My wife owns the workout video series P90X, which features a hyper-fit, 50-year-old guy named Tony Horton. Tony has the face of a heavily Botoxed 39-year-old, the body of a 23-year-old, unnaturally black hair, and an annoying habit of referring to his adult audience as “boys and girls.” Go Tony.
The other day, while my wife was working out with Tony, I looked at the TV and noticed that, of the three people working out behind him, one guy named Eric was clearly lagging behind the other two while doing a fast-paced, plyometrics exercise.
I figured Tony was trying to include some normal people in his video to encourage the viewers, but this seemed counter-productive. Having someone who was slightly off from the rest of the pack was more distracting than it was inspiring.
In the middle of my wife’s workout, I asked, “What’s up with the guy on the left?”
While jumping around the living room on alternating legs, my wife breathlessly replied, “He’s got a prosthetic leg. Tony said something about it at the beginning.”
“Oh,” I said.
So that’s why he wasn’t exactly in sync with everyone else. Nice. [Please pause as Joshua is crowned Jerk of the Week.]
That day I decided that, despite all the Botox injections and whatnot, Tony was, in my book, kind of cool for choosing someone like Eric to be in his video. And I felt like Eric was even cooler for doing a grueling workout out in front of a camera, despite him missing a leg. In fact, after I realized he had a prosthetic leg, my distraction turned to jaw-dropping inspiration. His disability made his determination all the more impressive.
We can all agree that what Eric is doing is admirable. Sure, he’s a little out-of-step, but who cares? The man is jumping, doing lunges, and bouncing around fearlessly on one leg. Nobody’s going to knock him for a flawed execution of the exercise, but when it comes to our own, disabled walks of faith, it’s a different story.
So often we feel like Eric, trying our hardest, but not quite being in sync with all the other imaginary Christians that exist only in our heads. I imagine these spiritual equivalents of Tony Horton, and I think, “I know you’re broken, so why aren’t you limping like me?” Before long, the clouds gather around our minds, and we get into a spiritual funk which is characterized by exaggerated feelings of inadequacy and obsessive self-reflection.
We begin to review our failures and sins and presume that God is similarly obsessed with how messed up we are. Yet we forget the scripture which says that that all of our sin – past, present, and future – died on the cross, and we were given Christ’s righteousness in return (2 Corinthians 5:21). With our sin being dead, no wonder He can afford to be “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love” (Psalm 145:8).
We become obsessed with the variety of ways the Holy Spirit “convicts us” of our sin, but we ignore the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26). We kick ourselves (and each other) when we’re down on one leg, but we forget that there is a “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on as we hobble toward the heavenly finish line (Hebrews 12:1).
And before long, we are tempted to believe that stumbling through spiritual growth is evidence that we ought to be altogether disqualified from the race. When we get to that point, we have to wage a war to reclaim our minds; and like Jesus, it’s best reclaimed by simply fighting back with the truth of scripture (Matthew 4:4, 4:7, 4:10).
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve managed to escape spiritual, self-loathing with this one, paradigm-shifting verse: “For by one offering, He has forever perfected those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14, emphasis added). Translation: spiritually speaking, we’re all stuck with prosthetic legs for now; but because of Christ’s death on the cross, something fundamental happened to us: we got totally new, perfect legs. And even if we can’t see those perfect legs yet, we’re going to, and God already does.
It’s a strange, package deal, indeed – a package which, for the time being, includes an oftentimes embarrassingly clumsy walk with the Lord.
News flash, people: we will never be a churchy version of Tony Horton, and praise God for that. Let’s face it – we’re broken, but that doesn’t mean we should pretend we’re in perfect shape or hate ourselves for failing to flawlessly serve the Lord. It means we’re going to need a new perspective, one that doesn’t come to us naturally.
It’s going to require us to consider that maybe, just maybe, the cheering cloud of witnesses is so jazzed up because they’re seeing Jesus working in us and through us, despite our disabilities (Philippians 2:12b-13). With that in mind, we can cheer for each other with a lot more vigor. And while we’re at it, let’s stop kicking ourselves with our prosthetic leg, wipe our tears away, and get back in the race until the day that we finally trip our way across the long-awaited finish line.