By Dennis Rainey
These are VERY challenging days … from sickness … to lockdowns … to job loss … to justice issues … to the election … and now the attack on the Capitol. ALL of us NEED to be in shape, spiritually speaking, to process and respond to all that’s coming at us and our families.
I remember the year I joined a workout club to shed some unwanted pounds. When I arrived for the first time I stood in the workout room doorway looking at all the slim and trim, toned and tuned hardbodies. My greatest fear was that they would all look up at me and simultaneously fall to the floor laughing hysterically.
After enduring the humiliation of walking to the locker room and changing into my sweat suit (I wish I had arrived already dressed), I noticed two things. First the room was full of all sorts of weight machines designed to strengthen different muscle groups. Second, I couldn’t help but notice the mirrors. They were everywhere. I felt like I was in some sort of narcissistic cathedral. Although others stared at their bodies in the mirrors, I ignored the mirrors—I didn’t need a grim image refresher. 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 from their 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 4:7-8; 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.
Focusing on spiritual conditioning
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 hard body, but I did think about the growth (by the grace of God) that had occurred—what I’d learned about loving people, developing a blueprint for handling life’s struggles, creating peace and harmony (for the most part) at home and in the marketplace, and most importantly, learning to exercise and trust God.
Then it hit me: What the Christian community needs is a spiritual workout center—a sort of spiritual weight machines with different stations to strengthen our faith “muscles.” A “Heaven Fitness” Club to work out and melt our spiritual flabbiness, 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 see others who have faithfully worked out and applied the spiritual disciplines over a lifetime.
As I left those muscle toning machines to go on a jog, I began to design my spiritual faith-building center. I began to think about the individual stations where certain muscles of faith could be stretched and flexed. I pondered my need for my personal faith-muscles to be toned and tuned—I now realize that more and more stamina is demanded with each passing year.
Here’s my question for you: As you start this new year, with all of its visible (and it’s invisible) faith-testing challenges, why not select a couple of areas to stretch your faith muscles with biblical exercises, designed by Almighty God just for you?
“Heaven Fitness” Club’s first spiritual workout station would be a machine that produces little sweat, but incredible results. This machine would help bridle the tongue. Posted above this faith-building aparatus would be the following verse:
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. (James 1:26)
By controlling this slab of 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 tell off-color jokes or talk about people behind their back, or for any saint who hasn’t yet swept clean his vocabulary.
Sets of exercises could be developed that would 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 which address 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 (and other unmentionable “muscles” as well). 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 quickly turn his eyes in another direction if necessary.
Special workouts will be created for the eyes that lure us into selfish, materialistic traps when shopping or browsing through websites that feed our lusts, offering anything we could desire. Also, workouts for 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 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 with the neck bent downward in prayer. Prayerlessness is usually a sign of stiff neck muscles. Prayer loosens muscles tied in knots by worry, pressure, or strain from long hours of hard work.
A special softening of the neck muscles with specific Scriptures would be necessary to work the kinks out of the neck area: (these passages need to be read, pondered and committed to memory)
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
“Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp[a] of the wicked, are sin” (Proverbs 21:4).
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” (Psalm 101:3). (porn, idols, etc.)
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 truth, admit failures, and take responsibility for wrong actions and ask forgiveness, a genuine joy would begin to move from the neck to the heart and then the face.
Sweating yet? Any increase in your heart-for-God rate? Out of breath? Sore? Like any good workout, press into the pain … that’s when you start building muscle tissue. And don’t forget the repetition, “REPS,” as they are called. This is not a “One and Done” trip on Sunday to truly tone your faith. It’s a daily diet of reading the Scriptures and discipline of reliance upon God.
One of the largest muscle groups in the body is the stomach. In spiritual terms, your stomach is the place where courage resides. Faith calls us to courageously make tough decisions—hard choices. It is said of a courageous person, “He has guts.”
Unfortunately the Christian community is guilty of flab in the waistline. We don’t want pain—we want comfort—thus the loss of muscle tone and resulting bulge … from our failure to be bold.
Christians who lack “guts” sacrifice truth on the altar of love. Many lack tough love needed 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. They don’t broach painful subjects with those they love the most. Or, if they do they sit on the sidelines throwing stones and second-guessing those who care enough to courageously confront.
Actually, gutless believers are selfish—unwilling to be personally hurt to see another healed. Paul wrote to Timothy, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Is there a situation in your life right now where you need to flex the faith in your stomach? A tough decision? A heroic secret sin admission to a friend? An undaunted, loving confrontation with a loved one who is in a spiritual downward spiral?
Go against the tension and pain exercising your spiritual guts.
Now on to the next station—a spiritual treadmill to exercise our legs. This machine is designed to increase our endurance.
I used to try to run three miles at least three times each week. But on my 40th birthday when I started I could barely run one mile downhill. I had to endure a lot of pain to work up to my goal of the three miles, three times a week.
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 we can grow stronger. The prophet Isaiah gives us the secret of 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, NASB).
Train, train, train. Run your race to win. Listen to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation and warning about how to run your race:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” ( I Corinthians 9:24)
There are rewards to those who 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 they had finally arrived?
But if I understand the Scripture, the longer we live, the more we need to die to self. 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 to love and obey Jesus Christ the more aware I become with how sinful and selfish I really am. As the angle of the treadmill’s incline increases, 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, NASB).
Now there’s some hope for tired and strained 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 the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life …” (James 1:12).
2020 is in the rearview mirror
Yes, last year was long. It was really, really hard. This is a fresh year with some old challenges and new ones which lie ahead. Are you going to join the “Heaven Fitness” Club and become a true Christ follower or not? God is getting you ready for a face to face with Him. Will you be ready?
PS. A limited number of “Heaven Fitness” franchises are available, but only to whole hearted followers of Christ.
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