New cross-trainers squeaking on the rubber mat, the woman with a mission – to get in shape – strides into the fitness club. She wanders into the cardio room, tries out the stepper and the elliptical trainer and moves through to the weight room, a hint of perspiration on her brow. A few dozen reps on every machine she knows how to operate later, she steps back out of the gym. High hopes for fitness prowess dashed on the rocks of ignorance, she drives away.
Compare that to the meeting I had with a personal trainer. She asked about my workout routine, my eating habits and what I wanted to accomplish. Purposefully, she walked to the “big boy” weight room, where bars and free weights dominated the floor and mirrors eclipse the walls. Methodically, she escorted me through each station to work every muscle pair, counting out the reps and weight. When I returned two days later for a solo workout, I walked through her circuit two times, covered in sweat, muscles shaking from exertion when the 40 minutes have passed.
Which of these sounds effective? Right – the plan designed by a physical trainer. I want to carry this metaphor right into your spiritual life, using Philippians 2:12 “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Working your Core Muscles: Bible Study
Any physical trainer will tell you that you’re only as strong as your core muscles. Yes, those ignominious abdominals which expand over Christmas and never seem to deflate to their initial flatness once you’ve stretched them in pregnancy.
The same thing is true in your spiritual life. The Bible is where your strength comes from. In order to work out your spiritual abs, you have to open the Book, read it, meditate on it and apply it to your life.
Working your Back Muscles: Group Bible Study
My physical trainer made sure I understood that if I wanted to strengthen my biceps, then I’d need to work the transverse muscles at the same time: the triceps. To get stronger, you have to work the complementary muscles to the same degree of fatigue.
Do some Superman extensions along with all those leg lifts, and you’ll see marked improvement in both abdominal and back strength.
The spiritual equivalent to a back workout is corporate Bible study. Believers need to study the Bible with other believers. Not only does this keep us from heading out into a heretical la-la land, it gives us a sounding board for questions. Listening to other interpretations of scripture and hearing anecdotes about the helpfulness of a specific verse or passage strengthens our spirit – at the core.
Upper Body Strength: Prayer – everywhere and all the time
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17) seems like an impossible task. Sort of like pushups for my weak, weighty self after many years abstaining from those Boot Camp favorites. Our upper body gets used. Did you lift a cup of coffee? Upper body strength required. What about opening your car door? Ditto on the upper body strength. If we have a weak upper body, our actions are limited.
The same can be said for our spiritual self if we aren’t praying. Get the picture of kneeling down, folding your hands, bowing your head and closing your eyes out of your head. You can talk to God with your eyes wide open – driving down the road. Believe me; it’s much safer than talking on your cell phone.
God is nearby. His Spirit is within us. We can whisper to Him at any point and He will hear. That’s what I think unceasing prayer looks like. We’re ready to talk to God at any moment, and we do it on a regular basis.
As in, “God, I have to work with this kid again. You know his sole goal in life it to irritate and exasperate me. Help me show him your love. Give me grace.” This is what I call my “Sixth Period Prayer.” When I pray it, God answers it and I don’t get frustrated with this student.
Cardio: Going and Witnessing
We all know that we can lift weights all day long, but if we want to improve our fitness, we have to do more than that. We have to elevate our heart rate. For me, that’s walking and running, kickboxing and aerobics.
Translating that into our spiritual life looks like this – GO. Instead of sitting on the couch, we go out and tell others about what Jesus has done for us. We’re concerned about their eternal destinies and their earthly sorrows. We can be Jesus with “skin on” and demonstrate his love.
Full-Body Workouts: Living your faith
James is pretty clear that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20) and we understand that if we want to get in shape, we’re going to have to work out. We can’t just watch the videos and expect results. We have to do the work.
Living for Christ is the same thing. Jesus saved us and now He expects us to “work out our own salvation.” Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus. Not sure what Jesus looks like. Open up the Bible to the Four Gospels and see faith in action.
Join a Team: Fellowship with other believers
“Working out by myself is just so boring.” I’ve heard this many times from people bemoaning their lack of commitment to an exercise program. The answer: play a team sport. I love basketball, volleyball and softball. I would join these teams and gladly sweat alongside them. I just burned 400 calories? No way! I was having too much fun.
Hanging out with our brothers and sisters in Christ should offer that same sort of boost for our spiritual life. Jesus never intended sharing the Gospel to be an individual event. The church was his way of ensuring that we would have a place to go to get the exhortation and edification we needed to make it through our spiritual work out.
Faith feeling a little weak? I just laid out the spiritual exercise program God intended to strengthen you and me.