April 25, 2009
It was a day that would go down in history. I was certain that the events of that afternoon would someday occupy a major chapter in my biography written by some future historian attempting to chronicle the major turning points in my life. My six year old body was trembling with the excitement of knowing that today I would cross a major threshold of maturity. I was about to enter a new era of my life, an era that belonged to the athletic elite. It would be “one small step for a little boy, one giant leap toward manhood.” It was the day the training wheels would be removed from my bicycle.
Grasping the handlebars with a mixture of excitement and sheer panic I could already imagine the exhilaration of blasting off into the unknown world with the wind whistling through my hair, free to follow my dreams (at least around the block), unshackled from the embarrassing, encumbering stigma that had been attached to me for so long. It seemed like I had waited an eternity for my legs to grow long enough to reach from the bicycle seat to the ground. But now at last the wait was over, the day had come, the hour of triumph was upon me.
My older brother, David, was selected to be the guide for my launch into a new life. At long last there I was, perched upon the captain’s seat of my new spacecraft with the despised restraints cast unceremoniously on the lawn. With my brother holding the rocket ship upright I pushed the ignition switch with my foot and propelled myself forward into adulthood. I had slipped the surly bonds of earth and was headed skyward to investigate unexplored worlds. Unfortunately, while attempting to break through the earth’s atmosphere, I immediately encountered some extreme turbulence.
No one had bothered to tell me that riding a bicycle is not a skill with which we are born. What had appeared to be so easy with the training wheels attached was now proving to be exasperatingly troublesome. Time after time I weaved and wobbled my way back and forth along the narrow sidewalk in front of our home with my brother running along behind holding onto the bike. Each time I began to fall or veer too close to the edge of the sidewalk my brother was there to grab the bike, push it upright and set me back on course. It was a great feeling knowing he was right behind, helping me through this critical period of my life. Well, it was a great feeling until the time I turned around and discovered he was no longer there. In fact, he was several yards behind me, waving goodbye—and laughing!
“DAVID!!!” I screamed at the top of my lungs! Unfortunately, when I screamed I turned my head around, and when I turned my head around the bike turned with me, rolling off the sidewalk, over the curb and into the street where it came to rest on top of my smarting ego (not to mention my bruised backside). After barely lifting off the ground my spaceship had crash landed back on earth. Knowing he was likely risking his life just to approach me, my brother rushed to my side, picked me up, and congratulated me on how well I was doing. Then, without waiting for me to object, he placed me back on the bike, set me back on the sidewalk, and gave me another shove.
I had just survived my first fall managing to escape with just a few bruises, a skinned knee and a sore throat from screaming at my brother. Although at the time I was certain he was trying to kill me, David was only attempting to help me learn to keep my balance and negotiate the narrow sidewalk by myself (at least that’s what I’d like to think). He also was teaching me another valuable lesson in life: Falling does not necessarily mean failure. In fact, it may be the best teacher leading us to our eventual success. And persevering through difficult situations is the best tutor for learning how to achieve anything worthwhile.
Learning to master the Christian life can be a similar experience. How exhilarating it is racing through our new life with Christ, following our Godly dreams, unshackled from the embarrassing sins that use to slow us down, released from the lack of faith that had previously prevented us from soaring with the wind. Unfortunately, we immediately encounter turbulence. As we struggle to remain upright in our new life weaving and wobbling down the pathway, we can’t help but wonder how something that looked so simple could be so difficult. Yet how comforting it is to know that the Lord is running along beside us, ready to grab us if we start to fall or veer too close to the edge of our faith! In response to our heartfelt plea He is eager to push us upright and set us back on course. It’s a great feeling until the time comes when we start to fall, cry out to God for help, and discover He’s stepped away from the bike.
As we come crashing to earth our tendency is to get angry with God. “Why have you let me fall?” “Why have you allowed this near-impossible circumstance at this inopportune time?” “Why have you stepped away from me right when I need you the most?” At the time we may think God is some kind of sadistic prankster who enjoys watching us suffer and make a fool of ourselves. But perhaps, like my brother David, He just wants us to grow up and learn to keep our balance while negotiating our way down “the narrow road that leads to life.” “…My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves…No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-6, 11.
Did that say, “…trained by it”? Wow, come to think of it, the Lord’s discipline makes a pretty good set of spiritual training wheels. Even when He allows us to fall, the Lord is always with us and will rush to our side to pick us up, bind up our wounds, encourage us, and send us off again in the right direction. Through these times of intense pain and discouragement we need to learn a lesson from cycling. Falling does not mean failure. In fact, it is often the best way to learn how to stay upright. And learning how to persevere while struggling through troublesome, difficult, and seemingly impossible situations, is the best way to grow in our Christian faith.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4.
It occurs to me that the church has often served as inappropriate training wheels for its members. It is wonderful for a group of disciples to come around a new believer and hold them up as they begin their walk with Christ. However, there comes a time when we must step aside and allow the growing Christian to launch out on their own, to struggle in their faith, and yes, even to fall. Such difficulties are necessary for them to fully mature. This doesn’t mean we are to totally abandon them but rather encourage them to grow. And this means rather than insisting they remain in the womb of the assembly we need to help them discover their gifts, help them learn how to use them, and then assist the Holy Spirit in launching them out into the harvest field to reach new people for the Lord, make new disciples for Christ, and plant new ministries. To fail to do this is tantamount to leaving their training wheels attached, stunting their growth, and preventing them from becoming the effective minister Christ has called them to be. It also prevents the kingdom of God from expanding.
As the body of Christ we need to realize that our goal should not be to have the largest assemblies on the planet, but rather to do our best to help people mature in Christ. “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” – Colossians 1:28. In order to accomplish this we must determine when each individual needs to have their training wheels removed and then we must release them out into the world, to explore new communities yet unreached by the Gospel, to fulfill the role in the kingdom Christ has determined for them. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” – John 20: 21. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” – Matthew 28:19.
As a fellow cyclist, one who has taken more than his share of tumbles, allow me to offer some hard-learned advice. Traveling with your training wheels attached will stifle your growth and limit your exhilaration and joy in the Lord. Let this be the historic day when you cast them aside and propel yourself fully into the adventure of becoming the disciple Christ has created you to be. Is it frightening? Absolutely! Will you fall? Yes, of course you will. But each time you fall the Lord will be there to pick you up, encourage you, set you back on course, and shove you down the pathway once again. The best way to maintain your balance, on a bike or in the Christian life, is to keep your eyes looking forward and keep on pedaling. “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” – Philippians 3:13-14.
Bill, a child of God, training wheels removed, still pedaling