One of the most challenging parts of the triathlon is the training. Between running, cycling, and swimming, you end up spending a lot of time exercising, which is not so easy when you have two kids and a wife who you actually enjoy. This summer, for the first time in three years, said wife (Jess, obviously) and I had the privilege of competing together in the July Tri-for-Fun at Shadow Cliffs in Pleasanton, Ca. Jess is a wonderful swimmer, and was at one time a top level high school champion swimmer. For her, swimming is like riding a bike. When she gets into the water, her years of training and sacrificing come flooding back and her muscle memory takes over. She sails through the water with ease and makes all the currently competing swimmers jealous with her beautiful technique.
For me, riding a bike is like riding a bike. Swimming is like trying to remember the name of the guy who swears you went to school together, yet you’re pretty sure you’re about to get robbed. It’s painful and awkward and you may get through it, but it takes a while. Last year, I spent a lot of time in the pool preparing for the tri, and I ended up getting a lot of my endurance and technique back. But this year, I spent exactly zero minutes and zero seconds swimming laps before I got in the cold water too early on a summer Saturday. I thought that last year’s swimming would be sufficient for this year’s race. Why I thought this is beyond me. Let’s just say that I didn’t really feel the need to drink much more water for the rest of tri. And, oh yeah, Jess waited for me several times before we got out of the water.
When Jesus is talking to His disciples around the communion tabel, just hours before He goes to the cross, He reminds them that they need to get ready for the battle that lies ahead. This battle is a spiritual battle, the one that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:12:
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Jesus tells them to pack provisions. Now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack, He says. Then He tells them to pack light to make room for the proper weaponry to fight this battle, And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. Jesus was talking about the sword of the Spirit and the armor of God, the weapons of the Gospel and prayer and the Word of God, the collective strength of the saints of God and the great power of the Spirit of God.
But the disciples didn’t get it. They thought that He meant some kind of physical battle, a hostile takeover perhaps. So they found a couple swords and waved them at their master saying “look Lord, here are two swords.” One of these swords was used to cut off the ear of the servant of the chief priest when Jesus was arrested, and instead of cheering the disciples on for their bravery, Jesus tells them to knock it off and heals the mans ear. You see, he was showing them that the battle isn’t against people who seem like enemies. The battle is against the powers of the devil and the world. But the disciples were prepared for the wrong battle. They didn’t get ready for the right event. And because of this, they all ran away, scared and defeated. Like me, they thought they had everything they needed, but they found themselves sucking up pond water and wishing they were sleeping.
The good news is that the Christian life is not an individual event, it’s a team sport lead by Jesus who has already won the race for us. He now, before the throne of God is praying that for our faith to endure so that we can finish the race as well. but if we are stuck trying to run things our own way, or assuming that we’ll be able to compete without preparing properly, we won’t finish at all. The only way to run this race is to fix our eyes on the prize, and that prize is Christ Himself. He is the Author and Finisher of our faith. That means that He gives us the faith to start the race and the strength to finish.
When we trust in Him for this, we will never find ourselves floundering in the middle of the lake, hoping that the lifeguards will show us mercy and take us out. We’ll finish, and we’ll finish strong.