I was riding my bike along the Rideau River cycle path, pedaling through familiar parkland, on the last leg of my half-hour ride home from work. The river was on my right, partly obscured by a narrow strip of wooded land. A strip of open parkland was on my left. There was the usual after-work traffic along the cycle path, but nothing to suggest that an accident was about to happen. Everything seemed perfectly normal.
I had two meetings that evening – both quite important. I was enjoying the ride, but I wanted to get home, get showered and changed, and prepare for the evening.
Then it happened. As is often the case with accidents, there was little warning. My attention was focussed on an oncoming cyclist on the other side of the pathway, and I was adjusting my position accordingly. There were also some pedestrians on or near the path, and I was conscious of needing to avoid them as well. Consequently, I wasn’t looking to my right, or I might have noticed some movement in the bushes by the river. Suddenly a mid-size dog bounded out of the bushes onto the path directly in front of me. The next thing I remember, I was on the ground, screaming in pain. I had gone down hard. All the major joints on my right side – shoulder, elbow, hip and knee – were throbbing.
After half a minute or so, I managed to get up, and found to my relief that I could still move my shoulder. This was my first concern, as four years previously I had dislocated a shoulder in a similar accident. I was a little dazed, and had painful scrapes and road rash all along my right side, but had no serious injuries. Several people stopped to make sure I was all right. I thanked them all and told them I would be OK.
I checked out my bike and found that it was basically intact. So, after waiting a few minutes for the pain to subside to a tolerable level, I got back on the bike and rode the short distance home – a wounded warrior seeking comfort and shelter. I have never been more happy to reach the safety and familiarity of my own back yard.
After I had showered and washed my wounds, Marion bandaged the worst one and put ointment on the others. But it wasn’t until she asked me “Is your head OK?” that I realized something remarkable. My head did not hurt at all. It was totally fine. I did have a few seconds of very mild lightheadedness, but absolutely no pain and no symptoms of concussion. Then we both realized that I ought to take a look at my helmet. I took a look at it, and saw two cracks on the right side – a little one and a big one.
When I thought about the cracks in my helmet, I realized that I had been protected from what could have been very serious harm. A bruised hip and shoulder, and scrapes along the elbow and knee, are really no big deal. Today, four days later, I am well on the way to recovery from all these minor wounds. But if I had landed hard on the pavement without a helmet, who knows what the outcome would have been?
Paul the apostle wrote many letters of advice and instruction to young churches full of new Christians living in a hostile world. He knew he needed to give them plenty of hope and encouragement. He told these new believers that they were like stars in a dark night sky. He told them that in the midst of the darkness of a corrupt and dying world, they were children of the day who could look forward to the glorious new world that God had promised. He also said that in the midst of the struggles of living in a culture that was mostly hostile to their faith and values, they could equip themselves by putting on faith and love like a breastplate, and the hope of salvation like a helmet. In this way their hearts and minds would be protected.
Marion rightly reminds me that I need to wear my bike helmet every time I go out on my bike. I confess that in the past, on occasion I have not worn it when I was going for only a short ride on a hot day in the neighbourhood. On those muggy July days, a helmet is hot and sweaty, and sometimes you don’t want to wear it. But since my recent accident, my helmet has proved its value to me, and I will wear it every time I ride my bike. There was no way I could have predicted my accident of a few days ago. I could need my helmet at any moment.
In my email inbox I receive daily bulletins detailing some of the struggles of Christ-followers in lands where being a Christian makes you a public enemy. When your home could be burned, your pastor could be jailed, your daughter could be raped or forced into a marriage she does not want simply because you and your family are Christians, you need a hope that circumstances can’t destroy. You can’t wait until persecution hits to secure yourself with this hope. The hope of salvation has to be your daily companion, because you could need it at any moment.
Sometimes, we don’t feel like turning off the TV or the laptop or the tablet or the smartphone to immerse ourselves in the Word of God. Sometimes we’d rather entertain ourselves than feed our spirits with worship. Christians in Canada have it pretty easy and our need for the hope of salvation may not seem all that pressing. But what are you going to do when your mother dies, or your father gets laid off, or your best friend is on drugs, or your marriage is falling apart, or your employer goes bankrupt, or you are facing sexual temptation, or someone in your life needs hope and you have none to give? What would you give for an intimate knowledge of God when disaster comes? If you have no real life with God – if your “faith, hope and love account” is bankrupt – what will you do when your next door neighbour or your friend at work or school is hungry for answers? What will you have to feed them if your cupboard is bare? And what will you do when persecution comes to Canada? What will you do when Jesus returns? How will you answer him?
I could take my helmet with me and strap it onto the back of my bike, and say that I have my helmet so I’m OK, but it wouldn’t do me any good. You may say you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but if you don’t read it, it does you no good. As for me, I can truthfully say that I know the Word of God quite well. But if I don’t pay attention to the Word I know, it doesn’t do me a bit of good. I can say that I know Jesus, but if I don’t listen to Him, what good is it? I know lots of worship songs, but if I don’t take time to worship the Lord with my whole being, what good are the songs?
The only way that I know of to put on faith and love as a breastplate and the hope of salvation as a helmet is to do it every day. Every day I need to turn to Jesus, renew my mind with His word, turn away from distractions and pour out my heart to Him in worship. Daily I need to be quiet with Him and listen to what He wants to say to me. This is how my hope stays fresh and bright and alive. Even two or three days without setting time aside to give my full attention to Jesus, and I can tell the difference.
I can’t afford to ride my bike without a helmet. It’s foolish. My helmet is my protection. I know that now, and I will never ride without it again.
In just the same way, I can’t afford to travel the pathways of life without wearing the helmet of the hope of salvation. I need to anchor myself in Jesus every day. He is ready to protect me, empower me and fill me with hope so that I’m ready for every circumstance – but it’s up to me to put on my helmet.