Last week I wrote about the training teams do to prepare for the season. The players practice, lift weights, study film to get better at the game they play. They put in the work when no one is watching so that they will succeed when everyone is watching.
Shouldn’t I commit to the same level of training for my faith?
I want to be strong in the storms of life and have my faith sustain me. I want the peace beyond understanding, and joy in all circumstances. Why do I experience it so inconsistently? It’s like trying to watch TV when I was a kid. The antenna had to be just right, the atmospheric conditions perfect to watch the channel I wanted to watch. Most of the time, the signal cut in and out and watching the show was impossible.
What does the Bible say about practice? I know what Allen Iverson said about practice…..
Many Christians seem to have the same attitude.
GK Chesterton said, “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.”
When discussing discipline, training or practice in the spiritual sense, there seems to be two extremes.
The first type reminds me of the muscleheads in the gym. They brag about how much they give up and sacrifice. In order to validate their spirituality, they perform extreme acts of piety. They read 4 different Bible reading plans at the same time, attend every church and prayer meeting and crow about their behavior. “I haven’t been to a movie theater in 28, no, 29 years. I don’t drink, smoke or chew, or date girls that do.” They look down their noses at anyone who does not show the same commitment to their religious code as they do. Aggressive spiritual gym rats.
On the other end of the spectrum are the anti-works crowd. “Hey man, we’re saved by faith, not works. So, you know, that means I don’t have to work.” They’re the beatnik Christians, just trying to chill their way through life. They go to church, sometimes, but when the “spirit” moves them, they might just go walk in the woods for their church experience. Regular Bible study? Prayer? Fasting? “Don’t tell me what to do, man.”
Really? Those are my two exemplars of trying to follow Jesus? Maybe we should look in a different direction.
Maybe the Bible has some direction that our culture is missing.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (I Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV)
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (I Timothy 4:6-10, ESV)
Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)
The Summer Olympics just ended in Rio, and Usain Bolt blew away the field to win the gold medal in the 100M race. In order to be successful and win the race, he had to train. He disciplined his body and ran for hours to prepare for a 10 second race. Winning that race was his entire focus for 4 years.
If Usain Bolt puts in that much effort to win something here on earth, shouldn’t we show the same tenacity to following Jesus?
We don’t do these things to earn our salvation. Christ did that with His death and resurrection. We don’t train to show how great we are, how much better we are than the spiritual couch potatoes.
We exercise our spiritual strength to be able to run the race we are called to run. As soldiers prepare their weapons and armor, we train to battle the forces of evil in this world. If I don’t exercise, train and strengthen my faith, it will be weak. It will fall apart under pressure. I don’t want that to happen.