American Ninja Warrior and Our Misplaced Grip Strength

My 6-year-old has a very impressive grasp of statistics and personalities related to American Ninja Warrior. He can tell you all about James McGrath, Daniel Gil, Joe Moravsky, Jessie Graff, and Isaac Caldiero. He can detail for you the jumping spider, the salmon ladder, and the key lock hang.

And now he’s doing a lot of specific exercises to improve his grip strength. That’s because he’s heard more than once on the show that the key to so many of these obstacles is about a competitor’s ability to just hang on.

Grip strength is important for these ninjas, and it’s also important in our spiritual lives. We are many times in Scripture told to continue. To endure. To persevere. Or, in these terms, to just hang on:

“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us…” Hebrews 12:1

“If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…” 2 Timothy 2:12

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13

The Christian, then, must develop their spiritual grip strength. We must, by faith, choose again and again to cling to what we know to be true, regardless of our temporary feelings or circumstances. But there are many occasions when our grip strength is put to ill use. In other words, we cling to that which should be let go.

Take, for example, the dogged stubbornness with which we cling to our rights. In various circumstances, our knuckles are white with strain as we grip tightly to what we believe we are entitled to:

  • I deserve an apology from her.
  • I deserve to be recognized for my work.
  • I deserve to be appreciated for my sacrifice.
  • I deserve some reprieve from suffering.

And there we are, clinging to what we perceive to be ours, hanging on for everything we’re worth. And it’s exhausting.

But it’s also revealing. Our unwillingness to let go of what we think we are entitled to betrays the fact that we are bound to these rights. It shows that we shackled by our commitment to ourselves above all others. It reveals that we have a high opinion of ourselves. And it shows that we have, in truth, a small degree of confidence in Jesus’ advocacy on our behalf.

For that’s what we really want, isn’t it? For someone to come to our defense? For a person in power to justify us? For someone in authority to recognize who we are and what we’ve done? Perhaps if someone would do that for us, then at long last we might know the sweet relief of relinquishing our grip on what we deserve.

How humbling, then, is the gospel, which reminds us of what we truly deserve. What we have truly earned. What we have garnered with all of our self-righteous justification. That we are hopeless sinners, condemned to die eternally. But how sweet is that same gospel, which reminds us that despite what we deserve we do indeed have an advocate. That the right man is on our side.

And finally, how ironic is it that this same gospel reminds us that the true grip strength – the only one that matters – is the grip the Father has on His children. That His arm is mighty to save and His strength to do so never runs out. It’s then that we can finally let go of that which we are holding onto so tightly, for we are confident that He will never let go of us.

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