This week I joined a gym. My wife and Elder Will joined with me as well, and we have been faithfully working out. Every morning at 5am we have hit the gym to get into shape, have more energy, and just be fit overall. As I was working out the Lord gave me some parallels to apply toward spiritual fitness that I wanted to share, alongside applicable scripture… I always find the biblical correlation between physical health and spiritual health fascinating!
“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:8
Unfit People have to start somewhere
I have noticed this, and I am sure if you have been to a gym you have noticed it too, there are way more unhealthy and unfit people at the gym then there are fit and healthy people. The first thing that comes to mind when I ponder this fact is this: Gyms are not just for the healthy. We should be encouraged to know that unhealthy and unfit people are welcomed at gyms, besides, how are people going to get fit if they don’t start somewhere?
Yet many times, as a pastor, when it comes to spiritual fitness training (reading the Bible, daily prayer time, devotionals, listening to sermons, et cetera) I hear excuses and hang-ups that go along this line: I am not holy enough, religious enough, devoted enough, or godly enough to read my Bible daily, or to do devotionals, or to spend time in prayer. Really? How do you expect to get spiritually fit if you are not willing to work at it? You have to start somewhere! That’s like saying “I am too fat to exercise” or “I am too sick to go to the doctor”. That doesn’t make any sense at all!
When writing to Timothy Paul encourages him “Let no one despise you for your youth”. Maybe you are young in Christ and have been made to feel unworthy of godly things, if so, then you of all people can take encouragement from Paul’s letter to Timothy, and should obey the instructions given to him.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
1 Timothy 4:12-13
Not everyone makes it
The fact that there are more unfit people in a gym than fit people, while comforting (knowing that all are welcome at the gym), is also alarming. Why? Because it goes to reason that eventually the unfit people will become fit and thus the Gym should really be full of fit people with only a handful of unfit… but usually it is the other way around. That’s because people quit. As I looked around the gym the other day a sad reality struck me, most of these people are going to remain unfit and unhealthy. Most of them won’t make it. I know from experience… oh how many times I have joined a gym with lofty fitness goals only to give up after only going 3-4 times.
Sometimes spiritual exercise sucks. Especially at first.
The truth is, working out sucks. Especially at first. You have to take time out of your day to do it, it hurts, it’s boring, and it costs money. Not only that but it makes your body hurt all day! Then when morning comes around, and you are already sore, it just becomes a whole lot easier to stay in bed then to get up early to work out. So it is with spiritual fitness. I say this slightly tongue in cheek, but sometimes spiritual exercise sucks. Especially at first. It takes time to read your Bible… time you could be using to sleep, or watch TV, or run errands, or do whatever. And if you are not a strong reader it can seem so tedious to read the Bible. Praying can be hard to stay focused on, church gets in the way of your day off, devotionals often times cost money to buy… But here is the good news… IT GETS BETTER!
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2 ESV
I have experienced both peak fitness and complete lazy lard-butting. What I mean is this: When I was a teen I trained in MMA, when I was in high school/community college I ran 3 miles a day and hit the weights 3 times a week. It felt great to lift, and flying through the forest trail on those runs was such a rush! Not now though… now the only weight I lift is the weight of my flabby gut! And it is so frustrating to go to the gym and not be able to run or lift like I used to. But I know that it will get better, it sucks now, but my body is being transformed! And the more it transforms the stronger it will get, the more it will desire exercise, and the more gratifying it will be.
The same is true with spiritual discipline! Mark my words, the more you read Scripture the easier it will become! The more you pray, the more you will desire to pray! To more plugged in you get in your local church the more your spirit will long to fellowship and worship there! Keep it up and soon you will be a spiritual juggernaut! Don’t be a quitter like so many of us have been before, push through!
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9 ESV
You may not see results right away
I think another reason so many people quit a gym is because they are frustrated they are not seeing immediate results. After their first week of working out, pushing as hard as they can, they step on the scale only to see they have GAINED half a pound. “What kind of joke” they must think, so they quit and resign themselves that they are just going to be unfit for the rest of their lives. But the fact is, getting into shape takes time, it is a long process that takes months and months of commitment and hard work. Yet in our society many of us don’t really like having to work for things. We want it now! That is why I have 75Mb download speeds, because I don’t want to wait!
Again, the same thing rings true with our spiritual fitness. Your life is probably not going to be changed from reading your Bible once or twice. But your life absolutely will be changed if you read your Bible daily for a sustained period at a time. Try reading a chapter a day for the next three months, try going to church twice a week for the next year… try praying with your spouse every day for a few weeks and see how it changes you!
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV
Having a work out partner helps a ton
That brings me to this point: having a work out partner helps a ton. You know why I get up at 4:45am in the morning? It’s not always because I want to work out. Nope, most of the time it is because I don’t want to disappoint Will (and suffer from the inevitable insults to my manliness). Will holds me accountable, and having him be there helps me be there. Not only that, but he is more versed in all of the machines, weights, and exercises then I am, so he teaches me how to use them and what is best for my training.
I hope you see where this is going… it’s called discipleship! Having someone who is more spiritually fit than you to follow, to learn from, and to be held accountable to! Go through a reading plan with your discipler, ask for prayer, meet with them to pray, read, and do good works. In the words of the wise old man from the Legend of Zelda “It’s dangerous to go alone”! Have someone who cares enough about you that they will not let you go easy, and moreover, that they will not let you quit!
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 ESV
You need to use the right tools
You can’t just will yourself into physical fitness, no amount of positive thinking is going to give you washboard abs! You have to get out of bed and do something about it! Lift some weights, do some curls, toss around a medicine ball, use the stair stepper, hit the gym and work those muscles!
We all understand this when it comes to physical fitness, but for some reason when it comes to spiritual fitness we think all we need is ‘good vibes’, ‘positive thoughts’, and really we just need to be a ‘good person’. I think it would be awesome if we could all be ‘good people’ but that doesn’t happen just because… that would be like Homer Simpson saying “I don’t need to go to the gym because really I am a ‘fit person’”… no Homer, you’re fat… go work out!
The bar none best piece of work out equipment we have for spiritual fitness is our Bible. The Bible is what God has given us to learn from, to grow with, to be rebuked and encouraged by. It is filled with truth for every one of lives’ situations, and it is God’s holy word so it helps us identify the voice of God when He speaks to us. Many people died to preserve the Word of God, it is the least we could do to open it up and be encouraged and strengthened by it!
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Working out an hour a week is not enough
If our Bible is our exercise equipment, then the church is our gym! It should go without saying, but I don’t think anyone buys a gym membership to work out for just an hour or two a week. It’s just not worth it at that point. Especially if we live a sedimentary lifestyle with bad eating habits! Will and I are committed to going to the gym to work out an hour a day 5 days a week. That’s a big commitment, but it is worth it to stay healthy!
That begs the question then… if I am willing to go to a gym five days a week for the sake of physical training which the Bible says has only “some value” then should I not be even more committed to spiritual fitness which the Bible says has both value here on earth and eternal value in heaven‽ Of course I should, but so many of us are not! Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not forsake meeting together to encourage and strengthen one another, to pray together, worship together, and learn together. Most churches have more than just Sunday services. Go to a Wednesday service, get plugged in with your men’s group or women’s group, go to special events… the commitment will transform your life!
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
Having a personal training helps immensely
When I injured my back I got signed up for physical therapy at Aspen, a local gym. I expected some old dude to tell me how to do some stretches… nope! I got a marine who was determined to kick my butt into shape so my core could carry the weight of my upper body, instead of my back. He whipped me into shape with intense, targeted exercises. With just about an hour a day, 6 days a week, he had quadrupled my core strength and helped me drop 10 pounds, thus greatly relieving my back pain. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly what I needed to do. He had gone to school for this, and his knowledge and wisdom and fervor showed!
We too can have a personal trainer. One who knows exactly what He is doing and exactly what we need. He is called the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Holy Trinity, and He was sent to help us in our spiritual training. The Holy Spirit can literally help you read your Bible, pray, get closer to God, forgive others, seek repentance, love and be loved… He can help you do all of those things and more! But here is the trick: You have to listen to Him, you have to ask for His help and want it! My physical trainer was impressed with my rapid progress, even though it should be the expected result. Why? Because so many of his clients don’t listen to him, and don’t do what he asks them to do when they are not at the gym. Don’t be that guy, be the guy or girl who gets results… not by your own strength or wisdom, but by the grace and the help of the Holy Spirit.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 14:26 ESV
Finally, exercise has to be a lifelong habit
The other day in the locker room after working out I was telling Will about P90X, an extreme work-out series on DVD that centers around 90-120 minute workouts that absolutely kick your butt. The idea is that if you do it for 90 days you will be transformed from flabbiness to Greek-god levels of physic! Amanda and I did P90X before our wedding. For two months she would come over to me and my roommate’s apartment and we would push ourselves to the absolute limit. We even followed the diet guide to the T! I told Will that in the 2 months I did P90X I went from not being able to do a pull-up to being able to do 13! He replied “That’s great, but why did you stop after two months, why not do the whole three?” Because I had got what I wanted… I had become fit. After I got what I wanted I quit… and 3 months later I wasn’t able to do a pull-up again.
So many times people do the same thing with the church. They come wanting to get right spiritually, then when things start going their way, they quit. And then they fall into a deeper pit… the same pit they just worked so hard to get out of.
I have to decide, am I going to work out for the rest of my life, striving to stay fit… or am I going to quit and be fat again. Because if I am only working out to be fit for a month or two… what’s the point? As for my spiritual life, I’ve decided! I am going keep spiritually fit until I am with my God and Savior in heaven! (We will see about my physical fitness, time will tell! Elder Will better not let me quit!)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…
Titus 2:11-13 ESV
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.
Hebrews 12:1-3 ESV