Tedious: too long, slow, or dull; tiresome or monotonous (dictionary.com)
Sometimes our workouts ... and our life ... can seem pretty tedious. We can feel like we're doing the "same old thing" and nothing is happening. Chances are nothing is happening with your workouts, but with your spiritual discipline it could be that you are on the verge of something. Either way, you may need to ramp some things up in both areas of your life.
Ramp it up
If you're workouts seem tedious and you are doing the same old thing, it's time to change what you are doing. There are so many things that you could do - here are just a few: 1) Superset; 2) Shorter rest periods; 3) Combine an exercise with some cardio; 4) Superset with no rest for one minute; 5) Do HIIT; 6) Change the number of reps you do; 7) Add more weight; 8) Any combination of 1-7.
For your spiritual life, you may need to step our of your comfort zone. I am perfectly happy sitting in a room reading and praying, with the occasional meditation while listening to praise music. Those kinds of habits and disciplines are great - for the introvert. I have a hard time "going and doing" (believe it or not). Often times if our spiritual life seems tedious we may be needing to step out and actually do something! Or, God might be nudging us to do something that we've been ignoring. That could be quiet time if your more extroverted, or it could mean going out and serving somewhere and talking to people if you're more introverted.
Sometimes we simply lack the motivation to do things. With fitness and spiritual disciplines, we sometimes need to feel like we have to give ourselves a little pep talk to stir up some kind of passion to do what we feel like we must. This is where I start thinking about all those moments in recent past where I have thought, "If I only had done (such and such) like I thought and planned ...". Usually situations where that thought happens come up for me frequently, and so I get motivated to do the tedious task because I know the pay off will come later.
With our spiritual lives, Paul tells us to focus on things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. This guides our life on earth until things are remade and we have new bodies. We focus on heaven and Jesus because we are going into eternal life.
Honestly, sometimes that's not motivating for me because I talk about that every week and every day. It makes me understand the wandering in the desert a little more!
But that's where we need to start thinking about what we are grateful for and what God has done for us. This stirs me enough to plod along and continue the walk with and toward Christ. "Come Holy Spirit" is the prayer, and then set your mind to the task.
And finally - sometimes we just need to get out of our own heads and start getting busy.
We are programmed to expect the big, the unusual, and the spectacular, and we miss the glory of the ordinary (Mastering the New Testament: Luke; Larson, p.174)
In our American culture, we are trained to believe that every single person is extraordinary, will make something special happen, and will be successful given certain conditions (degree, debt free, own house, have car, etc). However when you think about it, if every person is told this, then every person thinks they are extraordinary, expects the extraordinary, and ends up extremely dissatisfied and disillusioned with their life - for most people. Some people do attain levels of perceived greatness, but usually at great cost.
I believe our lives are filled with extraordinary moments that have great meaning for the individual, or individuals, involved. The rest of the time we live in the ordinary, or as some may term it, "the mundane." Day after day things just seem the same and it feels like nothing is happening. Well, that can be true if you are chasing after what you were programmed to chase! How often are we told to explore skills rather than interests? Really think about that. Our interests could be incredibly varied, but we might have a skill sets that fits within a particular area of interest.
I, for example, am interested in a great many things, but my skill set fits with public speaking, writing, reading, vision implementation, and team/system development. As a believer, this led me to become a pastor. These skill sets could also work in the business world as an entrepreneur. It also works in fitness. Sometimes we just go to the gym and do what we've been told - either directly or by what we see in the media. But there are many ways to be healthy and in which we can work out. We just need to find what keeps us going through the mundane.
On that note, there are three things can I think are common in just about all walks of life that can be thought through: it can seem tedious; it feels like there is no progress; you don't actually feel like you are doing anything; desire for 'fame'. I'll be talking about these in more detail in the next month with some thoughts on how to get through these feelings. For now, I will simply say that "ordinary" is just fine. Ordinary allows us to live simply, but also can cause us to reflect on where we want to be, and within the ordinary moments we then prepare for the extraordinary moments that life offers us. So there is always, then, something worth waiting for and something to look forward to.
1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)
8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
Recently I started working in the gym that I was working out in. While this is bringing in extra money (sorely needed - stupid debt! Lord forgive ...) it has caused me to not be able to workout as much because of when I can work versus when I can workout. I've been doing more home workouts lately, and have been reflecting a lot on my genuine sadness and disappointment at not being able to give my all in the gym anymore. Why is this so important to me? Why am I working out? Have my reasons changed? What are my goals? etc etc.
In these reflective moments the verse above keeps coming to mind. It makes me remember that while I am disappointed at how little I get into the gym, and how regimented and disciplined I am and desire to be with it, I do not have that level of commitment to the spiritual disciplines that we as Christians need to aspire to do. These disciplines have shaped believers for a few millennia, and who are we (who am I) to not aspire to have the same commitment to God as those who have come before? To not have those same aspirations as I do in going to the gym?
Thinking on these things then, I think the same reasoning for 'getting in shape' and joining a gym can be the same - or at least very similar - for the spiritual disciplines:
I have to start looking after myself / take time for myself and get fit / want to look good (again)
This one is probably the most vain for either spiritual fitness or physical fitness, but it's still a reason why many want to begin "getting in shape." And speaking in terms of the spiritual disciplines, we might want to look better than other Christians on how we practice or faith. If I am being honest, there was a time in my youth (both age and Christian walk) where I wanted to be not just a good Christian man, but the best Christian man I could be.
I wanted (and admittedly, still do) people to come to me and ask for advice because of how well I was living. I wanted to be like people such as Thomas Jefferson or John Wesley, who used to journal about their character every day in order to improve themselves. I started to do this in High School. Lately, I have actually been thinking about how I seemed to have better self control and discipline in High School than I do now!
In practicing spiritual disciplines, we should start slowly with the basics: prayer, reading the Word, fasting, worship, spiritual conversation. Many of the "basic" practices should include a good mix of personal practices as well as corporate practices (doing things for yourself and doing things for others). With daily dedication, we can begin to focus more and more outside of ourselves, and daily be in the habit of John the Baptist, where we become less and Jesus becomes more.
While there may be a desire to look better and exercise, there is also the understanding that diet is a huge part of getting in shape. Often people thing it means eating less, when in fact, some people (like me) may need to eat more. I have been eating what I should (and a little of what I shouldn't, I do love my icecream), but not enough. In order to grow muscle like I want, and lean out, I need to almost double my caloric intake. Most people need to first cut out the bad, establish some kind of baseline, and adjust accordingly.
I think that idea about dieting down and adjusting accordingly is where the similarity with spiritual health comes into play. All of us, and I genuinely think all of us need to first cut out the bad and get some kind of spiritual baseline established in our lives. Speaking as a Methodist, I would say this involves tuning ourselves into the grace of God, and understanding we have a measure of His grace already in us - that still small voice encouraging us toward life eternal. I believe this lends us to then focus on those "basic" spiritual disciplines that I listed above. From there, we can adjust our spiritual walk accordingly as we are convicted of our brokenness and sin to become more and more like Christ, who lived and died so others would know the grace and love of God.
Want to be healthy
Perhaps the best idea I have heard is when someone just wants to be healthy. This understanding of being healthy can mean different things to different people (we aren't talking about just losing weight here). Generally speaking, there is a desire for a fuller life and a longer life. Honestly, I like it when people say this because it seems like there is more intentionality involved, and an understanding that being "fit" is more than just exercise and trying to eat better. It also involves the knowledge that diet and exercise isn't something temporary or for a specific goal that comes and goes. The reality is that being healthy is for longevity - a lifelong aspiration.
The same should be true of our spiritual walk. We ought to desire to do the spiritual disciplines every day for reasons of longevity. And the idea of longevity with Christians is eternal life with God. Therefore, exercise is of some value (temporary outlook), but godliness is of value in every way because it is not just benefiting us now, but will also benefit us when we have the new bodies in the new heavens and earth. I mean, we have a part in remaking ourselves with God! That is so cool, and how awesome is God! In our discipline, we shape ourselves to more attuned to Him, and he shapes us to be more like Christ through His power and grace in the Holy Spirit.
Like anything, start small and do what you can handle each day. Start with one discipline, work on it until it is a habit, then start another while keeping the first. As you understand yourself more and more, and as God reveals more and more to you, the results (or fruit) will begin to show and like physical fitness you will want to do more and more because of the good you begin to feel and see in your life.
When difficulties come, or when you feel like you can't give things the time like you want or things are working as well as you had hoped, don't focus on that. Work around the problem. If you are used to the quite time for prayer in the morning but can't anymore, find a way to get used to praying in different circumstances or areas. Don't get caught up in the 'perfect' way to do something. Just find a way to do it!
Like not being able to be in the gym as much, I can still work towards physical health in other ways. It can be the same with our spiritual walk. God is everywhere and in everything, so we don't need to go searching for him in a closet to pray! Also realize that God may be guiding you in such a way that you have to focus on something different than you have planned or desire at the present moment. Time is not against you!
So press on.
Some "weekly" musings from Pastor Dave as he sits on his porch and drinks coffee, thinking about theology and lifting heavy weights. For gymsharks, there is something called "Flex Fridays," where we vainly put up photos of ourselves flexing. So this blog is my attempt to flex my theological muscles through reflection ... get it?