What an epic sporting contest the Tour de France is! But what can it tell us about the Christian life?
Defending champion Geraint Thomas said before this year's race "Every year is tough. There's never an easy tour."
Year to year the event can be particularly tough and the Tour is already considered one of the hardest endurance races out there! The 3,500km course is made up of seven ‘flat’ stages, seven mountain stages, four hilly stages and two time trials. Typically each stage is 150-220km long with riders spending up to six hours a day in the saddle with minimal time for recovery and just two days rest over the entire event.
As we have seen again and again during the Tour, it is not just the physical exhaustion that is so testing. There is the huge tactical battle that is a kind of three-week long chess game on wheels. Then there is the skill element, descending sometimes at 80 mph, maintaining cadence and technique in the saddle, avoiding crashes. Add to that the relentless mental pressure as rivals constantly try to challenge the leader and all in all it is little wonder that the Yellow Jersey is such a highly prized trophy.
There is something compelling about endurance sport. Some sport is over quickly and is about living on your nerves. Other sport is about a team coming together and producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Endurance sport is about lasting the course; keeping on keeping on; digging deep not to give up minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day.
Perhaps this is why the Christian life is compared in Scripture to the great endurance sport of the ancient world; the marathon. The first marathon commemorated the run of Pheidippides, a soldier who ran approximately 25 miles near the town of Marathon in Greece to announce the defeat of the Persians. Legend has it that he was so exhausted that after delivering the message he dropped dead (a feeling many have as they cross the finish line)!
In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 the Apostle Paul (who when you read a brief history of his life in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 knew a thing or two about endurance) compares the Christian life to a marathon. He urges those who follow Christ to "run in such a way as to get the prize" (1 Corinthians 9:24). This will involve "strict training" (1 Corinthians 9:25), focus (1 Corinthians 9:26), and sacrifice (1 Corinthians 9:27). But this is all worth it because of the prize that is God’s gracious gift to those who persevere to the end; "a crown that will last forever" (1 Corinthians 9:25).
As sportspeople we understand the need for these qualities if we are to succeed. It is one of the errors of a wrong understanding of grace that some Christians think grace is opposed to such focused effort. God’s grace is not opposed to effort but earning. We do not do these things to earn a crown but because already a crown awaits as a gift of God.
So as you watch the Tour de France and reflect on it, use this great endurance event as a spur to sacrificial and disciplined grace-filled effort knowing that the prize that awaits those who trust in Christ will last forever.
Pete Nicholas, Inspire Church London
Pete was appointed to the Board of Trustees in 2017 and is a rugby player by background who now plays touch rugby. Pete is ordained in the Church of England and Minister in Charge of Inspire Saint James Clerkenwell in London.
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