Jesus Plus Nothing Bible Studies
Running the race in the last days Bible study: The Coach (He doesn’t think like you do!)

by I Gordon

We have been looking at a new series about running the race in the last days and last time we looked at what I called ‘The Entanglement’. That is, we looked at the weights that we sometimes carry and the thorns that grow around us, preventing us from running this race well to the end. This study is one I’ve called The Coach. It’s about the runner and their coach… and how the coach doesn’t think like you do. But He has a plan that He is trying to achieve. So here's what we will look at:

What, in New Zealand’s history, is called the ‘Golden Hour’?1

The first clue is that it came on the 2nd September, 1960. The second clue is that in occurred in Rome. The third clue is that it involved two gold Olympic medals. Yes, it was the two New Zealand athletes, Sir Peter Snell and Sir Murray Hallberg stunning the world by winning the 800 meters and 5000 meters respectively within minutes of each other.

Four years later Peter Snell would win both the 800m and the 1500m at the Tokyo Olympics. Runner's World magazine , in a feature entitled Eight Great Days in Tokyo, said: "Snell at half-power could look ponderous, but at full stride he was a thing of potent beauty. It was like a jet taking off."

But how did Snell and Hallberg do it? Well, the great secret to their success was the training methods laid down by their coach. They were coached by Arthur Lydiard, an Auckland milkman, who had a miles-makes-champions training regime. He didn’t think like the other coaches around him did. Many thought he was crazy. Many thought he’d break the athletes under his care because he would insist that they run 100 miles (160 kilometers) every week. And there was no compromising on it. It didn’t matter that Snell was training for an 800m race… he had to run a half marathon, over 20km, every day. 2

Qualities of a good coach

So why bring all that up you ask? Good question! We have noted that we are in a race… the most important race of all… the Christian race. It’s one where the prizes are eternal. We have the Lord as our head coach, training, directing, encouraging, correcting. He is the ultimate coach. But what makes a good coach? Here are some quick thoughts and how God fulfills each one.

Qualities of a Great Coach

God, Our Great Coach

They will have great vision and foresight (they can see the big picture)

Rom 8:29-30 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (30) And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

They will have a plan on what they want to achieve

Eph 1:11-12 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, (12) in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

They will be able to see the problems and direct/adjust accordingly

Heb 12:10-11 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. (11) 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.

They will be able to inspire and empower

Heb 12:3 Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith
Php 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

They will know their students well and how to deal with each one accordingly

Psa 139:15-17 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place… your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

As you can see from those verses, our head coach doesn’t see things the same as what we often would. Arthur Lydiard gained success by thinking differently to other coaches. But the Lord, our coach, is on a whole different level and has a vastly expanded grasp, stretching from eternity to eternity, of what we need. Remember that when you next trial comes!

Cycle of sin in JudgesThe Coach’s problem

Now, our Coach has a problem. It's you (and well, me.). Both the Bible and human history shows that the fallen nature of humanity drifts from a state of well-being into a state of dependency and bondage. The Bible is very clear on this cycle as shown in the book of Judges and seen to the right..

And the issue is that what Israel did as a nation, and what great empires do as a whole, simply mirrors what happens in the single human heart. Even our hearts. I’ve seen this cycle in my life. I see it but I am mindful of it now. So with this problem in the hands of our heavenly coach, let’s look at…

The Coach’s training and discipline

We looked last time at Hebrews 12:1-3. Today it is useful to see the training used by our coach which comes straight after it.

Heb 12:5-11 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, (6) because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son." (7) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? (8) If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (9) 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! (10) 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. (11) 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.

So here we see that the head coach, who, even more importantly is our Father, trains all his children. This passage shows us that God is active, not passive, in our lives. Some Christians blame all their problems on Satan but God is the One who is sovereign.

“God is not coming to his children late after the attack, and saying, “I can make this turn for good.” That is not discipline. That is repair. It’s the difference between the surgeon who plans the incision for our good, and the emergency room doctor who sews us up after a freak accident. This text says, God is the doctor planning our surgery, not the doctor repairing our lacerations.” John Piper

And this passage tells us He disciplines ‘those He loves’. Discipline is not a sign of his anger, payback or frustration. It is forward looking, not back. It is a sign of His love, verse 6 tells us, not His wrath. The word discipline here is ‘paideuo’ and literally means ‘tutorage, that is, education or training’. And that is how we are to consider the difficulties and trials that come our way. We are to consider them as from the hand of our Coach, our Father, and for our good (according to verse 10). It doesn’t mean that they are easy but we need to remember that the Lord is using these events to bring us forming character in us, bringing us closer to Himself, for our good, so that he can share in His holiness.

The Coach’s method

Earlier we looked at the example of Olympiad Peter Snell. In case there was any confusion, it is fair to say that I am no Olympic athlete. I wouldn’t even like my chances at the Special Olympics. But when I thought of being coached and trained I remembered my time playing hockey back at school. Going through college I played four years in the 1st XI hockey team under the same coach each year. He was an awesome coach but he wasn’t there to just be our friend or tell us jokes. He had a vision, a goal and that plan involved training to reach the goals we all wanted to achieve. Monday lunch times – we were running around the streets. Tuesday after school, it was practice (which always started with a good run!) Wednesday lunch times, back running. Thursday after school, practice again. Friday’s we had off – Yay! Saturday was match day. For our runs he would often take us over to a nearby street where they had a couple of hundred steps up a steep hill. And we’d sprint up all the steps, get to the top, then what would he say? “Right, back to the bottom and do it all over again.” And again… and again... and…3 But as the coach he knew what he was doing even if we didn’t always like it! Was he being vindictive? Was he sick of us so he wanted to make us suffer? Hmm – Maybe! No…he had a plan and a goal and it was going to take quite a bit of training to get this motley group of no-hopers to get there!

The same goes with God. He knows the big picture. In fact He knows every detail of the whole picture, past, present and future. And He uses discipline at times for our good. Without it, we would just be back in the cycles mentioned earlier… Slipping into selfishness, complacency and apathy. The good thing about God is that it is done with the love of a perfect Father who knows us inside out.

 And also, He has a goal in all of these things. He wants us to come to the place where we cry out ‘what would you have me to learn in this?’ Not just ‘get me out of here Lord’. But ‘what are you trying to teach me? I’m sorry that I’m slow to hear and grasp your ways, but what would you like me to learn?’ Remember – ‘discipline’ which is part of any race and used by the Coach, is the word for ‘tutorage’ and ‘education’. 2Ti 3:16 says ‘All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness’. The word training is the same Greek word translated disciple in Hebrews 12. It is all preparation for what is to come. Let's look at an example of God's discipline in the life of a prominent Bible character.

Jacob vs EsayAn example - Jacob

"Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, “Shake well before using.” That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable." Vance Havner

One of the best examples of God working his discipline and training into the life of one of His own is the story of Jacob. Jacob was a battler. He was born fighting. He wrestled with his brother Esau in the womb and it continued throughout his life. At times Jacob, through deception and cunning, would seemingly come out on top. One example was when he tricked his father Isaac into receiving the blessing that was meant for his brother Esau. God then arranged for him to work for his uncle Laban who was of the same character as Jacob. This time Jacob was the one being tricked when he ended up marrying someone different from whom he thought he was marrying! And it’s fair to say that that's not something you want to get wrong!

Jacob was naturally a very strong character. But God was working on that. And he worked on it through both natural and supernatural means. The supernatural came through a night of wrestling where the Angel of the Lord touched the hip of Jacob and caused him to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. The natural means came through the loss of his beloved son (or so he thought) Joseph. Slowly but surely God was weakening Jacob’s grip and natural ability to control a situation! This came to a head when his sons went down to Egypt in the famine and were recognized by Joseph. Joseph told them they were spies and took Simeon prisoner until they brought down their brother Benjamin (the now favourite son of Jacob). Let’s look at two passages.

Gen 42:36-38 Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!" (37) Then Reuben said to his father, "You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back." (38) But Jacob said, "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow."

We see here Jacob doing all he can to control a spiraling-out-of-control situation. The grip is being loosened. God is working, turning the screws. But Jacob isn’t yet ready to release control just yet. “Argh… everything is against me” he cries! ‘I’ve lost Joseph. Now you want me to lose my beloved Benjamin. And then my own life will go down to the grave in sorrow. No! I will not relent. I will not lose control. I will not release my grip!’ Jacob had faced difficult times many times before and always found a way to wiggle out of them. Through cunning, deception and any means possible he had always found a way. Yet this problem wasn’t coming from a cunning Uncle or an angry brother. This was coming from God… a God who loved Jacob dearly and wants to teach him the most important principle ever – The principle of releasing your grip on a situation and trusting Him. It is a principle which involves the death of the natural man.

Gen 43:1 Now the famine was still severe in the land.

The screws are getting tightened some more! It gets so bad that there is finally no other choice. So with great reluctance…

Gen 43:11-14 Then their father Israel said to them, "If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift--a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. (12) Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. (13) Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. (14) And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved."

Finally the grip is released when no other options are left to him. Sure… even now we still see a little bit of the old Jacob. He sweetens the deal thinking that maybe, just maybe, a little honey and nuts will do the trick. I mean what self-respecting Egyptian isn’t going to be won over with some Israeli honey and pistachio nuts? But the key is this final verse – ‘May God Almighty, El Shaddai, grant you mercy. And as for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.’ It’s not easy letting go and trusting God. But this is where the discipline of God is trying to teach us and lead us to. It leads us back to the fact that He is the Head, He is the Coach. He is the One with the plan. He is the One who knows what He is doing. Not getting angry with God. Not turning away but turning to Him in surrender. It was a different Jacob that we see after this. One that was learning, even in his ripe old age, of what God desired.

What God wants to hear

Heb 12:5-11 and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; (11) All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In verse 11 we see that there is an ‘afterward’. I like that. Don’t ever forget there is an afterwards. There is something that occurs afterward… if we take the right response to discipline. If not, if we don’t learn anything from it… well, the Lord may have us sitting the same class again. The scripture says that ‘afterward’ it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. The ‘but’ comes in what leads up to it where it says ‘yet to those who have been trained by it’. We have to learn something from these experiences. Our cry should be ‘Lord forgive me for being slow to learn and dull of hearing, but what are you saying to me in this experience? What are you teaching me?’ Jacob, as we have seen, finally came to the place of learning and surrendering to God in the discipline. The last pictures we see of Jacob is as the aged saint of God, blessing Pharaoh, blessing the sons of Joseph, and leaning of his staff and worshipping God. Here was a changed man that had learnt from his difficulties and training.

Two wrong responses to avoid

Our passage in Hebrews does give us two responses to avoid however.

1. Regarding the discipline of the Lord lightly
It tells us not to regard the discipline of the Lord lightly. How would we do this? It's when we think it is unworthy of serious regard and thought – "I'm not going to think much about it. I’ll just carry on." we may say. No! - God is trying to say something. If you are going through a difficult time ALWAYS ask Him what it is that He would have you to learn.

2. Fainting in the discipline of the Lord
T
he second response to avoid is to faint. It's saying ‘Oh it’s all too much! I can't go on’ Or ‘Everything is against me!’ (As Jacob did). 

Wise advice from a young man

Job was a character in need of good advice yet rarely received it! But one young chap by the name of Elihu did offer good advice when he said:

Job 35:9-11 "Because of the multitude of oppressions they cry out; They cry for help because of the arm of the mighty. (10) "But no one says, 'Where is God my Maker, Who gives songs in the night, (11) Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth And makes us wiser than the birds of the heavens?'

When trouble strikes, 'get me out of here!' is what God hears all the time. What He doesn't hear so often, which He wants to hear, is 'where are You in this Lord? What would you have me to learn in this? You can give me the strength to endure this. You can give me a song of praise in this night season'.

Conclusion

What have we seen? The important takeaways for our race as Christians and our relationship with our head Coach are:


  1. I know... not many of you know about New Zealand history. Especially its running-athletic history (which isn't overly impressive but occasionally we surprise ourselves!) At the time of writing we have 4.8 million people in our country of New Zealand. The world has 7.7 billion. So the chances that you are from NZ is 4,800,000 / 7,700,000,000 = um, not many. Well, its 0.06233% of the world's population. Let's just say I'm not expecting great results from this quiz question!  

  2. And they wouldn’t just run on the flat… no-siree Bob! They would often run through steep and winding roads in the Waitakere mountain ranges, a cumulative climb of over 500m. Snell stated in his autobiography ‘No Bugles No Drums’ that it was the marathon endurance aspect of Lydiard's training which was the primary factor in becoming the world-beating Olympic champion.  

  3. On the run home I would be running along, literally moaning out loud in pain. My only consolation was that my friend Brett would be at the back of the pack with me and groaning even louder! That brought me tremendous comfort.