My brother and I have participated together in a number of “adventure races” over the years. They are 8 to 12-hour events that include multiple activities. All of them involve mountain biking, and there is some combination of a water event (like kayaking) and a ropes event (like repelling) along with other physically challenging and “adventurous” tasks. The first one was my brother’s idea and on hearing him describe it I was saying yes before he even finished explaining. We agreed that we were in it to “complete” and not to “compete,” but that didn’t prevent us from talking about it all the time.
Undoubtedly, I was excited about the upcoming escapade, but I was also very busy in my everyday life. The weeks went by, and, despite my passion, I did little to train for it. I had to borrow a mountain bike and that, too, got little use prior to race day. My brother and I continued to coordinate the details until the day finally arrived. Although nervous, I was convinced that my natural athleticism, my active lifestyle, my mental toughness and my overall enthusiasm would carry the day. It did not.
In the first few miles of the first event it was clear that I was unprepared in just about every way. While pedaling uphill numerous parts of my body were losing circulation. I later learned that my bike was a size too small for me. My legs were completely fatigued and I didn’t pack the right kind of food for that level of activity. Of course my attitude changed dramatically. I was miserable. I had become a burden to my brother and, without saying a word, we both knew it was avoidable. We had talked about it. We had detailed a plan for it. We were equally excited about it, yet, in reality, I did nothing substantively to prepare for it.
Something similar is illustrated in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. In that culture the bridal party was not present during the wedding ceremony. Their job was to light the path with oil-soaked torches between the wedding location and the groom’s home where the final reception would be celebrated. In the parable the ceremony took longer than expected, resulting in the bridal party falling asleep and their lamps burning out. When a trumpet was sounded to announce the coming of the bride and groom, five of the ten found themselves woefully unprepared.
Presumably all ten bridesmaids considered themselves intimate friends of the bride. And presumably all ten were genuinely excited about the wedding. However, some took the honor of being named among the wedding party much more seriously than the others. Five of them thought carefully about their role and prepared accordingly. The other five made careless assumptions and found themselves cut off.
Talking about plans is not the same as actual preparation. Experiencing excitement over the prospect of crossing the finish line or joining the wedding reception does not increase readiness. It requires real work. It is evident that discipleship is serious business when Jesus said, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mt. 10:16).
The Christian life is not one of naïve idealism. Disciplined believers are excited about a future, eternal celebration while simultaneously exercising wisdom and putting in work in the here and now. Indeed, delayed faithfulness is foolishness.
Do the patterns of your life associate you with the wise five or the foolish five? Would an audit of your life reveal patterns of godly wisdom and preparation for the return of the Groom or careless assumptions that accommodates your preferences? Talking about preparation and having excitement for the future is an inadequate substitute for disciplined training. No one will luck into being the wise five and plenty will naïvely neglect their way into the foolish five. At the sound of the trumpet all will be revealed. Prayerfully consider how you can be counted among the wise five in disciplined discipleship.
Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. (Mt. 24:44–46)