LIVING AS APPRENTICES
My friends will probably be surprised to learn that I am a great fan of the American Ninja Warrior competition (Monday nights on NBC) probably because it is an example of discipline, perseverance and quite often triumph over adversity.
That may be why I was fascinated by an article in the June, 2014 issue of Christianity Today by Kent Annen about his training and completion of the Tough Mudder, a 12-mile obstacle course that “takes runners under barbed wire, over fire, across monkey bars, through ice water, and into live dangling electrical wires, all along the muddy way.” He describes the course as “The Pilgrim’s Progress for an intensified age.”
The high point of the article for me was his story about how his friend Jonathan (likened to Companion in The Pilgrim’s Progress) offered his shoulder for him to step on (cleats and all) so that he could hoist Annen over a 9-foot wall. Annen concludes, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
And then he says,
For the past months, while I’ve been out running and doing burpees, people in Syria have been slaughtered. Perhaps at the very moment I was carrying a sandbag through the Sack Up obstacle, a Syrian father was running with his child in his arms in search of safety. This very morning, a mother in Haiti got up at 4:30 as she does every morning, to carry 30 pounds of vegetables in a basket down a mountain, to sit on the concrete in the sun to sell them, then to buy provisions (not enough, never enough) to carry hours up the steep climb home.
If not renounced, privilege must be regularly confessed. Then it must be carried – heavy, complex – and given away again and again. When I give myself, like Companion, to helping people over obstacles that they can’t surmount on their own, I find firmer footing that feels like a pilgrim’s path.
Paul says we all have our training to do and our races to run:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (I Cor 9: 23-25)
Endurance, perseverance, and sacrifice are part of the Christian journey. American Ninja Warriors and Tough Mudder competitors remind us that it’s great to watch or read about extraordinary challenges, but when we follow Jesus we take on the greatest challenge of all.