Truth be told, I am not an elite athlete. When I was in kindergarten, I flunked “skip” (not sure how my self-esteem survived that report card, but that is another story). While early on, I was too uncoordinated to skip, I did play baseball, soccer, real football, and basketball when I was growing up. However, I was never endowed with the physical gifts to become what I call an elite athlete. What I do know though, is that God equipped me with the gifts to enjoy those sports and become the best athlete I could ever be.
Over the past few weeks, Pastor Scott has been teaching us how to “get fit”—spiritually, physically, relationally, and financially. While listening to this series, it has become pretty clear that there are some common threads between the methods required to become fit in these different ways. In particular, there seems to be a lot of parallelism between physical and spiritual fitness.
Paul, used the analogy of athletics with spiritual growth on more than one occasion. In his letter to the Hebrews he wrote:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 1-3)
A runner in a race must persevere so that he can win the prize. Jesus was the perfect example of discipline and perseverance as he was focused on the cross and withstood incredible hardship to win the prize.
Hardship = Discipline
Right now I am training for a 225 mile bicycle ride to Mexico to raise money to support 1Mission (a mission organization Hope is involved with that builds home for those in need in Mexico and South America). Even though I ride pretty regularly throughout the year, it would be an extreme challenge to get on my bike one day and ride 125 miles without preparation. For the last two months I have steadily increased my riding distance from about 25 miles to about 70 miles. In a couple of weeks I will ride my maximum training distance of 80 miles.
One lesson I have learned is that every time I increase riding distance, I incur pain. Since every ride is longer than the previous one, each ride is painful—I never have a chance to get comfortable. At the same time, my body is becoming more disciplined. It is getting prepared to meet the challenge of a much longer ride. This is no different than our spiritual walk. We need to continue to push ourselves out of the comfort zone if we are going to survive the more difficult times.
Let’s face it, as Americans we don’t face the same trials that many people do in other places, and certainly not the challenges Paul’s audience was dealing with in his letters. He told them to “endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7)”. Maybe we need to create some “artificial spiritual hardship” in our lives to push us out of our comfort zone. What is it that makes your spiritual walk comfortable?
What do you need to change to push yourself out of the comfort zone and prepare you for bigger challenges in life? Isn’t this what training is all about?
Sometimes you have to train alone
The second thing I have learned with endurance training is that I have to be able to spend time training by myself. This means I have to set aside distractions and other activities that may be more pleasant (i.e. watching football on Sunday afternoon, taking a nap, work, or whatever else I can think of). Sometimes I just have to get on the bike and endure the pain by myself. The benefits are great because, I can’t always depend on someone else’s schedule to line up with my own.
My wife Joy is probably the most disciplined person I know. She runs, does Yoga, does work-out routines, and most importantly, she does them consistently. She has always been driven to stay physically fit. At the same time, she is extremely disciplined spiritually. She keeps up with quiet times, and prepares for multiple weekly bible studies. Can it be that she has built discipline into her character? What do you and I need to do to become more disciplined individuals? What do you need to sacrifice so that you can do more “individual spiritual training”?
Sometimes you need to train with others
Even with all your discipline, at times you will find that you need help. For me, riding more than 50 miles at one time is a chore. Physically I can do it, but mentally it is a struggle. I have found a fix for this by riding with other people who are in training. For some reason, it is easier for me to get on my bike when I know someone else is going through the exact same thing. I overlook the pain as I know there will be comradery and fellowship. I also know that other riders will help me out.
I am told that riders in a peloton (a group of cyclists) expend approximately 30% less energy than an individual rider due to the “drafting” effect of reduced wind resistance. For this reason, cyclists riding together rotate from the front of the “pace line” to the rear where they can recover and benefit from the strength of others. What a great analogy for the “spiritual ride”. While we do become disciplined by ourselves, sometimes we need to be able to both help others (provide the windbreak) and also benefit from the help others provide. What better reason to join a weekly small group? Think of how you can help someone else’s spiritual walk, and how someone else can help you in yours.
Tour de Spirit
I mentioned at the start that I am not an elite athlete. I am OK with that. I am not going to race in the Tour de France. I probably won’t end up with the faith that Paul had. However, God gave me the ability to be the best that I can be, and I must train both physically and spiritually to get there. It requires discipline, hardship, sacrifice, and dependence on others. As Pastor Scott has noted, we need to be both spiritually and physically fit. Seems like the same qualities are required for both. It all comes down to discipline, and discipline requires enduring hardship.