“I went to high school on the other side of town—to the Booker T. Washington High School. I had to get the bus in what was known as the Fourth Ward and ride over to the West Side. In those days...whites were seated in the front, and often if whites didn’t get on the buses, those seats were still reserved for whites only, so Negroes had to stand over empty seats. I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, ‘One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.’” - from The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.
In an article entitled “Ironman champ: Train your brain, then your body,” Chrissie Wellington, a four-time World Ironman champion, noted: “If we let our head drop, our heart drops with it. Keep your head up, and your body is capable of amazing feats... All the physical strength in the world won't help you if your mind is not prepared.” In order for Chrissie to keep her head up, she does a number of key things.
- She has a mantra and/or a special song to repeat, because what you repeat you believe. She has “Never Give Up” on her water bottle and on her race wristband; she carries a copy of Rudyard Kipling's famous poem ‘If’ everywhere she goes.
- She keeps a bank of positive mental images, because what brings you joy or hope matters. For her it is family and friends, previous races, of beautiful scenery, or a big greasy burger. These help when she thinks, "I am tired. I want to stop. Why did I enter this race? I must be mad!"
- She run the race beforehand, because thinking about her game plan matters. She goes through each stage of the race one step at a time -- mentally imagining performing at her peak and overcoming potential problems.
- She break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments, because believing she can succeed matters. She thinks only about getting to the next aid station, or lamppost or Porta Potty. Once she achieves it, she sets another goal.
- She trains until it hurts, because she needs to know she can handle adversity. She pushes her physical limits in training sessions so she knows she can successfully endure pain and discomfort.
- She gets people to support her, because she needs to believe that other people are for her. She advises: “Invite friends, family or pets to come and cheer you on. Have them make banners, wear team T-shirts and generally behave in a way that would get them arrested under normal circumstances.”
- She remembers inspirational people, because she needs to remember that transformation awaits on the other side. She recalls people who have all fought against adversity to complete the Ironman. They prove that anything truly is possible.
- She races for a cause that is bigger than yourself, because knowing her role in the bigger picture matters. She runs for charitable causes. It puts the race in perspective and inspires her.
Our bodies follow our minds. What we think matters.
The Apostle Paul recognized this mind/body connection. In Chapter 10 of 2nd Corinthians, Paul begins talking about a battle taking place in our minds. It’s what we often call a battle of worldviews: ideas, opinions, and philosophies opposed to God. It's a battle for truth in the minds of people – and because the mind is so important, it’s also about hearts, souls, and lives. Some false teachers are lying about Paul, but that’s not Paul’s main concern. They are lying. They are not servants of truth. And that’s a problem. In this context, Paul writes:
“Although we are human, we are not contending for the faith based on flawed human standards . We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of flawed human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive idea and every imposing argument that people erect against the true knowledge of God. We capture every thought to focus on our purpose: understanding and acknowledging the authority of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
Something will capture our minds. Our bodies follow our minds.
As I was reading the list from the Chrissie Wellington, it struck me that just as Paul used a lot of analogies from sporting events, perhaps the principles that help IronMan champions succeed are (in a sense) biblical principles as well. They provide a practical way to take our thoughts captive for the sake of our understanding of and relationship with Christ.
- Have a verse or lyric you memorize, because what you repeat you believe. When Jesus was tempted, he quoted Scripture. Persecuted Christians often mention verses or songs that sustained them. When E.V. Hill preached at his wife’s funeral, he came back to: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Oh, bless His name.” It’s important that we fill our minds with repeated truth.
- Have positive images, because sources of hope and joy matter. Chrissie said there were times when she wondered, “Why did you enter this race?" Perhaps there are times we think this as well. What do we think of to bring us hope or motivation? The Bible says that Jesus, “for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:12)
- Plan ahead. Having confidence in your game plan matters. Are you purposeful about prayer, worship, and reading the Bible? If you know you have an area of sinful weakness, do you have a plan for times of temptation? What will you do if someone challenges your faith? If you know you have an area in which you struggle emotionally at times, are your preparing for times when you will become depressed, or lonely, or afraid? Are you seeking to prepare yourself ahead of time?
- Do the next do-able thing. Break the challenge up into smaller, more manageable segments. Believing you can succeed matters. Do the next thing right, not everything. Everything happens one step at a time. You may not THINK you can overcome an entire sin or temptation because it’s so overwhelming. So, just win the next battle. You can’t run the whole race at once, but you can run one step at a time. If you know your goal, every step in that direction counts.
- Practice thinking hard, because knowing you are prepared matters. If you are struggling with sin, listen to challenging and convicting things that hold up a mirror to you. Embrace conviction. Don’t dodge yourself and your emotions just because it’s hard. If you are wrestling with questions about Christianity, absorb deep Christian truth. Read and listen to discussions about faith that might at times be boring and at other times be hard.
- Get people to support you, because you need to know other people are for you. Let people into your life. YOU invite them; don’t wait for them to ask. What do you do when no one shows up for a banquet? You go out and “compel them to come in.” If you are going to be getting out of your comfort zone, you need a group around you to encourage and stabilize you.
- Be inspired by others, because you need to remember that transformation awaits on the other side. The Bible calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Because we are surrounded by them, we can run the race with perseverance. You can learn about them in the Bible, in books, movies, podcasts… Some of them are even here in your church. Learn about them; there is strength in unity.
- Remember you are part of a cause that is bigger than yourself, because knowing your role in the bigger picture matters. You are a part of the Kingdom of God. You are not doing the hard work of preparing for spiritual battle just for your sake. You are doing it for the sake of the Kingdom, and that includes your family, church, business, school, community, and city…