A rolling-ball clock in the British Museum struck me as a vivid illustration of the deadening effects of routine. A small steel ball traveled in grooves across a tilted steel plate until it tripped a lever on the other side. This tilted the plate back in the opposite direction, reversed the direction of the ball and advanced the clock hands. Every year, the steel ball traveled some 2,500 miles back and forth, but never really went anywhere.
It’s easy for us to feel trapped by our daily routine when we can’t see a larger purpose. The apostle Paul longed to be effective in making the gospel of Christ known. “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air” (1 Cor. 9:26 niv). Anything can become monotonous—traveling, preaching, teaching, and especially being confined in prison. Yet Paul believed he could serve Christ his Lord in every situation.
Routine becomes lethal when we can’t see a purpose in it. Paul’s vision reached beyond any limiting circumstance because he was in the race of faith to keep going until he crossed the finish line. By including Jesus in every aspect of his life, Paul found meaning even in the routine of life.
And so can we.
For more than two decades, Andrew Carroll has been urging people not to throw away the letters written by family members or friends during a time of war. Carroll, director of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in California, considers them an irreplaceable link to tie families together and open a door of understanding. “Younger generations are reading these letters,” Carroll says, “and asking questions and saying, ‘Now I understand what you endured, what you sacrificed.’ ”
When the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Rome and knew his life would soon end, he wrote a letter to a young man whom he considered a “son in the faith,” Timothy. Like a soldier on the battlefield, Paul opened his heart to him: “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
When we read the letters in the Bible that the heroes of the Christian faith have left for us and grasp what they endured because of their love for Christ, we gain courage to follow their example and to stand strong for those who come after us.
By the end of the 4th century, followers of Christ were no longer being fed to the lions for the entertainment of Roman citizens. But the games of death continued until the day one man jumped out of the crowd in a bold attempt to keep two gladiators from killing each other.
His name was Telemachus. As a desert monk, he had come to Rome for the holidays only to find himself unable to tolerate the bloodlust of this popular pastime. According to the 5th-century bishop and church historian Theodoret, Telemachus cried out for the violence to stop but was stoned to death by the crowd. The Emperor Honorius heard about his courageous act and ordered an end to the games.
Some may question Telemachus. Was his action the only way to protest a tragic blood sport? The apostle Paul asked a similar question of himself: “Why do we stand in jeopardy every hour?” (1 Cor. 15:30). In 2 Corinthians 11:22-33, he chronicled some of his travails for the love of Christ, many of which could have killed him. Had it all been worth it?
In Paul’s mind the matter was settled. Trading things that will soon come to an end for honor that will last forever is a good investment. In the resurrection, a life that has been lived in behalf of Christ and others is seed for an eternity we will never regret.