Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers

“Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.” (II Timothy 2:1-7 NLT)

Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers have one obvious thing in common don’t they? HARD WORKERS!! Just the mention of these guys conjures up images of grueling hours of training and plowing and drilling, and I get tired just thinking about it. Yet, Paul purposefully selects these descriptors to impress upon Timothy what it’s like to walk with Jesus-it aint all Daises and Petunias!

The athlete part of these verses is most relevant to me now as over the last 9months, I have evolved into an avid runner. Yeah, last August, a friend of mine challenged me to get serious about my health and make some real life changes. This has led to my being more athletic now, at the age of 50, than I’ve been since I was a kid. I run six days a week, have lost over 65 pounds, and it has been ABSOLUTELY GRUELING! There were days (are still days) when I didn’t feel like working out, days when I wanted to quit, injuries, and real frustration, but you just keep on going. Why, because like we’ve always heard, “No pain, no gain.” I wish it were different, but it’s not.

Paul wanted Timothy to know that the Christian walk involves hardship. The soldier, the athlete, and the farmer have “sanctified” themselves. They set themselves apart from other things that they could be doing so that they can achieve a particular end. They each have devoted themselves to working hard in order to get the results they desire. We need to be of the same mind regarding our walk with Jesus. There are times we don’t “feel like it.” There are days when we get frustrated and may want to quit. We may even fall or get injured along the way, but we press on towards the Prize who is Jesus himself!

The cool thing is, we don’t accomplish any of this through our own strength, but rather the strength we receive through God’s grace he freely gives us in Christ (“Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus…”). It is God working in you, strengthening you, who equips you to run the race. I love what Paul prayed in Ephesians 3.

“I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.”(Ephesians 3:16-21 NLT)

I want to encourage you today to press on in the things of God. It’s hard sometimes. It’s that way for all of us. But, as you walk with him, as you experience more of his love, you become stronger and are able to not only run yourself, but are equipped to teach others how to do the same thing. 

Wax on Wax off

Maybe I’m a little touched as they say, but riding down I-85 this afternoon, I began to see similarities between the relationship of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-Son in the “Karate Kid,” and the way God’s Spirit works in the life of the believer as He conforms him to the image of Christ.

Remember how Daniel came to Mr. Miyagi? He came as a broken, bullied kid, believing that Mr. Miyagi would show him the secrets of martial arts. Daniel was thrilled to have this wonderful teacher, this savior who would show him how to defend himself. It seemed like Daniel figured that it wouldn’t take long and he’d be a master. He had preconceived ideas as to what the teacher student relationship looked like, and the methods the teacher should use to bring him along. Not so fast Daniel –Son!

The so-called lessons begin and Mr. Miyagi makes Daniel wash and wax his cars, paint his fence, and “sand the floor!” Daniel was a good kid, he did as he was told, but after a while; it all seemed like such a waste of time. He had been promised that he would be taught karate, that he would become a fighter, not be some old man’s personal slave.

 Mr. Miyagi: “You in karate training.”
Daniel: “I’m what? I’m being your [expletive] slave is what I’m being, man. Now, we made a deal here.”
Mr. Miyagi: “So.”
Daniel: “So, so, you’re supposed to teach and I’m supposed to learn, remember? For four days I’ve been bustin’ my [expletive] and haven’t learned a [expletive] thing!”
Mr. Miyagi: “You learn plenty.”
Daniel: “I learn plenty! I learned how to sand your decks maybe. I learned how to wash a car, paint your house, and paint your fence. I’ve learned plenty. Right.”
Mr. Miyagi: “Not everything is as it seems.”

Daniel couldn’t see that Mr. Miyagi was indeed keeping his end of the bargain. He had no idea what was being done to him, how he was being changed. So often, we respond to the Spirit’s teaching the way Daniel responded to Mr. Miyagi.

We come to the Lord, and we have all these preconceived, Westernized, Hollywood ideas about the Christian walk. We figure it won’t take long and we will have arrived.  When we encounter the valleys, the hard times, and suffering, we look to the Lord and say, “You promised to teach me!  You said I’d be like you; now all I’m doing is sanding Your floors and waxing Your cars! Why are you allowing this to happen to me?” Like Daniel-Son, we don’t comprehend what is being done in and to us. We balk at the hardship, not understanding that it is the trials themselves that are producing in us an “eternal weight of glory!” God’s Spirit is at work in us, transforming us into the image of the Son. He knows that the way to do this involves our sanding some floors, painting some fences, and waxing some cars. “I promise teach karate. That’s my pact. You promise learn. I say, you do. No question. That your pact.”

In the end, Daniel-Son did become that great fighter. (He also got a really cool vintage car as a gift from Mr. Miyagi.) What lies in store for you is beyond comparison:

“There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” (I Peter 1:6-9)