Let Go of the Beam!

Let Go of the Beam!

The gymnast clings, apparently terrified, to the balance beam. A moment ago, when the competition began, she ran to the beam and jumped on it. But now, with arms and legs wrapped in a death grip around the beam, she does nothing…

…for the entire length of her performance. There are no jumps. She does not perform any acrobatics on the beam, not even a little leap. Absolutely nothing. She just holds onto the bar, almost as if it were a bucking bronco that she is terrified will shake her off its back.

But at the end of the routine, the athlete gets off the beam, smiles widely at the bewildered crowd, and bows heartily in the direction of the judges – she seems to think that she did a stellar job. And if clinging with a vise-hold to the beam was the challenge, she certainly wins. But that was not the idea behind this competition.

Years ago, my mother gave this illustration, pointing out that the balance beam is an analogy for the Christian life. She mentioned this only in passing, and she may not even remember that she said it. But even now, all these years later, I still remember this illustration, and it still affects my understanding of the Christian life. Maybe its a tribute to the power of small, edifying tidbits.

If you compete on the balance beam, the idea is not to grip the beam with Herculean strength, as if to keep it from going anywhere. The idea is that you should do gymnastics on it. Let go of it. Run from one end to the other. Leap, do acrobatics, maybe a backflip from one side to the other. Of course, you’ll never be able to do that if you don’t get over your fear of falling off.

So many Christians – my mother pointed out – live their Christian life like a terrified gymnast, clinging to the beam. They want stability, comfort, and nothing else. All they desire is a stable job, a white house with a picket fence, two kids and a dog, if that is your idea of a stable life. They go through life content with this and nothing more.

They have no great plans to advance the kingdom of Christ. They shy away from difficulty. They seem to fear anything out of the ordinary. They cling to the bar.

And they expect, when their life on earth is finished, to get down from the bar, smile at the crowd, and hear God say, “well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Does that sound ridiculous? It does to me.

If you want to compete on the balance beam, you need to get over your fear of falling off – you need faith in your abilities. And if you are living the Christian life, you need to get over your fear of the unpredictable, the chaotic, the things that are out of your control – you need faith in God. Until you trust God, you are always going to cling to that balance beam of life, hanging on, content with the stability that it provides. But you miss the opportunity to do everything that could be done with it.

Even though she shared this with me many years ago, I still remember the analogy. It is a mindset that I have never forgotten, and I still try to live it out. And it is that same analogy that I am pointing out to you now. Thank you, mother!

PS – Please realize that this is an analogy. Of course I am not saying that you can ‘earn favor’ with God by your actions, in the same way that the gymnast earns points through her performance. Grace is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. I want to clarify this in case anyone gets the wrong impression!

Later Update: After having posted this, I was notified that this illustration is originally from Francis Chan. I never heard it from him, but apparently my mother passed the idea on after hearing him. Everything that I said remains accurate, but I want to give him credit for this superb illustration. You can watch him share this thought by clicking here.