As we pumped up our tires and prepared to take off for the beach, I noticed John’s bike was considerably more worn than mine. The paint on the frame had chipped and the mismatched handlebar tape had clearly been replaced more than once. Fifteen minutes in our ride, I was straining to keep him from disappearing around a bend, sure that he had put all the wear on his machine himself.
On our return trip, having neither fallen, nor fallen too far behind, nor perished, I realized cycling with John could be really good for me. Back in Bellevue, commuting to Crossroads, I’d been challenged at first, but gradually settled into a comfortable pace. When Annie and I would go for a bike ride on the weekends, I felt accomplished because I had a faster frame, dorkier pants, and had gotten used to riding every day on the way to work. Riding with John, on the other hand, unmasked this fable. The next time he invited me, I could go along, but I would have to push myself. I could choose to stay home, but I couldn’t reassume my self-satisfaction.
Time with others who are more advanced than us inspires growth and sober self-estimation. If you’ve ever studied a foreign language, think of the first time you were dropped into a group of native speakers. If we just want to enjoy our immature ability, then we can continue to insulate ourselves from real ability–when I cooked “jambalaya” in college, I intentionally stayed away from the real thing, because I liked the rice/sausage/shrimp explosion I was making, even though it likely bore little resemblance to the actual creole dish–but when actual growth matters, when delusions won’t cut it, we should surround ourselves with others who are further along.
Have you grown complacent in your spiritual growth, content to keep up with yourself? In Hebrews 12:1-3, God commands us to recognize the “cloud of witnesses” and to look at Jesus. If we try to keep up with that crowd, we’ll quickly be pushed to grow and faced with a truer estimation of ourselves. Here are a few ways I’ve recently tried to follow these witnesses and the Witness made flesh:
1. To surround ourselves with “so great a cloud of witnesses,” Annie and I are looking for a discipleship group. As much as we enjoy preaching, prayer, music, missions, etc. in the churches we visit, we are seeking and praying for a small group that will know us well enough to see our true state and know God well enough to prod us toward righteousness. Just this morning, over breakfast, we were dreaming of a group that would help us make godly decisions with our money. Friends, we must not settle for theological discussion groups; we need Christians operating on one another’s lives with the scalpel of God’s word.
2. To surround myself with “so great a cloud of witnesses,” I am starting a Christian biography. Every time I start reading the account of a great man or woman who has gone before, I wonder why I ever stopped. We may not be able to travel to Christian heroes around the planet today, but with a few dollars and a few hours, we can learn from the greats throughout history. In Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Martyn Lloyd-Jones commends Christian biography to assess our “hunger for righteousness,” the key to receiving righteousness.* In the past couple years, I’ve read three commendable Christian biographies. For a historical account of Martin Luther’s incredible fervor, find a copy of Bainton’s Here I Stand. For short biographies of 26 diverse, inspiring men and women, find Foster and Beebe’s Longing for God. Finally, I started Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy at the beach yesterday; I was immediately gripped and my mother-in-law, Kristina, told me it only gets better. Find it.
3. To look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,” we’re making sure we examine the Word of God in the word of God. Many times, my Scripture reading has become obligatory, moralistic, or its simply stopped. Though all the Bible is valuable and edifying, cover to cover and word by word, we sometimes need to turn to the incarnate Word of God revealed in the written word of God. As much as I’ve enjoyed reading through the Bible this year and soaking in the broad themes of God’s story, I’ve been reinvigorated by our Sermon the Mount time over breakfast this month. If you want Jesus to be your pace setter, you can’t beat what Jesus has to say about following Jesus.
Perhaps you know other ways to follow faster brothers and sisters, and especially our older brother, Jesus. However you go about it, don’t be wooed by the ease or comfort of winning a one-man race! We need faithfulness and fruitfulness to strive after, so that we too may “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and…run with endurance the race that is set before us.”**
* Lloyd-Jones writes: “How can we tell whether we are hungering and thirsting after righteousness? That is the vital thing; that is all we have to be concerned about. I suggest the way to discover the answer is to study the Scriptures, as, for example, Hebrews xi, because there we have some great and glorious examples of people who did hunger and thirst after righteousness and were filled. Go through the whole of the Bible and you will discover the meaning of this, especially in the New Testament itself. Then you can supplement scriptural biography by reading about some of the great saints who have adorned the Church of Christ. There is ample literature concerning this matter. Read the Confessions of St. Augustine, or the lives of Luther, of Calvin, and of John Knox. Read the lives of some of the outstanding Puritans and the great Pascal. Read the lives of those mighty men of God of 200 years ago in the evangelical awakening, for example the first volume of John Wesley’s journal, or the astounding biography of George Whitefield.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount (Kindle Locations 1239-1245). Kindle Edition.