Strength Never Comes Easy by Larry W. Peebles March 24, 2017 17.10
In 1973, America fell in love with a race horse. That was the year Secretariat, Horse of the Year in 1972 as a two-year old, won the Triple Crown of racing. He was the first Crown winner in twenty-five years, and made the cover of Time Magazine, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated along the way.
He did not just win—he dominated the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby was the first race of the Triple Crown. He ran a record time for the 1 ¼ mile race at Churchill Downs that still stands today. Each quarter mile was faster than the previous, meaning the horse was still accelerating at the finish line. He then ran a record 1 1/8 miles at the Preakness, although that record was not established until 2012 when forensics settled the controversy caused by a clock malfunction on race day. At the Belmont Stakes, the final leg, he set not only a Belmont record for 1 ½ miles, but also an American record for 1 ½ miles on a dirt track. His margin of victory, 31 lengths, was also a record. Each race of the Triple Crown drew record crowds, and the televised Belmont Stakes drew a 52% market share. He set a world record for 1 1/8 miles at the Marlboro Cup that same year, and tied the track record for 1 mile at the Gotham Stakes. He was voted the Horse of the Year again in 1973.
The strength of this unique horse was evident when he stood at 45 minutes following birth, and nursed at one hour fifteen minutes after birth. Secretariat was described as a massive, powerful horse—well-balanced, with a nearly perfect shape and stride. Bio-mechanically speaking, he was a machine with a large chest, large heart (estimated at 22 pounds at death), and well-muscled hind quarters. His hind legs reached well under himself as he ran, with great drive and a stride measured at 24’ 11”. He had a tremendous appetite, 15 quarts of oats per day, and only his heavy speed workouts kept the food from turning to fat. His trainer often opted for training versus rest between big races because of the horse’s great energy. He was concerned the horse would hurt himself banging against the stable walls if he did not get out and run. Secretariat’s eagerness to train, coupled with his strength from birth, destined this horse for greatness.
A gifted champion like Secretariat does not come along all that often. Some would say this was the greatest thoroughbred of all time. In the one hundred forty one year history of the Triple Crown races, there have been only twelve winners. Oddly, Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown four years after Secretariat in 1977, followed by Affirmed in 1978. Then there would not be another winner for thirty-seven years, until American Pharoah won in 2015. He was one of 23,500 new thoroughbreds registered in North America the year of his birth.
Why all this attention on a horse in a Christian article? Because there is a life lesson we can learn. Like horses, most people are not gifted from birth with great physical, mental or spiritual strength. Our strength is developed over time, by trial, and does not come easily. Most people are not eager to train themselves for strength. Motion through resistance to gravity in the form of weights increases physical strength, while overcoming opposition increases mental and spiritual strength.
With regard to spiritual strength, the Bible is clear on two points:
First, our loving Father God allows us to be exposed to circumstances involving opposition or resistance in order that we strain and struggle to overcome. In the process, we grow stronger. The Bible calls it many things, such as discipline, testing or trials. We might call it training. He does it because He loves us, and knows what we need to grow to full spiritual strength and maturity. Consider these five verses:
- Hebrews 12: 5-11- “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” This scripture is clear that the discipline arises naturally out of a loving Father/son/daughter relationship. However, adding strength-getting stronger-never comes easy.
- Hebrews 3: 8- “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” We must not rebel and become angry and hard of heart during discipline, lest we miss the training opportunity. Continued rebellion might lead to our falling away from God, so there is a very real danger here. This does not mean we cannot eventually come back to God, but I have known many who paid a dear price while drifting so far away.
- James 1: 2-4- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
- Proverbs 17: 3- “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” There is a process for refining silver and gold, but God refines (tests, strengthens) our heart because, as stated elsewhere in Scripture, even a man’s heart will deceive him, until it is pure and refined before the Lord.
- Isaiah 48: 10-11- “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed?” God is interested in the proper development of our character because we carry His name and are created in His image. We have a certain responsibility to carry the family name well.
The second point the Bible clearly establishes is that during the testing or training process, God is with us and supplies the necessary increase in strength to pass the test. He wants us to succeed. The Bible is filled with verses and stories to support this statement. Now consider these five verses:
- Colossians 1: 11-14 “…being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves [Jesus], in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
- Hebrews 12: 2- “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” God set joy before Jesus so that He would have the strength to endure the cross.
- Nehemiah 8: 10- “Do not grieve, the joy of the Lord is your strength.” This indicates that I do not have to merely survive the trial and training—I can have joy the whole time, and the joy of the Lord is my source of strength.
- 2 Samuel 22: 33-35- “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze.”
- Isaiah 40: 31- “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
The quote “Fatigue makes cowards of us all” is attributed to WWII General George Patton, but has also been made famous by the late legendary football coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Fear comes from a lack (or perceived lack) of superior strength or weapons, lack of help or allies, or lack of position relative to the opposition. God tells us over and over again in His word that we are not to be afraid.
It is popular these days to put ourselves in the hands of a trainer, a personal trainer, or a life coach. Why not ask and then trust God to train us? Why not willingly (joyfully) put ourselves in His hands, and let Him test and condition us so that we have the strength and confidence for what lies ahead? He is the only one who knows the exact training and schedule we will need to prevail victorious over the oncoming opposition. Psalm 147: 10 says- “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear [reverently respect] Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” [Insert mine.] When our love for and trust in Him is well placed, we can say “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.” (Psalm 144: 1). It may not be easy, but may God train us to be champions for Christ.