Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.
I Timothy 4:8
This year, I will begin my 40th year of life. In my late twenties I had a health scare that changed how I care for my physical body. The health issue caused me to alter the way I view food and resulted in intentionally making exercise part of the fabric of my life. As a result, I would not trade my current physique for the one I had in my twenties or thirties. Consistent discipline and training has resulted in my physical body becoming stronger with each passing year. While my physical body has been well maintained and consistently trained, I have recently realized that my spiritual body, for lack of a better term, was allowed to become overweight and out of shape. In many ways this has been a very painful realization.
“The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.” —Richard J. Foster
I have always been a hard worker. Before our teen years, my brother and I took a fledgling paper route and turned it into a thriving money maker. At the same time we negotiated with a local trucking operation to hand wash their fleet of trucks. As I grew older I earned a reputation for hard work and shrewd business practices. This all sounds great, but sadly I lost who I am, in favor of what I could do. Those who know our story know that we felt like I was not supposed to work for the first couple of years after we moved. That nearly killed me! When God finally opened a door for me to work again, the job was a school bus driver. Honestly, that was right up there with putt putt golf security guard on a scale of jobs I had never considered. Nearly five years later I can see why what I could do was taken from me. It was so I could re-discover who I am. That is where spiritual disciplines come in.
Spiritual disciplines, such as Prayer, meditation, fasting, gratitude, solitude, study, chastity, self-examination and silence have long been apart of my religious consciousness, but I have always struggled with them. I did not necessarily lack the discipline to do them consistently; rather, I felt that they were a manipulation tool that would cause God to do something for me. Even though I would never say it out loud, my heart believed that if I were able to fast enough, pray enough or be faithful enough God would do what I needed him to. As a result, I subconsciously avoided spiritual discipline.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” — I Corinthians 9:24-26
I believe that the apostle Paul was attempting to compel his readers to view the training of their soul as they would the training of their body. The concept of “training” my soul, by applying spiritual disciplines, appeals to me. Finally I realize that I can practice the disciplines without the cloud of manipulation that I had applied to them for so long. I know the discipline that it takes to train my physical body and the joy of watching it develop and become stronger. Now I am eager to apply that level of training to my soul and I am excited to watch as my character is refined and spiritual strength is built as I discover who I am, not just what I do.
It is circumstances (difficulties) which show what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. For what purpose? you may say. Why that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat. In my opinion no man has had a more profitable difficulty than you have had, if you choose to make use of it as an athlete would deal with a young antagonist.”-Epictetus
How about you? Are you interested in a good workout? If so, I invite you to try spiritual disciplines. If you would like a workout partner, let me know. I would be happy to help.