Lessons from the long distance cycle ride
As team GB secure the first silver medal of the Olympics in the women’s cycling road race, I was reflecting on my recent (and more modest) cycle ride: 300 miles over Cumbria and Northumbria covering East Coast to West Coast of England.
I rode with a friend, in blustery but not unpleasant, conditions, during the last week of July. By all accounts ours was a less arduous affair than the 150 mile single day Olympic event. Nevertheless: mental and physical fitness is required if one is to complete the task.
A few key lessons from long distance cycling have occurred to me which translate into the summons to long-distance discipleship:
It is something of an art to pack two panniers with everything needed for all conditions over 6 nights. Judicious selection of clothes and jettisoning anything unnecessary is essential.
Long distance discipleship requires “travelling light”. The Bible’s advice is:
“…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1). For that reason we should confess our sin daily and look to our marvellous saviour as if today was the first day and the final day in which we believe.
Wear the gear
I think that it would be fair to say that Lycra is not a fashion item! The extra padding (in the posterior) and protective and streamlined clothes are essential for the long distance cyclist.
Of course, we realise that we should “put on the full armour of God” (Ephesians 6:10ff.) in order to engage in the fight for the faith. But I am also reminded that once Jesus had exorcised the demon from a man, the crowd noted that he was sitting at Jesus’ feet “dressed and in his right mind” (Mark 5:15). I guess this is one of the outward evidences of “putting on the new self” (Col 3:9ff); becoming more Christ-like.
Cycling 60-70 miles per day over hilly terrain meant that we burnt more than 5,000 calories. It is not quite enough to replace that with 20 Mars bars! We tried to balance protein, carbohydrates, sugar and salt to maximise energy over the long day, and not just find quick sugar fixes.
The obvious analogy is the need to keep feeding on God in order to be sustained in the Christian life. Jesus is both the “bread of heaven” and the one who promises the Holy Spirit – “streams of living water flowing from within” (John 6; John 4, 7). We should eat and drink for our daily sustenance.
Find friendly support
One of the tremendous benefits of this ride was to use it to connect with friends along the way and enjoy their generous hospitality as well as be encouraged by them.
Studying the “one another” words in Romans 12-14 and Hebrews 10 reveals how much we need other Christians and how much other Christians need us. It is in the body of Christ that we learn to love, we learn to bear one another’s burdens, we learn to teach and to learn, and we begin to appreciate the connectedness which comes through the benefit of being united in Christ.
Go the distance
I’m not a good sprinter. I don’t have the lungs or legs for it! I am better on the long haul. We are similarly reminded that the Christian life is not a sprint; rather it is “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” (as Eugene Peterson has memorably called it). The writer to the Hebrews expressed a similar sentiment:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:1-4)
Look up and take in the view
As we panted up some of the Lake District climbs it was so easy to focus on nothing other than the track in front of us. It took a concerted effort not to miss the glorious hills! And, of course, what goes up invariably does come down, and some of those swift 40mph descents were great!
The psalmist regularly looked to the hills (the Psalms of Ascent). Sometimes because it was from there that he anticipated help from their maker (e.g. Psalm 121); sometimes it was to look for mercy (e.g. Psalm 123); but mainly it was to make himself consider the greatness of his and their maker (e.g. Psalm 125)
The long distance cycle ride is both exhausting but, in an odd way, also refreshing.
Christian endurance may be helped by physical and mental stamina, but spiritual fitness comes first. I hope that you will be encouraged to: pack light, wear the gear, fuel up, find friendly support, go the distance and look up and take in the view, so that we both might be able to say with Paul:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Tim 4:7-8)