I saw an amusing post on facebook this week…
We could just as easy say, “I want to grow spiritually, have a close relationship with God, and pray like a warrior, but I don’t want to get caught up in one of those “discipline and deny yourself” scams.
We all want to grow and develop in our walk with God, but I think the age in which we live has caressed us into the delusion that growing spiritual muscles should happen by some kind of spiritual osmosis. The very idea that sitting passively for an hour or so on Sunday morning listening to a sermon and singing a few songs is all that’s required for a vibrant and engaged life of faith is absurd.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Church, and totally recognize the value of gathering together to receive the Word and worship. But our gathering should be an overflow of a life lived in the presence and pursuit of God, not the focal point of it.
Paul described a Christian gathering for corporate worship this way:
“How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.” (1 Corinthians 14:26 KJV)
We come to give, to participate, to deliver something of heaven’s manna to our brothers and sisters.
The plain fact is, if you want to grow you need to exercise and eat right!
Paul urged Timothy, his son in the Lord, to “refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.”(1 Timothy 4:7 KJV)
Exercise thy self unto God-like-ness.
This is actually such a beautiful and encouraging verse.
Last year I started to go the gym 4-5 times a week. Nothing too radical, just 20-30 minutes of exercise and training. Little often. That’s what has worked for me. I have seen a marked difference in my health, well-being, and perhaps even more importantly my wife has been pleasantly surprised by how I have built and honed myself over that time. After all, she is the one who has to look at me more often than anyone else!
The point is, we can choose, with discipline and exercise, to work toward a healthier more honed body. But it does take work.
It doesn’t actually take much to build and change and develop, but it does take a level of discipline. This is expected, and no surprise to anyone. So why do we think spiritual development would work any other way?
Paul continues in his letter to Timothy:
“For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8 KJV)
Like bodily exercise, it takes spiritual exercise to grow our spiritual muscles. Do you always feel like going for a run? Always eager to get out of bed for another session in the gymnasium?
So what if we don’t feel like praying? Does it matter that our flesh is not often enraptured by the idea of worshipping or fasting?
Do it anyways!
God’s Word is a Verb
I love this teaching from Jesus. He was laying into the religious dudes who taught but never did, and in doing so dropped such a key truth that we would do well to take hold of it and apply it in our own life.
“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17 KJV)
In out Western mindset we want to understand everything before we step out and act. Jesus turned this on it’s head with regard to following Him.
Essentially He said, “Do what I say, then you will understand what I teach and where it comes from."
Understanding, growth, development in the things of the Spirit, comes as we ACT. We exercise ourselves by stepping out, building from one level to another.
By Reason of Use
By reason of use, we exercise ourselves to discern and understand the Truth. Truth is not something we store in the vast library of facts in the neatly arranged cabinets of our mind. Truth is a dynamic, life-changing Reality that we step into.
Hebrews is one of my favorite books in the Bible. The teaching contained in this letter is richer than death-by-chocolate smothered in full fat ice cream!
The writer laments the immaturity of his hearers, but hands them the golden key to change…
“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 5:12–14 KJV)
Use what you know. Do what you hear!
James says the same thing:
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” (James 1:22 KJV)
Paul elsewhere speaks of studying the Bible in a way unfamiliar to many. He does not say that Bible study is the realm of the intellectual or the scholar. No, no, no. It is the territory of workmen!
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV)
Coming to God’s Word with this mindset is a different thing altogether than attempting to just add to our store of religious knowledge.
It also delivers a shocking truth.
If you want to understand prayer, the best (the only!) way to so is to pray. Begin right where you are at. In the gym I started with lighter weights, and as my strength and awareness of my body improved I moved to the next.
In fasting, another discipline of the spirit man, don't kick open the gym door and head straight into a superset 60 rep workout with 150KG barbells. Start where you are at. If you were me you would have choose the 10kg weights, and try to look buff next to the aged weightlifters carrying 35kg. But they did not start there at 35kg. Then on to 12kg, 14kg…
Be ready to fail. Be willing to look like a fool. Quit comparing yourself.
To develop one prayer rep at a time.
Don’t be embarrassed if spiritual speaking you are the 7 stone weakling in the room. Move from milk to meat and begin today to exercise yourself.
Don’t put off praying until tomorrow, we all know it never comes.
If the Holy Ghost has been wooing you to fast, zip your mouth for a few days.
Exercise yourself, even if in small ways, and you will be surprised and excited at the changes you begin to see.
The devil hates discipline
Don’t be hoodwinked by the devilish doctrine that discipline is legalism. That is simply foolishness. Jesus came to make disciples, meaning disciplined ones, not pew warmers.
Discipline is the bridge to delight. Exercise is the pathway to strength and depth.
Exercise yourself today toward Godliness. It starts with lifting that first prayer rep – then the next. It begins with opening your Bible with a new determination to do not just to read. It is set in motion when your comforts give way to convictions.