’
In Luke 9:57-62 Jesus gave three examples of people who seemingly made a decision to follow Jesus but didn’t actually follow through to becoming a disciple. When the cost of discipleship presents itself, some people simply cannot pay the price and follow through.
There are stages of spiritual maturity that we must navigate if we are going to move from decision to disciple.
- Comfort – When we decide to follow Christ we grow quickly and we are excited about everything in God’s kingdom that we come across. There is an element of initial comfort attached to the new discoveries we are making about God.
- Connection – We start to connect with other like-minded people in Christian community and lifestyle changes are starting to take shape.
- Cause – We become aware of the cause of Jesus and respond in 1 of 2 ways: Either we commit to the cause or we retreat to comfort and connection. Our revelation of the cause is a line in the sand that defines whether we move from decision to disciple. Unfortunately, some church attenders go backwards and forwards between the first 3 stages of spiritual maturity.
- Commitment – If we respond to the cause with commitment we become aware of our gifts and call and we’re moved to action. We start to serve in the life of the church as a priority.
- Crisis – Once committed to the cause life will always present us with a crisis. This crisis can range from disappointment, loss of a loved one, broken relationship or financial pressure to name a few. In this stage we start to question our theology and we have a choice to make, do we respond Godward or man-ward?
- Conviction – If we respond positively to the crisis we form internal convictions that shape our ideas, beliefs and actions in line with God and his Word.
- Consistency – If we get to this final stage, we mature to a pattern of consistent testimony. A life driven by convictions results in a lifestyle of consistency. Consistency is measured by your stickability to what God has purposed in your heart and what you’ve learnt along the journey.
I exercise and train my physical body early each morning. I run, bike, swim, lift weights and stretch. Some days I move my body quickly and efficiently and other days more like a turtle, very slowly. But the one thing that makes a difference in my fitness is not the initial decision to get up in the morning and train but the consistent showing up, day in and day out and actually doing the training.
Consistency demonstrates maturity and ultimately victory. What about you? Do you tend to make decisions but don’t follow through. Break the pattern today. Move from a decision to a disciple and watch what happens in your world.
There is much to be said for the need of believers everywhere to persevere in their faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, I’ve seen so many people grow cold in their faith and passion for Jesus and slowly drift away from their commitment to Christ.
We are in a spiritual war zone and distractions abound. Temptation is relentless. Social media hounds us. Opportunities to compromise and become distracted from Jesus bombard us daily. How are we to persevere in our faith?
Firstly, note that your faith is a gift from God and it contains within it the capacity to persevere but you must tend to it and not neglect it. Romans 10:10 says, ‘Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.’ Hebrews 12:1-3 offers us much hope to fight the good fight of faith.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
- Remember, others have persevered before you. When we struggle we tend to get a microscopic view of the world around us and forget that there have been countless millions of people throughout history who have faced perilous challenges to their faith and have persevered.
- Get rid of excess weight and sin which will drag you down. Too many of us tolerate complexity and unnecessary weight in our lives and it needs to be identified, rooted out and cut off. Sin is an energy drainer and a soul destroyer. Don’t entertain it and seek God’s help to get free from it.
- The race of faith is a marathon, not a sprint. As a former competitive athlete and personal trainer I know the difference in muscle fibers, training and mindset required for both events. A marathon runner needs a stronger mind than a sprinter, whereas a sprinter needs a stronger body. We need endurance to fight and finish the race of faith till the end of our earthly lives. Endurance requires you to repeat the same movements over and over again without stopping. The same is to be said for tending to our relationship with God and the basic activities he calls us to engage in on a daily basis.
- Who you have your eyes focused on really does matter. Jesus is the founder and perfecter of our faith and he needs to be the object of our desire and fascination. Focusing on yourself or some other earthly entity above Christ will only lead to disillusionment and pain. Jesus founded our faith and he knows how to perfect our faith.
- Let Jesus’ example give you perspective. Jesus set all of us an incredible example in how to respond to opposition to him and his cause. He loved, he sacrificed, he served and he endured and as a result, he ultimately won.
Are you thinking of walking away from your church, your family, your ministry? Have you grown cold in your passion for God and his kingdom? Are you disillusioned by your circumstances and discouraged by your relationships?
It’s time to get your eyes back onto Jesus and your relationship with him. It’s time to remember those who have gone before you, cut off excess weight in your life, repeat the fundamentals over and over again like a marathon runner, focus on Jesus and get perspective on your life by considering Jesus example.
I, along with millions of others have followed Lance Armstrong’s career quite closely through his books, video footage and media reports. I have always admired his focus, ‘fightin’ spirit, dogged determination and commitment to hard work. His contribution both on and off the road has been remarkable. His brand has become iconic. His results, unbelievable. In short I was and still am a huge fan.
I have also been watching closely the events of recent months and days, particularly his candid interview with Oprah. As I watched, I sat there devastated for him, his family, his brand and his cause. I don’t personally feel let down as much as I feel for what he and many people close to him are going through right now. Like his cancer diagnosis, I guess it could feel like you are passing through the valley of the shadow of death.
We live in a world that is very harsh and schizophrenic. One minute they worship you like a ‘god’ and the next minute they want to stone you to death. As quickly as the world embraces a winner, they even more quickly outcast a ‘liar’ found out. Yet, in the midst of the chaos that surrounds Lance, his family and his career, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Firstly, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” (Jn 8:7). If you’re reading this and feel justified in your anger towards Lance, your missing a fundamental point. While you are pointing your finger of judgement at Lance, you’ve got several fingers pointing right back at you.
Romans 3:23-24 says, “For, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Everyone of us is broken and every one of us needs to repent of something. Apart from Jesus, the brokenness of the human condition is without hope. But because of Jesus and the cross, Lance Armstrong and everyone else on the planet can live with hope in the love and grace that is available to us through a relationship with God.
The difference between Lance and you is that you don’t have your selfishness, brokenness and lies broadcast over every single network across the world in one of the greatest media frenzies the modern world has ever seen. Truth is, one day we will all see what dark sins have been boxed up and hidden away in our own lives. Jesus said in Matthew 10:26 ‘For nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known’. There’s coming a day for all of us where if we don’t repent, what’s been done in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. Be sure your sins will find you out.
Be gracious with your comments of fallen heroes because each one of us needs to swallow a dose of humility when we consider our own shortcomings.
From God’s perspective, the most important issue in Lance’s life isn’t the money, winning, brand management or helping people through ‘Livestrong’ (as great as this is) but the condition of his own soul. God loves Lance and from the very beginning has been trying to get his attention regarding his relationship with him. His ex-wife Kristen, a supposedly devout believer has been one of the greatest blessings God has given to Lance and continues to seemingly provide great emotional and spiritual support.
Towards the end of the interview, Lance commented that his ex-wife Kristen would say, ‘The truth shall set you free’ quoting a part of Jesus Christ’s famous words from John 8:32. When asked by Oprah at the end of the interview, ‘What is the moral of this story?’ Lance responded with an answer that is still in the process of forming but Oprah responded with her own ‘moral of the story’, ‘The truth shall set you free’.
To be honest I don’t think Oprah really understood the weight of even what she was saying. It isn’t just about being honest with Lance’s past actions of cheating that is the great moral of the story. The moral of the story is that only knowing the truth found in the person of Jesus Christ can truly set Lance and every one of us free from the brokenness of our own lives that drive us to behave and act in ways that are destructive to ourselves and others.
No matter how talented you are, what dreams you have or how successful you are in your career, nothing will bring freedom or fulfilment like believing in Jesus and walking with him on a daily basis. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man shall come to the Father except through me.’ Eternal life and present purpose are connected and intersect most poignantly in a personal and living faith in Jesus Christ. Apart from Jesus, no true freedom can be found!
Is there hope for Lance Armstrong? You better believe there is. In fact, could it be that he is about to enter into the greatest and most significant chapter of his life, far greater than 7 Tour De France Victories. Why? Because with Jesus Christ there is always hope!