Posts tagged spiritual health

How should a single man prepare himself for marriage? (part 2)



EDITOR’S NOTE: In the previous post, we looked at how a man should take the initiative in developing a relationship with a potential future mate, and how he should be preparing himself morally and financially for that relationship. This post looks at the spiritual and relational preparations for marriage and family life.

A man should prepare himself spiritually.

Finding myself single again after being married for over eighteen years, I confronted a question that we must all wrestle with in the face of any loss: Is God enough for me? Until we can answer in the affirmative, we would be wise to suspend seeking another relationship.

Loneliness is difficult, but it is not a sufficient reason to pursue a partner. Loneliness in its rawest form can make us very self-centered. Therefore any relationship we enter into out of sheer loneliness holds only ourselves, or mostly ourselves, at the center. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we seek to medicate our wound through the presence of another person. This is neither fair to them nor healthy for us.

Remember men, we are to be Christ-like. That means we are not seeking to be loved but to love. Love that is self-centered is really not love at all. Better to come to grips with this now and have God form genuine love in our hearts than to enter into a relationship that hurts both individuals and misrepresents Christ.

So how does a man prepare himself spiritually? By seeking God with all his heart. To do this, he must embrace his loneliness, grief, disappointment, hurt—any and all circumstances that have brought him to this place of aloneness. Embracing the hurt ushers in the comfort, and comfort is delivered by God Himself.

Spend more time in prayer. Spend more time studying the Bible. Read Christian literature that instructs and edifies. Attend Bible study or discussion groups. Involve yourself in service. Step out of the world of self-pity and into a life that is marked by Kingdom purposes and activities. Give more than you take. Understand that real men are leaders and real leaders are servants.

Spiritual development also involves the building of a prayer life. Speaking of which, it is surprising how few men actually ask God for a wife. Of all things, why would we leave this matter off our prayer list? Perhaps some would argue that it is unspiritual to pray about such a thing, that if God intends us to be married we should disengage from the process and allow Him to override our neutrality. Being neutral is fine if it means surrender and waiting by faith on God’s answer (which, by the way, first demands that a request be made), but it is not fine if it implies apathy or cowardice.

A man should prepare himself relationally.

Beware of two relationship-killers: over-aggression and passivity. In the past the former was the likelier culprit; these days however, the latter seems more common. When it comes to male-female friendships, which is where any meaningful relationship begins, men are increasingly stolid.

What is making men so passive?

Some of this is no doubt due to personal hang-ups or bad experiences. But much of it is, in my opinion, the result of two widespread phenomena. First, the past few generations have provided fewer and fewer positive examples of what a Christian marriage can be. Second, manhood has been under siege. Women have been encouraged to be stronger, to stand up for themselves and revolt against male domination. In some instances this may have been both appropriate and necessary. However, as a cultural wave, it has created a harmful undertow: the erosion of manhood.

Regardless the reasons, it is time for men to become manly again. It’s fine to be deliberate, but not passive. It’s good to be cautious, but not cowardly. Dating is risky business, and I’m not advocating a reckless abandonment to our feelings. I am saying, however, that Christian men need to be motivated toward building proper relationships with Christian women. This is the design and intent of God. Clearly marriage is part of His will for most men and women. Do not rush into it, but do not hide from it either.

There is a time to involve trusted members of the body of Christ in your personal business, and your dating life should be one of those occasions. Connect with some married couples whom you respect, and ask them to pray with you about this matter. If you are interested in a certain lady, ask them to pray about whether you should initiate contact with her. Get their counsel on how to proceed, and be open to their cautions.

Though I’ve listed only four, you may discover other areas of your life that need attention. Perhaps you need to work on your physical condition (for the sake of health, not vanity). Perhaps you’ve made ministry commitments that you’ve not kept (now would be the time to take that mission trip). Perhaps there are interpersonal rifts that you need to mend or personal disciplines you need to establish. Anything that stands in the way of your wholehearted devotion to Christ also obstructs your candidacy for relational intimacy. Wisdom says: Deal with these matters sooner rather than later.

The right man on the right journey.

In Proverbs 18:22 we’re told, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing.” The word “finds” can be translated “to come upon, meet.” The biblical language here describes a discovery made while on a journey. In other words, the man was not on a hunting expedition, intent on finding a wife, trapping her, and dragging her home. Rather, while on a purposeful journey he met her, recognized that she was a godsend, and won her heart.

As we men journey through life, seeking God and going about the tasks He has given us with diligence and faithfulness, it is within reason to believe that God will bring the right woman across our path. Let us make sure, then, that we are on the right journey. And let us not be afraid when we discover the “good thing” that God sends our way.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read the second of a two-part post, “How should a single man prepare himself for marriage” by Tim Grissom.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistIs dating preparation for marriage or just meeting the needs of the moment? Listen to the broadcast “Dating Friendships.”

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistHow are your preparing spiritually for marriage? How about “Developing a spiritual workout plan”?

STEPPass - 10-point checklistWhether married or single, you could benefit from the Stepping Up video series. How about leading one?

How should a single man prepare himself for marriage?



Hang around Christian singles long enough and you’re sure to encounter a certain emotion. If you’re thinking loneliness, guess again. The prevailing emotion is frustration.

Men are frustrated because they don’t understand what women want from them. Or, if they do have a clue, men feel the expectations are too high. Women, on the other hand, are frustrated because they want men to take initiative, to lead.

That’s right, lead. Don’t believe everything you hear; Christ-centered women still believe that God assigned respective roles to the sexes. They want to be led by Christ-centered men.

So what’s to be done about the stalemate? How should Christian men and women move toward deeper friendships, possibly even engagement and marriage?

Initiating the relationship

It takes a man to be an initiator. Relationship building with the opposite sex is risky, but in God’s created order two become one (Ephesians 5:31). However, this will never happen until you, as a man, accept your God-given role—an acceptance that includes:

  • believing that men should initiate the relationship
  • understanding that preparing yourself for a relationship is part of becoming a man

This may sound old-fashioned, but I believe it, not for the sake of tradition, which of necessity comes and goes, but because it is biblical. Marriage is meant to be, among other things, an illustration of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5); the husband typifies Christ and the wife typifies the church. Clearly, it is Christ who initiates the relationship; “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Furthermore, the Ephesians 5 passage describes the husband as “the head of the wife.” Men are called to be—created to be—leaders. This is not an empowerment that mystically comes over a man at his wedding, but part of his inherent nature. If a man shirks relational leadership prior to marriage, chances are slim that he will properly assume it after.

Several months after my wife died, I was talking with a friend who is also a wise and loving pastor. He wanted to help protect me from too quickly getting involved in another relationship—a common problem for men who are divorced or widowed. (My advice: Lock them in a secure room for six months.) My friend’s counsel was simple, and should be heeded by all Christian single men regardless of age: Concentrate first on being the right person, then on finding the right person.

A man who wants to be godly and who means to prepare himself for a wholesome, meaningful relationship has his work cut out for him. And it doesn’t begin by random dating.

Be prepared

The Jewish young men of the Old Testament intentionally prepared themselves for marriage. In addition to becoming skilled in a trade that would support a family, these men saved their resources in order to pay a dowry to their future in-laws, and generally built their own dwellings. The latter was often done in the time between engagement and marriage. Taking a wife was a serious commitment, one that demanded earnest preparation.

I’m not suggesting a return to these practices, although we’d probably be wise to realign romance with realism. I merely wish to point out that healthy marriages are seasoned with preparation. If a man wants to find the right person, he needs to be the right person, and that takes concentrated effort that is best begun before there is a potential mate on the scene.

If a man is serious about walking with Christ, and serious about wanting to be the right kind of husband and father someday, how should he prepare himself?

A man should prepare himself morally.

Our culture, even our Christian subculture, has become enamored with sex. It’s everywhere in entertainment and conversation. One would think that sex is all there is to happiness and fulfillment. But this just isn’t real. The man who enters marriage thinking that his wife is cut out of the same fabric as are the seductresses, excuse me, actresses he’s seen on the television and movie screen—eager to jump into bed at any moment and ready to resolve every conflict with sex—is in for a terrible shock. A mutually pleasing sex life thrives on a good relationship, it doesn’t drive one.

Men who are unguarded in their intake of viewing and reading sexual material set themselves up to be disappointed and to be a disappointment. Moral behavior requires a moral mindset—the discipline to shut off the supply of impurity. Why not take a 40-day media fast? For the next 40 days, leave the television off, do not attend or rent movies, and use the internet only as your job may require. If a conversation begins moving toward immoral topics, excuse yourself. These 40 days may prove to be some of the best days of your spiritual development. And you’ll begin to view women with the wholesome respect God intends.

See immorality for what it is: a weapon of the enemy designed for your destruction. So choose your friends carefully; connect with men who care about your growth and standing as a follower of Christ. Be honest with them about your habits and struggles. Let them know what you are doing to try to grow spiritually so they can pray for you, hold you accountable, and get in your face when necessary. Forge friendships with your fellow warriors, and cover each other’s back.

A man should prepare himself financially.

We’re told that more marriages break up over finances than any other issue. This needn’t worry us, but it should motivate us. Men should aspire to financial stability. This doesn’t guarantee a surplus of money or safeguard us from occasional unemployment. I am suggesting, however, that a man who is disciplined in his work ethic and wise with his resources is better prepared for courtship and marriage than one who is impulsive and discontent.

The kind of lady you want will be drawn to your character, not the model year of your car or the square footage of your house. More importantly, God is honored by the wise use of every resource He lends you, whether dollars in your wallet or hours in your workday.

Some who read this may be in debt or out of work, and the current financial picture is bleak. Are you a hopeless cause? No. But you need to focus on what you can do to improve your situation. What steps can you take, under the leadership of the Lord, to move toward financial freedom and gainful employment? Get yourself situated and moving forward.

In the next Stepping Up men’s blog post, we’ll look at how a single man prepares himself spiritually and relationally for marriage. In the meantime, take the following steps:

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just read “How should a single man prepare himself for marriage?” by Tim Grissom on the Stepping Up blog.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistRead “Evaluating Your Spiritual Relationship Before Marriage” and ask yourself these two key questions.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistGary Thomas’ book, The Sacred Search, offers great guidance in your search for meaning in relationships.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistTell single guys who you know that the Stepping Up blog for men is not just for dads and husbands.

© 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

10-point checklist for spiritual health



It seems to happen every year. A seasoned marathoner puts in a pretty impressive time, only to suffer a heart attack and die. From the outside, the runners look to be the picture of health, but often after an autopsy, it’s revealed that they have a fatal condition that’s been hiding on the inside.

Every one of us needs an occasional visit to the doctor for a checkup to make sure everything is working alright and that we don’t have an unknown serious internal condition.

The same is true with our spiritual lives. As creatures of habit, we tend to go through life on autopilot. We often miss clues that indicate that our spirit is not enjoying the good health that God created it for.

10-point checklist

Photo by Tina Vanderlaan

In the same way that the doctor puts us through a battery of tests to diagnose potential physical problems, God has given us a process of evaluating spiritual problems in our lives:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control …” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Each of these is a characteristic of the Holy Spirit’s active presence in our daily activities. Let’s look at a 10-point checklist and ask some diagnostic questions to make sure we’re healthy.

1. Love

This word for love doesn’t refer to warm feelings but to a deliberate attitude of good will and devotion to others. Love gives freely without looking at whether the other person deserves it, and it gives without expecting anything back.

Question: Am I motivated to do for others as Christ has done for me, or am I giving in order to receive something in return?

2. Joy

Unlike happiness, joy is gladness that is completely independent of the good or bad things that happen in the course of the day. In fact, joy denotes a supernatural gladness given by God’s Spirit that actually seems to show up best during hard times. This is a product of fixing your focus on God’s purposes for the events in your life rather than on the circumstances.

Question: Am I experiencing a joy of life on a regular basis, or is my happiness dependent on things going smoothly in my day?

3. Peace

It’s not the absence of turmoil, but the presence of tranquility even while in a place of chaos. It is a sense of wholeness and completeness that is content knowing that God controls the events of the day.

Question: Do I find myself frazzled by the crashing waves of turmoil in my life, or am I experiencing “the peace that passes all comprehension” (Philippians 4:6-7)?

4. Patience

Other words that describe this fruit are lenience, long-suffering, forbearance, perseverance, and steadfastness. It is the ability to endure ill treatment from life or at the hands of others without lashing out or paying back.

Question: Am I easily set off when things go wrong or people irritate me, or am I able to keep a godly perspective in the face of life’s irritations? 

5. Kindness

When kindness is at work in a man’s life, he looks for ways to adapt to meet the needs of others. It is moral goodness that overflows. It’s also the absence of malice.

Question: Is it my goal to serve others with kindness, or am I too focused on my own needs, desires, or problems to let the goodness of God overflow to others?

6. Goodness

While kindness is the soft side of good, goodness reflects the character of God. Goodness in you desires to see goodness in others and is not beyond confronting or even rebuking (as Jesus did with the money changers in the temple) for that to happen.

Question: Does my life reflect the holiness of God, and do I desire to see others experience God at a deep level in their own lives?

7. Faithfulness

A faithful man is one with real integrity. He’s someone others can look to as an example, and someone who is truly devoted to others and to Christ. Our natural self always wants to be in charge, but Spirit-controlled faithfulness is evident in the life of a man who seeks good for others and glory for God.

Question: Are there areas of hypocrisy and indifference toward others in my life, or is my life characterized by faith in Christ and faithfulness to those around me? 

8. Gentleness

Meekness is not weakness. Gentleness is not without power, it just chooses to defer to others. It forgives others, corrects with kindness, and lives in tranquility.

Question: Do I come across to others as brash and headstrong, or am I allowing the grace of God to flow through me to others?

9. Self-control

Our fleshly desires, Scripture tells us, are continually at odds with God’s Spirit and always want to be in charge. Self-control is literally releasing our grip on the fleshly desires, choosing instead to be controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is power focused in the right place.

Question: Are my fleshly desires controlling my life, or am I allowing the Spirit to direct me to the things that please God and serve others?

10. Walk by the Spirit

While not a fruit of the Spirit, the final item on the checkup produces all nine qualities listed above. When we follow the Spirit’s lead instead of being led by our self-focused desires, He produces the fruit.

But even when we don’t walk by the Spirit, He is the very one who convicts us that things are not in proper order in our lives.

God promises that if we are willing to admit that we have been walking our own way and ask for His forgiveness and cleansing, He will empower us through His Spirit to live above ourselves and live the abundant life for which He has created us. (I John 1:5-10)

Question: Am I actively depending on the Holy Spirit to guide me in God’s ways so I don’t get wrapped up in myself? If not, am I willing to confess to God that His ways are better than mine, and that I need the Spirit’s guidance to live above the fray?

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou’ve just finished reading the post 10-point checklist for spiritual health on the Stepping Up men’s blog

STEPThink - 10-point checklistWhich of the nine evidences of the Spirit most reflect you? Which one(s) need to be more present in your life?

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAre you experiencing the life-changing power of Christ? Read Two Ways to Live to see where you stand.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistReflect the nature of God and his love to others. Read The Greatest Power Ever Known to get started.

Stepping Up as couples



I’ve led small groups in my home and in church for years, but the response from a group of ladies actually took me by surprise.

The Stepping Up 10-week video series is geared toward men, challenging them to be all God desires them to be as husbands and fathers. I was a little more than halfway through leading my third group of men through the study when I heard the voice of a woman in one of the sessions.

stepping up as couples

Chuck and Melissa Douglas

“It must be hard to be a man today.”

That sentence validated what I suspect so many men feel in our culture, and I wanted my wife to hear it. Melissa is very supportive, but she was not involved with the details of my leading this study. After all, this was my thing with the guys, not something for the ladies.

That is until we talked that evening.

I told her that I really wanted her to understand not only how the series was challenging me as a husband and father, but how most of the struggles that we men face are really common to all of us. That is when she suggested that we go through the study together with other couples.

Navigating the masculine landscape from a woman’s perspective

Most of the more than 100,000 who have done Stepping Up, have been men participating in either a small group or a weekend event setting for men. Still, we took the study to our couples’ small group at church with a question: “Can a wife learn anything from attending a video-based Bible study geared toward her husband?” In other words, would it work to do a study where we were stepping up as couples? After just the first session, we had our answer: a resounding “Yes!”

Rebecca Jarrard, one of those ladies, commented, “Women need to be clear on the pressures their husbands face daily so they can understand and encourage them in ways that fulfill their biblical roles as wives.” For Rebecca, attending the Stepping Up small group was a “peek inside the male mind.” The study helped her understand God’s perspective on the subject of masculinity, not the kind the world offers, but the biblical kind of masculinity for which God designed men.

Another friend and classmate, Chrissy Batson, thought that attending the study as a couple was a great idea. She did not shy away when she heard the study was originally geared toward men and contains mostly male-oriented subject matter. “That doesn’t scare me,” she said. “I’m always interested in my husband’s perspective, even if it’s not easy to hear.”

Coming into the study, she felt she was doing a pretty good job of understanding her husband, but also recognized her failures. She wanted to be more proactive in setting her husband up to be the leader in their home that they both wanted him to be.

Counter-cultural – in a good way

A surprise in presenting the study for couples was how the material applied to our daughters. Each of the women commented on their eagerness to understand real biblical masculinity—not just as a way to make them better mothers to their sons, but also to be better equipped to talk to their daughters about what “Mr. Right” really looks like.

Each couple who participated in the study agreed that they don’t want to just talk about real biblical manhood in their homes—they want to model it. They acknowledged that little exists in the current culture which resembles manhood and family leadership the way God intended. In the course of the study, a few of the ladies commented on ways that society is working against them and their children in their quest for building a family based on God’s design. Stepping Up helped them understand how important it is for husbands and wives to be proactive in teaching their children time-tested biblical principles that apply to every member of the family. They also came to understand how important it is to work together as a team to fulfill God’s purposes for their families.

The benefit of a wife … stepping up

Of course, we husbands are reaping a benefit as well. Several of the men expressed genuine eagerness for their wives to hear the same things they would have heard in a Stepping Up series for just men. One of the husbands said having his wife on the same page, as he works to achieve his goals for manhood, is invaluable.

“Knowing that she understands and empathizes with my struggles is deeply comforting. I know I’m not alone, but I have my best cheerleader at my side. Each of our wives wants the best for us as men, and their investment in this study proves their sincerity.”

Rebecca’s husband, Ken, put it this way, “We’ve always been partners, but now she understands how she completes me like never before. After 22 years of marriage my wife is beginning to understand the male mind in new ways—our struggles and challenges. What a benefit to my sons!”

The perspective of a group facilitator

Experiencing Stepping Up as a couple has given my Melissa a deeper understanding of how to come alongside me as I seek to pass along a biblical legacy to my boys. She is regularly encouraging me to live out the commitments I’ve made to my family. Rebecca and Chrissy are doing the same thing for their husbands.

As a group facilitator, I had a sense that the Stepping Up material would be valuable to the couples. But I really wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response of our wives and the insightful discussion they contributed to the study. What is even more important is the sense of unity all the couples have gained by attending the Stepping Up series together.

One wife expressed it best when she said that going through the workbook study with her husband made them feel like they are part of a team.

A winning team.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPSeekTruthYou have just finished reading the Stepping Up as couples post from the Stepping Up blog for men.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPthinkHave you and your wife ever talked about what it means to be a man? What would that conversation look like?

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPembraceAsk your wife what she and your children need you to be as a man? Tell her what she does that empowers you.

Stepping Up as couples  - STEPPassItOnBe part of the Stepping Up 10-week series study with other men, or even with couples.

– – –

stepping up as couplesChuck Douglas earned a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. A former police officer, Chuck authored a study in the Homebuilders Couple Series, Protecting Your First Responder Marriage. Chuck enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, hunting and fishing near their home in the North Georgia mountains. He and his wife Melissa have been married for 22 years and have been on staff with FamilyLife since 2001. They have four children.

 

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”

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