Have you heard of the Tough Mudder? If you check out their website here you will see that it is a 10-12 mile, hardcore challenge. British Special Forces designed the 25 military-style obstacles that make up the course. The task seems insurmountable, as the website boasts that it will “test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” Indeed it will. Seriously, watch the video footage on their website.
My brother, Luke, got a team from his Mixed Martial Arts academy together to compete last week when the Tough Mudder rolled into Frederick, MD. The first obstacle was called the Arctic Enema—pretty much a pool of ice water that you have to swim through. The Boa Constrictor course consists of cold, muddy pipes that you crawl up and downhill through, only to then make it to a sloppy, muddy barb-wire course on the other end. Many of these obstacles are impossible without help. The Everest is a quarter-pipe wall coated in mud and grease—I don’t even think the American Ninja Warriors can make it over this wall alone. And if I had to pass through the Electroshock Therapy (yes, you get shocked!) alone I would be rocking back and forth in the corner crying.
You might be thinking, “This is totally what those Mixed Martial Arts kind of people would feel they have to do to prove their toughness.” Maybe, but there is much more to it than that. Here is a part of their philosophy on the website: “But Tough Mudder is more than an event, it’s a way of thinking. By running a Tough Mudder challenge, you’ll unlock a true sense of accomplishment, have a great time, and discover a camaraderie with your fellow participants that’s experienced all too rarely these days.” This is exactly what I heard from all the participants. There’s something about focusing on a goal together, overcoming every obstacle on the way.
Tough Mudder isn’t about finishing first either. The team stays with their weakest link, helping one another to all finish together. The event has raised over 3 million dollars for the Wounded Warrior Project, and you see wounded warriors there competing, prosthetic legs and all. Pretty cool.
This was the image in my head when I was teaching Hebrews 11:13-16 this week in Bible study:
These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.
Particularly when we discussed what it means to be a pilgrim, I thought of this obstacle course. Pilgrims have a destination and they must lay aside any distraction that hinders them from reaching their goal. There are many obstructions on our heavenward journey. If our focus is on the barriers, we may want to turn back. But believers don’t even have that option. Like the Tough Mudder’s, we have a completely different way of thinking. Our minds must be focused on the eternal promises in Christ. First we see them, then we are assured of them, and so we embrace them, confessing our identity in Christ.
It’s funny. People dress up for these Tough Mudder events. My brother’s crew decided to all dress like superheroes. Christians may not be in funny costumes, but there should be a sense in which we feel like strangers to the watching world. Our superhero status may not be worn ostensibly, but as we progress in our journey, we are being transformed and prepared for eternal glory. How amazing is that?
And I had one other comforting thought about this comparison. God didn’t send us out alone as strangers and pilgrims on this earth. He has the entire church as the body of Christ, sister’s and brothers in the Lord who accompany us. He even set aside the first day of every week for worship together, a glimpse of what is to come. You see the writer of Hebrews encourage our unity in the context of my above verses:
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).
There are much harder obstacles in life’s journey than greasy quarter-pipes and electric shocks. Part of the grace and strength God gives us on our pilgrimage is the amazing camaraderie of our fellow pilgrims. As I watched the video clips of Luke’s “Team Clinch” going through the Electroshock Therapy, I noticed they formed a chain, everyone’s hands resting on the shoulders in front of them. It was a powerful image. To make it up the quarter-pipe wall, they formed another sort of chain, standing on one another’s shoulders all the way to the top. At the crest were the strongest, encouraging as they pulled the next one over. Faith in action.
And they finished strong. They finished cold, muddy, bruised, tired, and glorious. They were awarded with the official Tough Mudder badge. I couldn’t help but agree with the website’s philosophy. The participants accomplished more than a physical feat, but rather were a part of something that is experienced all too rarely these days. Has this been the Christian experience for you?