I remember the year I joined a workout club in an effort to shed some unwanted pounds. When I arrived for the first time, I stood in the doorway of a workout room, looking at all these slim and trim, toned and tuned hardbodies. My greatest fear was that they would all look up at me simultaneously and fall to the floor, laughing hysterically.
After enduring the humiliation of walking to the dressing room and getting into my sweat suit (I wish I had arrived already dressed), I noticed two things. The room was full of all sorts of weight machines designed to strengthen different muscle groups throughout the body. Second, I couldn't help but notice the mirrors. They were everywhere. I felt like I was in some sort of narcissistic cathedral. People throughout the room stared at their bodies, but I ignored the mirrors—I already knew what I looked like.
As I began to move from station to station, using muscles that must have wondered what prompted their agonizing, abrupt promotion from hibernation, a Scripture began to pound in my ears:
... discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7b-8; NASB).
The word "profitable" is used in this passage to contrast "gain" in two worlds—the physical and the spiritual. The perishable and imperishable. As I began to perspire I thought about my own perishing muscles and the truth of that Scripture.
We need a spiritual workout center
Here I was, moving from machine to machine, an out-of-shape, plump glob of mid-life molecules, surrounded by the "saints of Muscledonia." But I couldn't help pondering how, after decades of attempting to obey God and walk with Him, the spiritual conditioning was paying off in my life. No, I didn't envision myself as some kind of spiritual hunk or hardbody, but I did think about the growth (by the grace of God) that has occurred—what I've learned about loving people, developing a blueprint for handling life's struggles, creating peace and harmony (for the most part) at home, and, most importantly, learning to trust God.
Then it hit me: What you and I in the Christian community need is a spiritual workout center—a sort of spiritual weight machine with different stations to strengthen our faith "muscles." A place to work out our spiritual soreness, a place to flex and tone our unused muscles of the faith, a place where Christians could go to be built up and not torn down. A place to go to see others who over a lifetime have faithfully worked out and applied the spiritual disciplines.
As I left those muscle toning machines and ran out the door to go jogging, I began to design my Spiritual Faith-Building Center. I began to think about the individual stations where certain muscles of the faith would be stretched and flexed. I need my own faith-muscles toned and tuned as I faced a new year—more and more stamina is demanded with each passing year. As you read through these, why not select a couple of these areas and do some of your own biblical exercises?
My first station in this spiritual workout would be a machine that produces little sweat, but incredible results. This machine would help bridle the tongue. Posted above this faith-building spot would be the following verse:
If any one thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless (James 1:26).
Bridled by the Bible, a muscle-toned tongue would be appropriate for those who share gossip in the form of "prayer requests." By controlling this muscle, one could refrain from critical, harsh, or angry words. This would be an excellent machine for Christians whose slimy slab of mucous membrane is used to telling off-color jokes. And for any saint who hasn't yet swept clean his vocabulary.
Sets of exercises could be developed to train the tongue to form words of appreciation, praise, and encouragement for those who do the laundry, clean house, do yard work, manage the money in the household—and for those who meet the needs of a growing family. Also a special exercise would ingrain in the tongue the ability to give thanks in all things—something that's not easy even for the most muscle-bound saint (so I've been told).
Since we're working on the face, let's visit a station that addresses the faith-muscles of the eyes. Above this machine would be pictures of some biblical heroes whose lives were ruined when they lost control of their eye muscles. Samson and David were both deceived when they allowed their eyes to gaze too long upon the opposite sex. Special workouts would be designed to train men to look just once at a woman, and then turn his eyes in another direction if necessary.
Eyes that are lured into selfish, materialistic traps when shopping and browsing through catalogues would also receive special exercises. Also, eyes that tend to be discontent with what they have (job, home, and wealth)—eyes that tend to roam every couple of years—would receive special glasses to correct short-sightedness, until the faith-muscle of contentment can be built up (1 Timothy 6:6).
I would also have a machine that works on the spiritual muscles of the neck. It would increase flexibility in those who have become "stiff-necked"—especially those who are too proud to admit mistakes, too stubborn to ask for forgiveness, or too arrogant to admit they need to depend upon God.
This exercise would demand a person be on his knees and neck bent downward in prayer. Prayerlessness is usually a sign of stiff neck muscles. But prayer loosens muscles that are tied in knots by worry, pressure, or long hours of hard work.
A special softening of the neck muscles with certain scriptures would be necessary to work the kinks out of the neck area:
"God is opposed to the proud, but He gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).
"You scold proud people. Those who ignore your commands are cursed" (Psalm 119:21).
"Proud looks, proud thoughts, and evil actions are sin" (Proverbs 21:4).
"Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (1 Peter 5:6).
Teachability toward God and others would increase as the muscles of humility began to be developed in the neck area. As one became more willing to hear the truth, admit failures, and take responsibility for wrong actions, a genuine joy would begin to move from the neck to the face.
Sweating yet? Any increase in your heart-for-God rate? Out of breath? Sore? Like any good workout, it wouldn't be good to overdo it the first time out.
Read part two of "A Workout for the Spiritual Body."
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