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?