When Praying is like Cycling the Tour de France Eat well, Pray often


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As a writer, I am often writing much more than is publicly visible. Every now and again I write articles which are passed over by those publications I submit them to, which in turn allows me to publish them here. Hopefully, they can still be of value. 

“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”Romans 12:1-2

These words of Paul’s are some of the most challenging words in the whole Bible. These words require us to take our faith out of our minds and into our hearts to make it a part of our lives. Earlier in Romans Paul says that we must “not let sin reign in” our hearts, but rather offer ourselves to God “as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:13) These are challenging commands and ones we cannot do on our own. We cannot live a Christian life on our own, but rather it is Jesus Christ who now lives in us (Galatians 2:20).

We are not called to an idle life, either, and must commit to the renewing of our minds. We must set our minds “on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) A.W. Tozer, in his book Born After Midnight, says that “The best way to control our thoughts is to offer the mind to God in complete surrender. The Holy Spirit will accept it and take control of it immediately.”

How can we do this? How can we offer our mind to God? How are we to reliably think on the things of above, and avoid the things of earth? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Prayer is the answer – as it is the answer to many conundrums and quandaries in the Christian life.

Prayer

Developing a healthy and effective prayer life is a lifelong challenge. No one can claim to have achieved the perfect level of prayer life. Tozer, speaking this time in his book The Pursuit of God, says that our prayer lives can help us turn our daily labours into “worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” Tozer continues:

“We can meet this successfully only by the exercise of an aggressive faith. We must offer all our acts to God and believe that He accepts them. Then hold firmly to that position and keep insisting that every act of every hour of the day and night be included in the transaction. Keep reminding God in our times of private prayer that we mean every act for His glory; then supplement those times by a thousand thought-prayers as we go about the job of living.”

Tozer here is advocating that we should start our day in prayer to God, and commit all of our following actions and labours to Him. Then, as we go throughout the day, to return to God in short “thought-prayers” to continue rededicating our labours and lives to God.

In this way our prayer life should represent the eating habits of a Grand Tour cyclist.

Eating on the Bike

Many readers will have by now wondered what this article had to do with cycling, if anything. The Tour de France is currently underway and anyone watching will have no doubt caught sight of the cyclists munching away on a piece of fruit or a protein bar, maybe even snacking away on a chocolate bar or drinking a can of Coke. What many may not realise, however, is just how important it is for a cyclist to eat the right amount before, after, and during a big race like a stage of the Tour de France.

On average, a Tour cyclist might burn close to 6,000 calories on a flat stage, and up to 8,000 to 12,000 calories on a tough mountain stage (for comparison, the average man needs around 2500 calories per day). A Cycling Weekly article from early July calculated that over three weeks, 21 stages, 3,535km, the 198 cyclists involved in the Tour de France will burn a combined 25 million calories.

An interview with then-Lotto-Soudal team chef Carol de Dobbelaere in 2015 by Road Cycling UK explained that a cyclist might start the day with “Muesli, oatmeal, pancakes and waffles … alongside an abundance of eggs”.

“Breakfast is very important, certainly when there’s a mountain stage on the agenda,” said de Dobbelaere. “The riders eat more in the morning compared to the evening. During breakfast, there’s muesli and warm oatmeal on the table among other things.

“I also bake 35 pancakes and about twenty waffles. The riders may choose how their egg is prepared. Adam Hansen for example always eats a ‘running egg’ – five or six half-baked eggs, some olive oil, pepper and salt. He eats that for several years now.”

Unsurprisingly, there’s also a big meal at the end of the day to recoup all the calories that were lost.

A cyclist will need to not only start and end the day with a massive calorie intake, but he has to ensure that he keeps eating throughout the stage. Jumping on the bike will see the cyclist start to burn away as much as 1,000 calories per hour – meaning that they need to keep taking in calories as they ride. This will see the cyclist eat about 3 gels and a sports bar of 100 calories each, maybe a sandwich of some sort of up to 400 calories, and as many as 12 sports drinks over the course of a single stage. Not to mention litres of water. The cyclist needs to keep eating and drinking so that they don’t fall into a food deficit, which can do serious harm to their health – not to mention seeing them fall off the back of the peloton.

Cycling and Prayer

It’s not difficult to see the similarities between a cyclists’ eating habits and the prayer habits of a Christian. Each day must begin and end with big meals – for the cyclist, it involves lots of calories, for the Christian it involves lots of prayer. Each day is filled with enough troubles and spiritual attacks that the Christian needs to fuel up and repeatedly refuel. But we can’t just rely on those big spiritual meals at the beginning and end of the day – we need to keep spiritually fuelling ourselves during the day as well.

If we are to commit to being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” to become more like Christ then we must commit to regularly fuelling our spiritual lives through prayer. We must also not be confined or content to limit this to just one short prayer a day when we think we can afford to. Just as a healthy and substantial breakfast and dinner are important meals of the day to a cyclist, so too must a healthy and substantial regular private prayer time be as important to the Christian. And just as continuing to eat during a ride is vital for the health and success for the Tour cyclist, so too must regular thought-prayers be considered vital for the spiritual health and success of the Christian.

Viva le Tour!

Inspiration for this post came from Prayer: Communing with God in Everything—Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer, Compiled by W.L. Seaver, my own lifelong love of cycling, and fortuitous timing.

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