Swim Your Own Race

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.

Somewhere Between Work & Rest

Work when you work.  Rest when you rest.  And get rid of everything in between.

As simple as that sounds, I’ve found it to be incredibly helpful in my life as a leader.  So many times I would make it to the end of a day, be absolutely exhausted and completely unsure of what I had accomplished.  Or worse, sometimes I would be completely sure I had accomplished absolutely nothing.

I wasn’t getting anything done because I was resting when I should have been working.  I would take personal phone calls.  I spent a lot of time on Facebook, Twitter, reading blogs or surfing the web.  Personal conversations with co-workers that start with a quick hi but somehow turn into a 45 minute review of your entire weekend were another trap.  Or there were the times when I was just too tired to concentrate.  Any of that sound familiar to you?

I’m not saying all of those things need to go.  If you never have personal conversations with co-workers, people are going to assume you aren’t very nice!  But I am suggesting they should be limited.  You’re there to do a job – so, get after it.  Work.

If you do that, you’ll actually be able to rest at the end of the day.  And that’s the other place where I would get myself in trouble.  I wasn’t at the office, I was technically done for the day but I still wasn’t really resting.  I was chronically checking email on my phone.  I was taking calls from the office or texting people from the office with random things I forgot to mention during the day.  I was mentally outlining sermons.  I was thinking through meetings I had coming up even though I was allegedly watching a movie with Laura.  It was a mess – I was doing all of the work I should have been doing during the day at night when I should have been resting.

Ever feel like work and rest are blending together into one giant, chaotic swirl in your life?  Then maybe it’s time to get really focused on working when we work and resting when we rest.  You’ll be amazed the difference it makes.