Living by faith: endurance race or boat trip?

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“Would you like to join our Zoom Sabbath school class?” was the message that caught my eye as I scanned my Gmail inbox one day. The COVID-19 pandemic had closed churches and homes for all gatherings. My wife and I played YouTube recordings of Sabbath school and church services to fill the void, but something major was missing—no interaction with real people.

Oh, this message is from our neighbour! Well, OK, let’s try it! 

We learned that, in this Sabbath school, the lesson study was handled by a different presenter for each day’s section, with opportunity for comments and questions after each presentation. No need to hurry to finish in time for church—there was no church. We were hooked! 

Even though it was just pictures on a screen and noise coming out of a box, somehow it provided the interaction and fellowship that had been missing. It also stimulated us to increased Bible study during the week in preparation. 

It has been such a joy that the Zoom Sabbath school still continues even though COVID-19 restrictions are not currently in place.

Recently my Zoom class assignment was “The Righteous Will Live by Faith” with the key text being Hebrews 10:35–39. The Clear Word paraphrase reads like this: 

“So don’t throw away your confidence in what Christ has done for you, because your faithfulness to Him will be rewarded. But you need to keep on doing the will of God, then someday you’ll receive what He has promised. As the Scriptures say, ‘Just a little longer, and He who did come will come again and will not delay. The one who is right with Me will be given life because of his faith. But if he draws back and throws away his confidence in Me, I will not be pleased with him.’ We are not the kind who draw back and are lost. On the contrary, we are people of faith and will go on believing and be saved.”

I told the Zoom class those verses got me thinking about the analogy of the Christian life of faith to running an endurance race, found in Hebrews 12:1,2. However it seemed there was a place where that analogy breaks down. I asked them to consider if, in my Christian life of faith, I start to think I’m tired of this. I think I’ll take a break from being a Christian for a while, is that like stopping for a few minutes of rest during an endurance race? What harm is there? Can’t you just pick up where you left off? Isn’t the finish line the same distance away as before you rested?

My thoughts had then turned to when I was a teenager and we moved to Bairnsdale, Victoria. My two older siblings had left home and my parents purchased a row boat for me to use for exercise on the Mitchell River which flows slowly through town, into connected waterways and lakes which drain into the ocean at Lakes Entrance.

One day we loaded the row boat onto the trailer, drove towards Lakes Entrance and my dad dropped the boat and me off at a loading ramp. He said “Bye, I’ll pick you up at Lakes Entrance.” 

I learned later that he and my mum stopped at the lookout overlooking Lakes Entrance in order to view my progress. They were soon conversing with a local man who warned them of strong currents near the ocean entrance and of boats that had come to grief there.

Meanwhile I was enjoying an easy row. The tide was going out, so the water was flowing towards Lakes Entrance. There was minimal wind, the water was smooth and everything was going well . . . Until . . .

Until I arrived at Lakes Entrance and had to make a left turn into one of two side channels to get picked up. If I kept going straight ahead, I would wind up in the ocean in a small rowing boat. 

And I could already see waves breaking on the sandbar. As I got closer, I noticed with some concern that there was significant flow of water OUT of both side channels on the left, because tidal water was draining into the main channel. 

I decided to attempt to row against the current into the first channel. Then, if I couldn’t make it up that channel, I would have another chance at the second channel. So, I manoeuvred the boat to one side of the main outflow current where the flow was less, rowed like crazy and fortunately was able to just beat the water flow and get the boat into safer waters.

The point being, that if you compare the Christian life to a row boat trip, if you stop rowing, you may go backwards, because we all have natural evil tendencies. So, maybe a better analogy is to compare the Christian life of faith, not to an endurance race, but to a kayak trip up a river. Not a row boat trip because, in a row boat, you see where you have been. In a kayak you see where you are going. Hebrews 12:2 reads, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (KJV). So long as you are persevering in paddling faster than the downstream current—which means maintaining your faith in Jesus—all is well. If you stop paddling, just remember that there is a waterfall downstream!

There was laughter from the noise box and a voice said, “You should send that to the Record!”

Dr David Bland is a semi-retired physician living in Cooranbong, NSW.

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