In the Arena

Bible Readings: Genesis 30, Psalm 34, Matthew 19

I trust you are continuing with a commitment to daily reading of the Bible in this new year? For a variety of reasons, you may have decided to try a different reading plan this year. That is fine as long as you are still reading – that is the overall goal of this devotional I write. Namely, to encourage all participants (including myself) to see the daily reading of God’s Word as an integral part of our lives. If we persist, it becomes something that we cannot live without – because it just gets our heads in the right place to face the great variety of experiences each day offers. It will make it a bit off for you however, if you are doing a different plan, since we will not be “on the same page” quite literally! 😃  But I still encourage you to read these thoughts in the hope that perhaps it will still spark something that might encourage you in your spiritual walk.

I will remind everyone that there is a link to the Bible Plan I use for this blog on the website. Don’t forget you can also listen to the readings on your computer or smartphone if you download the Free YouVersion Bible App (iOS/Android/Other). Select the Robert Roberts Plan on the app and it will automatically bring up the day’s readings that you can read or listen to in audio format. One of the advantages to doing a plan like this is that it is not a huge time commitment – just 3ish chapters a day. It also keeps you consistent with listening to God on a daily basis while getting you through the entire Bible in a year. But there is certainly also something to be said for varied approaches as well as more accelerated reading.

As we continue to walk with Jesus in his ministry “beyond the Jordan” (Matthew 19:1) today, I was struck by the great variety of experiences the Lord faced each individual day of his ministry. He walked bravely into the unknown every morning – being sought out by such contrasts as: the sickest of the sick (and their families), arch rival enemies with designs on his life, and adorable little children that were attracted by his gentle manner and soft smile. And these people were all mixed up on any given day for him, weren’t they? He would be marveling at the faith of a Gentile soldier one moment, and sharply rebuking his beloved disciples the next. Or he might be found having verbal sparring matches with the the Pharisees and their cronies who “came to him, testing him…,” v.3 and then sadly looking with love and compassion on the materialistic, rich young ruler. vv.16-22

I find Jesus’ spontaneity and flexibility truly amazing! It’s certainly something to be inspired by, and to aspire to, in our own characters and daily walks! His life was poured out for whatever person he next encountered. And he would minister to them always – the love evidencing itself in both the rebuke and the kindness, depending on the circumstances and the individual.

I was also considering the fact that Jesus was not “on the same page” in thinking often times with any of these people – including his best friends – the disciples. He had such a superior spiritual outlook and such faith that he was usually not the one being strengthened by others. Rather, he was the Rabbi/teacher, wise one; the one who helped, shepherded and healed those he encountered. There were moments of strong connection with a few like Peter (when he confessed Jesus as the son of the living God), or the Centurion (who understood the exalted position of this amazing Jewish rabbi). But for the most part, Jesus spent his time filling needs and patiently explaining and working with the way people think – always trying to draw their thoughts closer to the God of Heaven. In other words, he was alone in some ways – having genuine communion only with his Father in his habitual times of prayer. It was like he was alone in the arena, fighting the battle with sin. And no one, not even his Father could deliver him from that battle. Patiently, obediently, indomitably he pressed on each day – knowing the cross was his inevitable end.

So today, I am writing all of this as a sort of a preface to a moving poem written by Theodore Roosevelt, entitled, “The Man in the Arena”. President Roosevelt, too, knew what it was to wrestle with big issues and powerful people. He captures the essence of this in his poem.

I thought it might touch your heart as it has mine, when I think of my Lord Jesus “in the arena” of life. I think of his courage and faithfulness that is so far beyond anything that I am or ever will be. I sit there humbly thankful that His Father and he were both willing to have his “face marred by dust and sweat and blood…” In the eyes of the world, he “failed while daring greatly” but we know that he (and only he) never erred in his worthy cause – he was the true victor – Our Champion who conquered sin when we weren’t even there to cheer him on. Because He triumphed, we can too! So, if you will, read this poem with both application to yourself in your own life, and with the Victorious Lord Jesus in mind. I hope you will find encouragement for today, as I have.

The Man in the Arena

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

– Theodore Roosevelt