A lot of my teenage years were spent in a pool. I started swimming year round in middle school and stuck with it through high school and briefly into college. While I didn’t know it then, all of that time in a pool was teaching me some lessons that would become tremendously helpful in life.
For example, I learned to stay focused on my own performance in a race and not pay attention to the other swimmers in the pool. That one was hard for me – I always wanted to know how I was doing relative to everyone else. Was I winning? Losing? How far behind was I? How far ahead was I? I had this insatiable need to know because I thought I would do better if I knew exactly how I was doing compared to everyone else.
My coach hated that habit and did his best to break me of it. You see, in order to look at the other swimmers, I had to turn my head to one side or another and that broke my rhythm and started to pull my body off track. It made me slower; I was losing time looking at others. All of my comparing wasn’t helping me win – it was costing me time and making me less effective.
I think about that often these days, especially in the era of Twitter and Instagram. It’s so easy to get distracted by what God is doing with other people. Their vacations always look better than mine. Their churches seem to be growing faster than the one I lead. Their houses seem nicer. They seem much holier and happier than I am. And I spend so much of my time thinking about their race that I can lose ground in mine.
Right at the end of John’s gospel, we see Peter wrestling with something similar. Jesus has just restored Peter to fellowship and ministry following Peter’s denial of Christ in high priest’s courtyard. They have this wonderful conversation and at the end, Jesus tells Peter to follow Him and they go walking down the beach. But John, the pesky young disciple, starts following them at a distance. Apparently bothered, Peter starts asking Jesus about what’s going to happen in John’s life. Here’s Jesus’ response, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22) I love it! It’s Jesus’ way of telling Peter not to worry about John and his race but to stay focused on his own.
It would save us so much discouragement, bitterness or pride if we would do what Jesus is calling Peter to in this verse. Don’t be so worried about everyone around you. Some are ahead of you. Some are behind. What’s it to you? Swim your own race with everything you’ve got. Push yourself, enjoy it and stay focused on what God is calling you to do, where He is calling you to go and the pace He’s setting for your progress. At the end of the race, it isn’t about who you beat. It’s about hearing “well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt. 25:21) from the One who called you into the race in the first place. Worry about being faithful to Him and don’t get so distracted by everyone else.