We’ve discovered three different spiritual exercises that will help us build spiritual muscle, thereby gaining spiritual strength so that we can be what we’re supposed to be, so that we can do what we’re supposed to do—to fulfill our part of this joint effort between us and God to conform us, over time, to the image of Christ (2Co 3.18). (Notice, by the way, that the “being” comes before the “doing.” That’s how it works; that how it has to work. Maybe that’s worth a blog post all by itself.)
It’s worth noting that if you’re a sacramentarian—Presbyterian, Anglican / Episcopalian, some others—you believe that there are two more exercises to add to the list: the sacraments, or what Baptists call “ordinances”—baptism and the Lord’s Supper. As a Baptist, I’m not necessarily opposed to the idea that the ordinances might be means of grace, but since I don’t find any passage in Scripture that either says so or strongly implies it, I think it’s safer to hold back on the question. But for you sacramentarians, you have two more exercises, one of which you can do as often as you like (1Co 11.25). Enjoy building some extra muscle.
As we set off on this exercise program, I think we can learn some principles for success from what we know about physical exercise—
- Start slow and work your way up.
Just as you can’t lift heavy weights when you haven’t developed any muscles, so you’re setting yourself up for failure and discouragement when you expect more than is reasonable. Start out by reading a few verses from your Bible and answering one or more of the following questions:
- What does this passage tell me about God?
- What does it tell me about myself?
- How can I put these ideas into practice today, in a concrete, specific way?
Then offer a short prayer to your Father, thanking him for what you’ve learned and asking for his help in putting it into practice.
And the evening and the morning were the first day. Three to five minutes, with something clearly accomplished. You can do this.
As time progresses, add some more weights—write down what you’ve learned so you can go back over it when times are tough; add the third exercise by finding another believer with whom you can discuss briefly what you’re learning. Then work on adding reps—reading more, praying about more things, interacting with more believers.
- Work at a pace that is achievable for you: aim for consistency to begin with, and you can get fancier later. As you add weight and reps, back off if you find that you can’t keep up.
- Remember the primary goal: getting stronger. A physical exercise program isn’t about the machines or the weights or the mirrors; the process is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
And here we find a principle that doesn’t have an analog in the physical gym. The goal of getting stronger is in itself the means to another, even more important goal: knowing God. Spend time with him; give him your heart; nurture the relationship and the love that goes with it. Don’t obsess about how many verses you’ve read or how many minutes you’ve prayed or how many ideas you’ve written down in your journal. This is a date, not a business meeting driven by a nine-point agenda. Keep it heartfelt and real; don’t let it become mechanical.
As you experience the joy of daily fellowship with the lover of your soul, I suspect you’ll find that the time commitment and the process pretty much work themselves out. Love is like that.
Well, I’ve certainly mixed a lot of metaphors here, haven’t I?
Don’t let that distract you from answering well the Second Most Important Question in the World.