By Dudley Rutherford
Special to Inside The Pew
If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would one day ride 60 to 70 miles on a road bicycle for fun, I don’t think I would have believed you. But years of playing basketball and golf had finally caught up to me, causing major damage to the meniscus cartilage in my knee. I could hardly walk after playing in a game—that’s how bad it had gotten. Then a good friend of mine recommended that I try cycling as a way to stay in shape and maintain the competitiveness I love about sports, but with less strain on my knees. So I joined the cycling ministry at Shepherd Church, the congregation I pastor in Los Angeles, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Now that I’m an avid cyclist, the Tour de France takes on a whole new meaning for me. I’ve always admired the strength and endurance of the athletes who compete, but now I have a deeper understanding of the passion and intensity of the sport. Of course, I would never be able to race at the speed of the professionals, but as I was writing my latest book, Walls Fall Down, about the seven-day victory God gave the Israelites over Jericho, I got to thinking about what believers can learn from the Tour de France to obtain victory in our spiritual walks.
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul actually compares the Christian life to race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Here are three biblical lessons we glean from the Tour de France on how to be victorious whether we are facing a personal battle or striving to accomplish something extraordinary:
Race with purpose: Every cyclist in the Tour de France has one goal: to win (or help his team leader win) the race. These athletes do not put themselves through months of painful training for the purpose of taking a leisurely bike ride in Europe or aiming to come in 57th place. No, their mission is to be the best. Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali proved his dominance in cycling to the world on July 27 by winning the annual race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Paul writes, “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. “From the moment you decide to become a Christian—from the very second you put your faith in Jesus Christ—your race begins. And it’s not sprint; it’s a marathon. It’s a lifetime journey that takes commitment and perseverance. It ends when you die, or when Jesus returns in glory (Matthew 24:30). Until that day comes, your purpose in life as a believer is to love God and to love others (Matthew 22:36-39) and to make disciples as Jesus did (Matthew 28:19-20).
Practice self-discipline: Can you imagine the extreme physical training and the strict dietary regimen that would be required to prepare one’s body to cycle across the nearly 2300 miles of terrain for the Tour de France? How many people would be willing to sacrifice time, energy, junk food, and hobbies in order to dedicate his or her entire life to a sport?
Paul writes, “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. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). The apostle ran the Christian race with purpose and was intentional about rejecting worldly, temporal vices so that he would not be disqualified from the ultimate prize of eternal life.
As I wrote my book Walls Fall Down: 7 Days Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge, the Lance Armstrong doping scandal had erupted in the media. After convicting him of using performance-enhancing drugs, the US Anti-Doping Agency stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles and banned him from cycling. Armstrong later stated that he broke the rules because of the culture of drugs in cycling—that by using performance-enhancing drugs, he was simply operating on a “level playing field.”
In sports and in the Christian life, there are no shortcuts. We will not be victorious by impure means or by trying to fit in with the culture. We simply must follow the guidelines God has set forth in His Word, the Bible, and win the race the good old-fashioned way: with integrity, commitment, faith, and self-discipline.
Focus on the eternal rewards: Every cyclist in the Tour de France dreams of getting to wear that iconic yellow jersey—the coveted prize awarded to the champion. In many other sports, the winner receives a trophy. In the Olympics, it’s a gold medal. In the Apostle Paul’s time, it was a crown, which was just a wreath made of wild olive leaves. He writes, “They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (v. 25). Paul is pointing out that, in any competition, the culmination of all the hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears produces a winner, and that winner receives something that will not last forever. However, when we run the Christian race and keep our faith in Jesus through life’s various trials, we will receive the crown of eternal life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10). We will spend an eternity with our Father in Heaven where there will be no sorrow, pain, death, or disease (Revelation 21:4).
God has wonderful things prepared for those who love Him! The Tour de France is an incredible event showcasing some of the greatest athletes in the world. But the Christian race has far greater implications. So run your race with purpose. Don’t be distracted or led astray by the things of this world. And keep your eyes fixed on the prize: the crown of eternal life. No other prize is better. No other victory is sweeter.
Dudley Rutherford is the author of Walls Fall Down and the senior pastor of the 10,000-member Shepherd Church in Porter Ranch (Los Angeles), California. You can connect with Dudley on Twitter @pastordudley. Visit www.WallsFallDownBook.com for more information.