A few months ago I was informed by a surgeon that my left ankle was knackered beyond surgical repair and that if I didn’t want it fused solid (which at 38 – I don’t!) the best thing I could do was try to take as good care of it as possible. What that meant in effect was that I had to stop doing high-impact sports like squash and football, and that my career as a breakdancer was probably never going to materialise. Consequently I had to ensure that any exercise I undertook in my battle against the middle-age-muffin-man-midriff was low-impact.
So I’ve settled on mountain biking and swimming.
I have been mountain biking on the surrounding hills for much of the last 8 years. There are few trails that I don’t know, few surprises left to discover. Regardless of that, it remains one of my favourite places on planet earth.
In a bid to redouble my efforts to cycle more regularly and more seriously I downloaded the Strava app for my phone. This app charts my routes, assesses my progress and even tells me how well I’m doing compared with other chuffers in my age bracket! I’ve found it to be a really help in nudging me out of the door and pushing harder once I’m out on the hills. But it can also be quite disheartening – as I found out earlier this evening!
Last week after the kids had gone to bed I went out for a cheeky evening ride up to the White Stone (a steep 2 mile uphill climb to the trig point on the mountain behind us). I felt really good. I knew that I was tearing seconds and even minutes off my personal best times on each of the different sections that Strava charts. I got to the top absolutely shattered but elated cos I felt fit, strong and fast. The sunset was pretty epic too! I felt like a champion.
So as I ventured out on the same ride tonight I was expecting an even better performance.
Oh how disappointed I soon was!
The first part of the ride went well (another PB it turns out!) But the second section (the steepest and savagest section) was a whole different story! I was probably only about 50 yards into the climb up the dusty track when my legs started to feel sore as the lactic acid began to burn. Shortly after I was so tired and in so much pain I thought I’d have to stop turn the bike around and head home. I’m not sure if it was male pride or simply not wanting to admit defeat but I defaulted to the only option left for me that didn’t involve going home – I dropped down to the granny ring!
For the uninitiated the granny ring is the lowest gear you can possibly go to on a bike. I guess it’s so low that even yer granny could ride up a hill in it! It’s so low that your legs are going ten-to-the-dozen while your wheels barely seem to be turning at all. But it’s a lot easier than higher gears. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had to tackle that hill in the granny ring – but I was absolutely spent and so I had no choice!
As I edged my way up the track inch-by-snail-paced-inch, I was really cross with myself. I was also really cross with my app which was monitoring my humiliation in intricate detail and would soon give me a detailed breakdown of my physical breakdown! But I was also grateful for the granny ring. Grateful for the fact that while my pace was not what I’d like it to be and my performance significantly below par, I was still going. And I could see that if I made it to the top I was once again going to witness a spectacular sunset.
Eventually I made it to the top. This time, however, I didn’t feel so much like a champ. I was kind of humbled into acknowledging my limitations. I knew what my app was going to tell me and there was no hiding from the fact that it had been a tough and discouraging climb. But the view of the setting sun was indeed stunning and I drank in the beauty of it!
My overwhelming emotion, however, was just sheer joy that I hadn’t quit and had eventually made it to the summit.
I kind of want my Christian life to be like that.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the words of Paul as the end of his life and ministry drew near. He wrote this to his young protege, Timothy:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
– 2 Timothy 4 v 6-8
I love that Paul got to the end of his climb and was able to look back on his life as poured out, faithful in battle, running to the very end of the race. I love that he kept the prize of his crown – the same prize that awaits all who endure – sharply in focus. And I love that he wrote this all down to encourage you and me!
Friends, there will be times in our Christian lives when we feel and live like the “more than conquerors” that Paul tells us we are in Romans 8, and those are great days to be cherished.
But there will also be many days when, like today, the going is hard, painful, frustrating, confusing, humiliating, tedious, discouraging and downright miserable. Days when our performance feels anything like spectacular. It is on those days that the enemy wants us to turn back. To cancel the climb and forget the summit. He’ll tell us that we haven’t got what it takes. That we are worse and weaker than ever before. That others are much better at this journey than you. That pressing on is pointless.
And it is at that precise point that we need to humble ourselves, drop down to the granny ring and decide that while the summit might feel unattainable, the next inch is getting done…
…and the next inch…
…and the next inch.
This is why we need to lift the eyes of faith to Christ and the crown that awaits.
King Jesus set His face like flint towards the cross of our salvation and now He calls us to do the same as we look to Him. And He alone is more worthy of our sweat, our toil, our pain and our passion than anyone else ever could be!
Are we strong enough?
But King Jesus is!
Struggling saints, let’s not quit.
In our marriages.
Let’s crack on!
Drop to the granny ring if you have to but DO NOT QUIT!
You can do it.
You must do it!
By grace, you will do it!!
The Son awaits…
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
– Philippians 3 v 13-114