“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but spiritual exercise has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” I Timothy 4:7-8, NIV
“Now all discipline seems to be more pain than pleasure at the time, yet later it will produce a transformation of character, bringing a harvest of righteousness and peace to those who yield to it.” Hebrews 12:11 TPT
I’ve been going to a gym since I was 16 years old. While I am not an “Arnold”, I do understand that to have muscles and a physique does not come about by sitting in a gym and watching others work out. Schwarzenegger coined the phrase, “no pain, no gain”. If you want to build muscle, it won’t happen by lifting light weights or avoiding a strenuous regimen. You have to train. To build muscle and maintain your muscle mass requires, among other things, the right diet, proper rest, disciple, pushing yourself, pain and, at times being spent and worn out.
Similarly, you don’t develop spiritual biceps or a spiritual six-pack abdomen, by sitting in a church pew and watching others pray, worship, and “work-out” their own spiritual lives. You have to do something. Paul talked about “working out your own salvation, when it comes to be being godly. He won’t do it for you, and listening to old tapes from Charles Stanley or reading about Billy Graham won’t do it for you either. You have to get in the habit of your own spiritual workout.
Growing big muscles, or becoming a disciple or athlete for Christ does not happen spontaneously. Both require the disciple of focus and work; if you’re serious about following Jesus, it requires that you yield to God’s way of training, which includes days of adversity, opposition, and hardships in your life—there’s no other way.
A former NFL player, and now a pastor, Sam Manual, once said that “Developing a connection with God requires training-just as in football. Paul helped Timothy understand the importance of spiritual training in comparison to physical training. The vital difference between physical training and spiritual training is that spiritual training has value for all areas of our lives, whereas physical training has limits.” How true, but I still go to the gym six days a week! But if you and I can find time to go train in the gym, we can find time to train to become ambassadors for Christ!
Again, one way that God trains us is through pain, getting sore and thinking we can go any further—-just like we’re lifting heavy weights in the gym. The pain in the gym comes from exhaustive training and lifting more and more weight, but spiritually speaking, the the training comes in the form at least three disciplines:
1. When you go to a gym, you won’t last long if you have no goal. Focus on knowing your goal. If you have no goal, you’re not going to grow in Christ. What is your goal, now that you are a follower of Jesus Christ? The author of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, stripping off every unnecessary weight and the sin which so easily and cleverly entangles us, let us run with endurance and active persistence the race that is set before us, focusing our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, disregarding the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 AMP
Friends, Jesus knew why he was here and what he wanted to accomplish. He knew His ultimate goal? Do you? What are you doing here this very morning or why are you reading this devotion? Jesus’ focus allowed Him to endure the emotional and physical pain that comes when a man or woman focuses upon God. Our “why”, or our focus, is Jesus. Spiritual training is about causing our lives to reflect more and more the life of Jesus Himself. He is our reminder that God can use hardships to work for our good and bring the Kingdom of God to the unbelieving. Our relationship with Him keeps us motivated to focus on the goal God has for us, which is the perfection of our souls and the salvation of the souls of others. Focus is essential in reaching our goals. He intends to make you perfect. Is your goal to allow Him to have His way?
And perfection, in a word, is Jesus. Is Jesus your focus? Is he the reason you came? Do you believe what He said and are you living the new life and observing His commands. Do you want to become like Jesus???
2. The next way to get ahead in exercise, physical or spiritually, is to persevere, when others stop or give up the training. Don’t let others at this church, or in the gym, set your standard! YOU set your mind on the goal of being like Jesus, and don’t give up when others do! Training of any kind requires perseverance. This scripture tells us to consider Jesus and how He endured opposition. He is our model of perseverance.
Perseverance defined by the Oxford Dictionary is the “persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” It’s more than showing up; it is showing up with purpose and tenacity.
The late Kobe Bryant, was reportedly a Christian, and described perseverance this way: ” ‘If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear. Don’t quit..don’t cower… don’t run…endure and conquer. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get back to work. ”
Do you know why the gyms offer such cheap membership fees at the beginning of the year? They know that most folks will stop coming after a few workouts but be stuck with those monthly membership fees anyway! Our natural tendency when the work is harder than we expected, or when we are sore, hurt, worn-out, or experience opposition is to drop our membership at the club, or leave the church, become indifferent or have a pity party. But those are the times we must believe this central point to spiritual exercise:” all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28, NIV
To keep that focus and persevere, Jesus told us to always pray. Here’s what Peter said: “The end of everything is near. Therefore, practice self-control, and keep your minds clear so that you can pray.” 1 Peter 4:7 GW. Friends, when you want to give up, or pick up your toys and go home, or give up on growing spiritual muscle, pray and tell Him the truth! He will listen to you and both comfort and encourage you!
Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuropathologist, wrote that “It has been found that 12 minutes of daily focused prayer over an 8 week-period can change the brain to such an extent that it can be measured on a brain scan.” Prayer not only changes things, it changes you—even your brain!
Finally, you need encouragement to reach your full potential – we need a coach…a work out partner… a guide.
When I first began going to the gym, I needed a friend. Without a buddy, I would miss, or would not push myself as far as I should have. But as I have grown, whereas I still prefer a partner to work out with me, I don’t need it. I can push myself. When you first begin to train spiritually you need someone else as a mentor, or teacher and guide to help you in your walk with Christ. For Paul, it was Barnabas, for Timothy it was Paul. But as they grew, and as you grow in Christ, your coach becomes the Holy Spirit.
It is the Spirit that carries you through the times you want to miss the spiritual work or give up. The Holy Spirit will also give you encouragement the encouragement of scriptures-which of course was dictated and inspired by the Holy Spirit!
We’re told in Hebrews: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 12:12-15 NIV
Finally, if you are serious about your spiritual work out, the Bible teaches us the importance of taking care of not only taking care of ourselves but also of building friendships that encourage us to keep moving forward in times of hardship or spiritual training, and cutting off and out of our lives those things that hinder us. Therefore:
1. Find a church, a Christian camp or Christian fellowship that will offer you encouragement where you are weak. I hope that this church and our camp provides this! If not, find a church or Christian camp that does. As you begin to train, weaknesses will surface. You need encouragement to face and work through our weaknesses.
2. Outside the church, or Bible studies, or camps and videos, do your personal workout, on your own, every day. The greatest gains in training are made outside team practices or games. It’s the personal time and work we put in that makes the difference. Similarly, in our spiritual lives our personal relationship with God and peer relationships is where this extra effort really pays off.
3. Find a friend that loves the Lord as much or more than you. There are parts of our heart and potential that we cannot reach without the encouragement of someone else—it’s a fact. We were not meant to live in the desert. Somethings are only ours by being in fellowship with another who shares our passion. A crucial part of training is allowing another disciple of Christ to teach and push you (II Timothy 3:16).I