Click here to read part one of "A Workout for the Spiritual Body."
Years ago I saw an advertisement showing a young man with the washboard stomach, with glistening muscles rippling as he pumps his Solaflex machine—with its haunting reminder: "No pain, no gain."
The same is true spiritually speaking, isn't it? We want the faith of Moses, but we'd rather avoid the process of a 40-year visit to the wilderness so God can humble us.
We want David's heart for God, but we don't want blisters from shoveling smelly sheep manure. We want the glory of the spotlight, the prestige of the position.
And who wouldn't want to have the spiritual impact of Paul? He shaped the first century church. He journeyed to other countries, preached to massive crowds, entrusted his life to men like Timothy—we're talking gain, real gain. But we're also talking pain—major league pain. Among other things:
- Paul did time in prison.
- He was beaten near death "many times."
- Five times the Jews gave him 39 lashes with a whip.
- He was stoned once, and beaten with rods three times.
- He spent a night and a day in the sea.
- Many times he was without food, water, and clothing (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
More agony. More pain. But more gain.
Let's take a few moments and visit two more weight lifting stations that will stretch your faith and increase your endurance.
Do you have "guts"?
One of the largest muscle groups in the body is the stomach. In spiritual terms, your stomach is the place where courage resides. Courage to make tough decisions—hard choices. It is said of a courageous person, "He has guts."
But our society is guilty of flab in the waistline. We don't want pain—we want comfort—thus the loss of tone and a resulting bulge from our failure to be bold.
Christians who lack "guts" sacrifice truth on the altar of love. Many lack the tough love to fearlessly confront a family member caught in the web of an addiction. They have a soft view of love, because they fear conflict, rejection, or loss of emotional comfort.
So they don't broach painful subjects with those we love the most. Or, if they do, they sit on the sidelines throwing stones and second-guessing those who care enough to confront.
Actually, gutless believers are selfish—unwilling to be hurt to see another healed. Paul wrote to Timothy, "God does not give us a spirit that makes us afraid. He gave us a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).
Flexing your faith muscles
Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to flex your faith in your stomach area? A tough decision? A heroic admission to a friend of some secret sin? An undaunted, loving confrontation with a loved one who is in a downward spiral spiritually?
Go against the tension and exercise your spiritual guts.
Now on to the next station—a spiritual treadmill to exercise our legs. This machine is designed to increase our endurance.
These days I try to run three miles at least three times each week. But when I started on my 40th birthday I could barely run downhill for one mile. I had to endure a lot of pain to get up to my present level.
The same is true spiritually. If I don't go ahead and face the pain now, I'm left with the inevitable reality of having to face it again and again until I embrace the circumstances, learn the lesson, and gain the stamina. I can't help but wonder how many times I've had to learn the same lesson, simply because I was unwilling to face the "painful" truth of what God was saying to me.
God gives our legs hills so that we can grow stronger. The prophet Isaiah gives us the secret where strong legs come from: "Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Isaiah 40:41).
It is a blessing to endure
One last point about this treadmill: The older you get, the steeper the incline becomes. Sound like bad news? It really isn't. Who wouldn't like to think that they had finally arrived?
But if I understand the Scripture, the longer we live, the more we have to die. The more you want to grow, the more you and I must say "no" to self and "yes" to Christ.
I must confess that the more I grow the more in touch I become with how sinful I really am. As the angle of the incline of the treadmill becomes steeper, I see more and more that my only hope is in God and His grace. Paul said it well, "But God's grace has made me what I am..." (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Now there's some hope for tired muscles. Suffering is used by God to conform our character to the likeness of His Son—to "train us in righteousness" (Hebrews 12:11).
As you "pump the iron" of difficult circumstances, perseverance under trial will occur. Look at this promise of how the pain will result in gain: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life..." (James 1:12).
The truth of "no pain, no gain" is summarized succinctly in the following essay sent to me by a friend and written by one of my favorite authors, Max Lucado.
When a potter bakes a pot, he checks its solidity by pulling it out of the oven and thumping it. If it "sings," it's ready. If it "thuds," it's placed back in the oven.
The character of a person is also checked by thumping.
Been thumped lately?
Late-night phone calls. Grouchy teacher. Grumpy moms. Burnt meals. Flat tires. "You've-got-to-be-kidding" deadlines. Those are thumps. Thumps are those irritating inconveniences that trigger the worst in us. They catch us off guard. Flat-footed. They aren't big enough to be crises, but if you get enough of them, watch out! Traffic jams. Long lines. Empty mailboxes. Dirty clothes on the floor. Even as I write this I'm being thumped. Because of interruptions, it has taken me almost two hours to write these two paragraphs. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Jesus said that out of the nature of the heart a man speaks (Luke 6:45). There's nothing like a good thump to reveal the nature of a heart. The true character of a person is seen not in momentary heroics, but in the thump-packed humdrum of day-to-day living.
How do I respond? Do I sing? Or do I thud?
If you have a tendency to thud more than you sing, take heart. There is hope for us "thudders."
1) Begin by thanking God for thumps. I don't mean a half-hearted thank you. I mean a "rejoicing, jumping-for-joy" thank you from the bottom of your heart (James 1:2). Chances are that God is doing the thumping. And He's doing it for your own good. So every thump is a reminder that God is molding you (Hebrews 12:8).
2) Learn from each thump; Face up to the fact that you are not "thump-proof." You are going to be tested from now on. Might as well learn from the thumps; you can't avoid them. Look upon each inconvenience as an opportunity to develop patience and persistence. Each thump will help you or hurt you, depending on how you use it.
3) Be aware of "thump-slump" times. Know your pressure periods. For me, Mondays are infamous for causing thump-slumps. Fridays can be just as bad. For all of us there are times during the week that we can anticipate an unusual amount of thumping. The best way to handle thump-slump times? Head on. Bolster yourself with extra prayer and don't give up.
Remember, no thump is disastrous. All thumps work for good if we are loving and obeying God.
Been thumped recently? Remember where there's "no pain," there's "no gain." By the way, this spiritual workout center does exist—it's the local church. Been missing your workouts recently?
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