Posts tagged gym

Developing a spiritual workout plan (part 2)



This is the continuation of a two-part post. Click for part one of “Developing a spiritual workout plan.” 

Years ago I saw an advertisement showing a young man with the washboard abs, with glistening muscles rippling as he pumps his Solaflex machine — with its haunting reminder:  “No pain, no gain.”

WeightsThe same is true spiritually speaking, isn’t it? We want the faith of Moses, but we’d rather avoid the process of a 40-year visit to the wilderness so God can humble us.

We want David’s heart for God, but we don’t want blisters from shoveling smelly sheep manure. We want the glory of the spotlight, the prestige of the position.

And who wouldn’t want to have the spiritual impact of Paul? He shaped the first century church. He journeyed to other countries, preached to massive crowds, entrusted his life to men like Timothy — we’re talking gain, real gain. But we’re also talking pain — major-league pain. Among other things:

  • Paul did time in prison.
  • He was beaten near to death “many times.”
  • Five times the Jews gave him 39 lashes with a whip.
  • He was stoned once, and beaten with rods three times.
  • He was shipwrecked three times.
  • He spent a night and a day in the sea.
  • Many times he was without food, water, and clothing (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

More agony. More pain. But more gain.

Let’s take a few moments and visit two more weightlifting stations that will stretch your faith and increase your endurance.

Do you have “guts”?

One of the largest muscle groups in the body is the stomach. In spiritual terms, your stomach is the place where courage resides. Courage to make tough decisions — hard choices. It is said of a courageous person, “He has guts.”

But our society is guilty of flab in the waistline. We don’t want pain — we want comfort — thus the loss of tone and a resulting bulge from our failure to be bold.

Christians who lack “guts” sacrifice truth on the altar of love. Many lack the tough love to fearlessly confront a family member caught in the web of an addiction. They have a soft view of love, because they fear conflict, rejection, or loss of emotional comfort.

So they don’t broach painful subjects with those they love the most. Or, if they do, they sit on the sidelines throwing stones and second-guessing those who care enough to confront.

Actually, gutless believers are selfish — unwilling to be hurt to see another healed. Paul wrote to Timothy, “God does not give us a spirit that makes us afraid. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).

Flexing your faith muscles

Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to flex your faith in your stomach area? A tough decision? A heroic admission to a friend of some secret sin? An undaunted, loving confrontation with a loved one who is in a downward spiral spiritually?

Go against the tension and exercise your spiritual guts.

Now on to the next station — a spiritual treadmill to exercise our legs. This machine is designed to increase our endurance.

Building endurance

These days I try to run three miles at least three times each week. But when I started on my 40th birthday I could barely run downhill for one mile. I had to endure a lot of pain to get up to my present level.

The same is true spiritually. If I don’t go ahead and face the pain now, I’m left with the inevitable reality of having to face it again and again until I embrace the circumstances, learn the lesson, and gain the stamina. I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve had to learn the same lesson, simply because I was unwilling to face the “painful” truth of what God was saying to me.

God gives our legs hills so that we can grow stronger. The prophet Isaiah gives us the secret to where strong legs come from: “Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

It is a blessing to endure

One last point about this treadmill: The older you get, the steeper the incline becomes. Sound like bad news? It really isn’t. Who wouldn’t like to think that they had finally arrived?

But if I understand the Scripture, the longer we live, the more we have to die. The more you want to grow, the more you and I must say “no” to self and “yes” to Christ.

I must confess that the more I grow the more in touch I become with how sinful I really am. As the angle of the incline of the treadmill becomes steeper, I see more and more that my only hope is in God and His grace. Paul said it well, “But God’s grace has made me what I am…” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Now there’s some hope for tired muscles. Suffering is used by God to conform our character to the likeness of His Son—to “train us in righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).

As you “pump the iron” of difficult circumstances, perseverance under trial will occur. Look at this promise of how the pain will result in gain: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life…” (James 1:12).

The truth of “no pain, no gain” is summarized succinctly in the following essay written by one of my favorite authors, Max Lucado.

When a potter bakes a pot, he checks its solidity by pulling it out of the oven and thumping it. If it “sings,” it’s ready. If it “thuds,” it’s placed back in the oven.

The character of a person is also checked by thumping.

Been thumped lately?

Late-night phone calls. Grouchy teacher. Grumpy moms. Burnt meals. Flat tires. “You’ve-got-to-be-kidding” deadlines. Those are thumps. Thumps are those irritating inconveniences that trigger the worst in us. They catch us off guard. Flat-footed. They aren’t big enough to be crises, but if you get enough of them, watch out! Traffic jams. Long lines. Empty mailboxes. Dirty clothes on the floor. Even as I write this I’m being thumped. Because of interruptions, it has taken me almost two hours to write these two paragraphs. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Jesus said that out of the nature of the heart a man speaks (Luke 6:45). There’s nothing like a good thump to reveal the nature of a heart. The true character of a person is seen not in momentary heroics, but in the thump-packed humdrum of day-to-day living.

How do I respond? Do I sing? Or do I thud?

If you have a tendency to thud more than you sing, take heart. There is hope for us “thudders.”

1) Begin by thanking God for thumps. I don’t mean a half-hearted thank you. I mean a “rejoicing, jumping-for-joy” thank you from the bottom of your heart (James 1:2). Chances are that God is doing the thumping. And He’s doing it for your own good. So every thump is a reminder that God is molding you (Hebrews 12:8).

2) Learn from each thump; Face up to the fact that you are not “thump-proof.” You are going to be tested from now on. Might as well learn from the thumps; you can’t avoid them. Look upon each inconvenience as an opportunity to develop patience and persistence. Each thump will help you or hurt you, depending on how you use it.

3) Be aware of “thump-slump” times. Know your pressure periods. For me, Mondays are infamous for causing thump-slumps. Fridays can be just as bad. For all of us there are times during the week that we can anticipate an unusual amount of thumping. The best way to handle thump-slump times? Head on. Bolster yourself with extra prayer and don’t give up.

Remember, no thump is disastrous. All thumps work for good if we are loving and obeying God.

Been thumped recently? Remember where there’s “no pain,” there’s “no gain.” By the way, this spiritual workout center does exist—it’s the local church. Been missing your workouts recently?

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Developing a spiritual workout plan



I remember the year I joined a workout club in an effort to shed some unwanted pounds. When I arrived for the first time, I stood in the doorway of a workout room, looking at all these slim and trim, toned and tuned hardbodies. My greatest fear was that they would all look up at me simultaneously and fall to the floor, laughing hysterically.

WeightsAfter enduring the humiliation of walking to the dressing room and getting into my sweat suit (I wish I had arrived already dressed), I noticed two things. The room was full of all sorts of weight machines designed to strengthen different muscle groups throughout the body. Second, I couldn’t help but notice the mirrors. They were everywhere. I felt like I was in some sort of narcissistic cathedral. People throughout the room stared at their bodies, but I ignored the mirrors — I already knew what I looked like.

As I began to move from station to station, using muscles that must have wondered what prompted their agonizing, abrupt promotion from hibernation, a Scripture began to pound in my ears:

… discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8; NASB).

The word “profitable” is used in this passage to contrast “gain” in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual. The perishable and imperishable. As I began to perspire I thought about my own perishing muscles and the truth of that Scripture.

We need a spiritual workout center

Here I was, moving from machine to machine, an out-of-shape, plump glob of mid-life molecules, surrounded by the “saints of Muscledonia.” But I couldn’t help pondering how, after decades of attempting to obey God and walk with Him, the spiritual conditioning was paying off in my life. No, I didn’t envision myself as some kind of spiritual hunk or hardbody, but I did think about the growth (by the grace of God) that has occurred — what I’ve learned about loving people, developing a blueprint for handling life’s struggles, creating peace and harmony (for the most part) at home, and, most importantly, learning to trust God.

Then it hit me: What you and I in the Christian community need is a spiritual workout center — a sort of spiritual weight machine with different stations to strengthen our faith “muscles.” A place to work out our spiritual soreness, a place to flex and tone our unused muscles of faith, a place where Christians could go to be built up and not torn down. A place to go to see others who, over a lifetime, have faithfully worked out and applied the spiritual disciplines.

As I left those muscle toning machines and ran out the door to go jogging, I began to design my Spiritual Faith-Building Center. I began to think about the individual stations where certain muscles of the faith would be stretched and flexed. I need my own faith-muscles toned and tuned as I faced a new year — more and more stamina is demanded with each passing year. As you read through these, why not select a couple of these areas and do some of your own biblical exercises?

The tongue

My first station in this spiritual workout would be a machine that produces little sweat, but incredible results. This machine would help bridle the tongue. Posted above this faith-building spot would be the following verse:

If any one thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (James 1:26).

Bridled by the Bible, a muscle-toned tongue would be appropriate for those who share gossip in the form of “prayer requests.” By controlling this muscle, one could refrain from critical, harsh, or angry words. This would be an excellent machine for Christians whose slimy slab of mucous membrane is used to telling off-color jokes. And for any saint who hasn’t yet swept clean his vocabulary.

Sets of exercises could be developed to train the tongue to form words of appreciation, praise, and encouragement for those who do the laundry, clean house, do yard work, manage the money in the household — and for those who meet the needs of a growing family. Also a special exercise would ingrain in the tongue the ability to give thanks in all things — something that’s not easy even for the most muscle-bound saint (so I’ve been told).

The eyes

Since we’re working on the face, let’s visit a station that addresses the faith-muscles of the eyes. Above this machine would be pictures of some biblical heroes whose lives were ruined when they lost control of their eye muscles. Samson and David were both deceived when they allowed their eyes to gaze too long upon the opposite sex. Special workouts would be designed to train men to look just once at a woman, and then turn his eyes in another direction if necessary.

Eyes that are lured into selfish, materialistic traps when shopping and browsing through catalogues would also receive special exercises. Also, eyes that tend to be discontent with what they have (job, home, and wealth) — eyes that tend to roam every couple of years — would receive special glasses to correct short-sightedness, until the faith-muscle of contentment can be built up (1 Timothy 6:6).

The neck

I would also have a machine that works on the spiritual muscles of the neck. It would increase flexibility in those who have become “stiff-necked” — especially those who are too proud to admit mistakes, too stubborn to ask for forgiveness, or too arrogant to admit they need to depend upon God.

This exercise would demand a person be on his knees with neck bent downward in prayer. Prayerlessness is usually a sign of stiff neck muscles. But prayer loosens muscles that are tied in knots by worry, pressure, or long hours of hard work.

A special softening of the neck muscles with certain Scriptures would be necessary to work the kinks out of the neck area:

“God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

“You scold proud people. Those who ignore your commands are cursed” (Psalm 119:21).

“Proud looks, proud thoughts, and evil actions are sin” (Proverbs 21:4).

“Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6).

Teachability toward God and others would increase as the muscles of humility began to be developed in the neck area. As one became more willing to hear the truth, admit failures, and take responsibility for wrong actions, a genuine joy would begin to move from the neck to the face.

Sweating yet? Any increase in your heart-for-God rate? Out of breath? Sore? Like any good workout, it wouldn’t be good to overdo it the first time out.

Read part two of “Developing a spiritual workout plan”

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

 

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.