For the first time in my life, I participated in a marathon. By participated, I mean I sat in my pj’s wrapped in a blanket, sipping coffee viewing the 55’ screen from the comfort of my couch, but participated none the less. The cameras focused on a group of professional runners attempting to qualify for a spot on the Olympic team. It amazed me that these individuals were actually running for such a long distance. The amount of training and science that must contribute to such a feat is unfathomable to me.
A few miles short of the finish line, one of the runners fell a distance behind the group. It looked to be over for him. Each stride he took seemed to do nothing to narrow the gap between him and the men he had been rubbing shoulders with only moments prior. As I watched him continue his pace, I thought about the similarities between the runners and followers of Christ.
The Bible tells us in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The starting line for a Christian. Confess and believe. But it doesn’t stop there. In the Great Commission, Jesus told his Apostles to make disciples of all the nations. Once we cross the starting line, we are to become disciples so we can make disciples and thus begins the marathon.
Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). BELIEF gives salvation but disciples (what we strive to become) are produced by remaining obedient to the scripture. The ultimate test of Christianity is endurance. Let me be clear. Endurance does not save but is proof of a genuine believer.
How do we increase our stamina and endure to the finish line? We follow the athlete’s lead – train and be encouraged.
Study God’s word every day. It sounds so simple, but can be so hard. Jesus tells us, however, we can’t be disciples if we skip this step. He said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32 NASB). We hear it preached constantly to read God’s word. There are numerous Bible plans available and apps to help you get a few verses in before you start your day. It is imperative to spend as little as 10 minutes in God’s word every day, but do we make time to study?
What does it mean to study? Google says, “The devotion of time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, especially by means of books.” For the past few years, I thought I was a good Bible student. Every morning I would wake at least an hour earlier than necessary to get all of us ready for our day. I spent the hour reading according to a Bible plan left on a table for our church members. I also enjoy reading books from Christian writers aimed to deepen our spiritual relationship with the Lord. I balanced my time (and still do) reading scripture and reading these books. A little less than a year ago, a book by Rick Warren opened my eyes to the necessity of true personal study. He said,
“If, on the other hand, a person went to Sunday school regularly from birth until age 65, he would only have had a total of four months of solid bible teaching. Is it any wonder that there are so many weak Christians in Western society? We have to discipline ourselves and make specific time for Bible study, and not let anything get in its way.” (1).
His statement hit me hard. Four months for the 65 year old who hasn’t missed a morning of Sunday School since birth. I’m not 65 and all of my 20’s saw very few Sunday School rooms. What is the math for me? I don’t want to know. I know it isn’t what it needs to be.
From the day I read the statement forward, I have made a solid routine of studying God’s word. As a student, we need tools to assist us. In addition to my study Bible, I purchased and use regularly:
- An encyclopedia of the Bible
- A Bible dictionary
- An exhaustive concordance of the version of my Bible (NASB).
I now find myself spending at least 3 hours in the Word before I begin our morning routine. As a result, my eyes are opening to scripture I have never seen before and my stamina is increasing.
As I began my journey down personal, in-depth studies, I was reminded by the great Martin Luther King, Jr. it is our moral obligation to gain knowledge. “Let us never forget that our Lord and Master was nailed to that cross because of human blindness. Those who crucified him knew not what they did.” (2)
Professional athletes and even serious amateurs usually have one thing in common. They have a coach. Coaches not only assist in improving techniques, but they provide encouragement (or the successful coaches do).
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end” Hebrews 3:13-14.
How many times have I heard, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” This is a true statement. One does not have to go to church to be a Christian. God doesn’t love me any more because I attend church. He doesn’t love others any less because they don’t. While we are called to encourage other believers, sometimes we need encouragement ourselves. I know I do.
When I decided to deepen my relationship with Christ a few years ago, I knew I needed to get back into a bible believing church. The first Sunday morning was hard and as I dressed myself and my children, I thought of several reasons why we should just wait until the following Sunday. Knowing God had started me on this path, I pushed those thoughts out of my mind and took the girls to Sunday School.
After I dropped them off with their teachers, I decided to find a class the pastor was starting designed to read the Bible in two years. I walked into a hallway I thought may house the class when a petite woman with shiny, bouncing hair came to me with outstretched arms.
“Are you looking for a Sunday School class?” she asked.
“Well, yes I am looking for –”
“Good! Come in here and have a seat!” she said so enthusiastically. I couldn’t tell her I was looking for a different class. I followed her into her room where she sat me next to someone and introduced us. I don’t remember that lesson, but I do remember about 20 minutes into her speaking, I realized that seat was exactly where God wanted me to be.
She has become my mentor. I don’t even know if she realizes the impact she has on me. I spent a little over a year in her class before I was asked to help in a children’s class. I was worried saying yes would hinder my spiritual growth and felt I wasn’t ready to leave her room. But before I began the first Sunday back in church, I made a deal with myself that I would serve wherever the church needed me to serve no matter how much it frightened me.
This is now my second year helping with the children’s class. I am still growing. In fact, God is using this class to reteach His basic, fundamental stories to me. But even apart from her class, I am still encouraged by my former Sunday School teacher. She reaches out to me often, checking on me, ministering to me, encouraging me. Without her knowing I was watching, I became overcome with tears seeing her minister to tornado victims after a recent storm. She listened to them. Hugged them. Cried with them. Loved them. She didn’t even know them.
“Likewise, teach the older woman to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” Titus 2: 3. We need Titus 2 women to encourage the younger (physically as well as spiritually) to learn and follow what is good. Watching her, I was encouraged to stay the path, to impact someone as much as she was impacting the strangers she treated like family – as much as she was impacting me.
Remember the runner who fell behind? After a few minutes at the slower pace, his speed increased. Each stride began to narrow the gap. Finally, he was right back in the middle of the small pack. He crossed the finish line only seconds behind the winner. He endured to the end.
“You will be hated by all because of My Name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved” Mark 13:13.
- Warren, Rick. Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods: Twelve Ways You Can Unlock God’s Word. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 2006.
- King Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings. Boston : Beacon Press, 1981.