Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Can you handle the journey?

I am an avid fan of the Tour de France. The month of July every year finds me glued to "Versus", a channel I watch at no other time of the year. The Tour de France is arguably the most gruelling, most exacting sporting event in the world. I am somewhat of an amateur bike rider myself, riding an average of 80 - 100 miles a week. I know, I know, what possesses an over 250 pound man to become a road biker, I hear you ask? I guess it's the thrill of the downhill. when everyone else is rolling at 30mph and I am zipping by them at the colossal speed of 40mph. My weight serves me well on the downhill, it just doesn't do as much for me when I'm laboring uphill and my heart rate is spiking at 178bpm.

These professional bike riders on the other hand, average around 140 pounds and most of that weight is in their massive legs. They have tree-trunk-thighs and massive calves that pump like pistons as they maintain an average road speed - on the flats not the downhills - of over 35mph. The Tour de France lasts all of 23 days and covers a distance of over 2000 miles through some of the most unforgiving terrain anywhere on earth. They ride through mountains that have been known to humiliate some of the finest athletes on earth. In some cases, some of the riders have simply stopped, gotten off their bikes, and quit the race. The mental strength required to finish this race is limited to so few, that significantly less than 60% of the riders who begin the race each year actually finish it.

Why do they do it? Why are they willing to punish their bodies and stretch themselves beyond human limits just to stand on a podium on the Champs Elysees? I think it's because, what differentiates us from animals is the fact that we have an innate sense of purpose that drives us to conquer and achieve the seemingly impossible. Sir Edmund Hilary, when asked why he would attempt to climb Everest (before it had ever been done) replied, "Because it is there!" The riders of the Tour have been asked to sign a commitment letter demonstrating their commitment to compete at the highest levels without the use of performance enhancing drugs. All the participants in this years tour have signed that letter. What appeals to me most though, is the fact that the organizers of the race are aware that ink on paper is no demonstration of true commitment and so they came out with the following statement:

Commitment isn't something you can just sign your name to. It's something you train for your whole life. It's something in your genes. You either have it, or you don't. You won't find proof of it in the ink on some dotted line, but you will find it in the mountains of France...let's ride.

This reminds me of Craig Groeschel's statement at the ARC conference earlier this year. In making a comparison between the pastor whose church doesn't grow and the pastor of a mega congregation, he suggested that one of the primary differences between them was the amount of pain they were willing to endure. Anything that is worthwhile, valuable, and positively impacts people's lives, is bound to require sacrifice, and will more than likely exact a painful price before final success is achieved. This can be said of the Christian experience.

Many Christians have been sold a bill of goods, in being made to believe that Christianity takes all your problems away and makes life easy. The real truth is that Christianity is like a pearl of inestimable value, a jewel of great price. We must be willing to sacrifice everything in order to live the full experience. Like the riders of the Tour de France, what we say about what we believe, carries significantly less weight than what we do. The mountains of life will determine our commitment levels.