Earlier this summer, I met with one of my mentors. My stepson had moved back into the house, and life was a struggle of transition. My world was chaotic, and I wanted to ask him how to handle a season of struggle.
His response? “Don’t look at it as a season of struggle, but as a season of strengthening.”
Powerful words. Like lifting weights, you don’t know how much you CAN lift unless you try to lift more than you actually CAN. I could bench press the bar all day long (maybe), but I would never know what I was capable of unless I pushed myself to do try more than I actually can lift.
It’s not a season of struggle. It’s a season of strengthening.
The author described a person who worked out all the time (we’ll call him Tripp). Every day, Tripp was in the gym, pushing himself to his limits. And despite his dedication and motivation, Tripp noticed something. He wasn’t getting stronger.
He tweaked his routine, changed things up, even changed trainers. But no matter how hard Tripp tried, he never got stronger. Because he didn’t understand the key.
You don’t get stronger when you train. You get stronger when you recover.
We are entering a season of strengthening. Learning. Practicing new skills and applying new knowledge. But if you really want to get stronger, you’ve got to understand the two most important parts of recovery: Food and rest.
When you break your body down by training (and that’s what you do, tear down your muscles so your body builds them back stronger), you need resources to build it back up. You need food, in the right amount (as in enough) and the right proportion (mix of carbs, protein and fats).
Your spirit needs nourishment while you’re in training as well. Spend time in the Word, spend time with the Bread of Life. Make it a priority. If you aren’t getting filled, you won’t get as strong.
The other overlooked aspect of the recovery process is rest and sleep. It seems counter-intuitive to say, “You can’t get stronger working out every day,” but it’s true. You need to let your body recover.
How busy is your life? What margin do you have (time, financially)? Do you have any margin? What can you do to create room, to find time for rest? Do you rest?
In this season of strengthening, of training, remember the two most important parts are food and rest. Without it, you won’t be able to achieve the strength you are capable of.
Knowing the Path
Before I get into this week’s spiritual discipline, I wanted to remind you that the purpose behind the pursuit is freedom. Just like exercising gives you the freedom to climb the stairs without getting winded, or pick up your child without throwing out your back, strengthening from spiritual disciplines provides freedom.
I decided to begin our journey of exploring the spiritual disciplines with submission. One reason I chose it is because I struggle with this one. I’m not a good follower. I think I have the answers, and I like things done my way (just ask my family).
I also believe a spirit of submission is critical to our willingness to participate in the spiritual disciplines. We discipline our bodies and spirits to act in a way that does not always come naturally. And admit it, how many times do you have to talk yourself into going to the gym? Same thing.
Which may lead you to ask the question, “How do you find freedom in practicing submission?”
It doesn’t seem very freeing to be submissive, to live in a state of self-denial. And yet, imagine the burden you get to lay down: the burden of always needing to get your own way. The obsession to demand that things go in the way we want them to go. Through submission, you are released to drop it and let it go. It’s probably not that important anyway.
You can be set free from seething anger and bitterness that comes with the frustration of not getting our way, and grasp the freedom to place others’ interests and desires above our own. “Only through self-denial can we find self-fulfillment and self-actualization.”
What submission is not
Self-hatred: Self-denial (which is at the core of submission) is a way to understand our happiness is not dependent on getting what we want.
Loss of identity: Jesus. Peter. Paul. They all found their identity through their submission, not in spite of it. (Matthew 26:39 and 42, John 21:19, Acts 9:16)
Self-contempt: Self-denial says, “We are of infinite worth, and shows us how to realize it.” Self-contempt says, “We have no worth, or should reject it.” (Matt. 10:39, 22:39)
Self-pity/martyrdom: Self-pity is indulgent, holding on to perceived hurt or loss. Submission is a condition, an attitude of the spirit.
Submission is a posture for all Christians, because Jesus did it. He didn’t limit his submission to his death, but he lived a “cross-life.” His life was one of constant submission and self-denial. He rejected cultural expectation of position and power. He was a servant to all. And it was completely voluntary and freely accepted (John 13:15).
So how do we express submission in our daily lives? Mr. Foster broke it down into seven acts.
Seven acts of submission
To the Triune God: Pray as Thomas a Kempis – As thou wilt, what thou wilt, when thou wilt.
To the Scripture: To hear, receive, and obey the Word
To our family: Put others’ interests above our own. Listen (actually listen) to your family.
To our neighbors and those we meet: If in need, help them. No task is too small.
To the believing community: If jobs need to be done and tasks must be accomplished, look to see if they are God’s invitation to the cross-life.
To the broken and despised: Discover ways to identify genuinely with the downtrodden and rejected.
To the world: We cannot live in isolation. We are called to be a light in a dark world.
These acts are in this order for a reason. There must be a priority, because you can’t do it all. If you have the option to submit to your family or submit to the believing community, your family would take the priority. Follow the hierarchy to help you determine how to cultivate a heart of submission to those around you. Find the freedom in putting down the burden of doing it all your way.
For further study: I pulled most of this information from Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. I was unable to include the level of detail that he used, and I would encourage you to turn to his chapter on submission for more depth on the subject.
Bible verses to explore: Mark 8:34-35, Philippians 2:4-7, Mark 9:35, Colossians 3:12-4:1
Chapter 1 – World View Clash
In order to understand spiritual warfare, we have to look at our underlying world view, or our “basic assumptions about reality.” Your world view may operate consciously or subconsciously, but it shapes what you do and why you do it. It is comparable to a foundation for who you are. Although hidden, its strengths or weaknesses will be shown by what is built above it.
There are basically two types of world views: spiritualistic and naturalistic. The vast majority of people hold to some sort of spiritualistic world view, believing that ultimate reality is in the spiritual realm. A person with a naturalistic world view sees ultimate reality is present in the physical arena.
Although Christianity obviously falls into the spiritualistic world view category, “Western theology has been impacted by a Western world view more than many realize.” Western theology refers to what is taught in the majority of Christian churches in America.
The Western world view reflects a change that occurred during the Enlightenment in the 18th century. This change is best described by naturalism, where a person views the universe to be based only on natural causes and is closed off to any other alternative. They believe that everything can be explained, and predicted, by science.
The church has slowly been infected by the attitude that the spiritual world does not really exist here on earth. Oh, there’s faith and God and heaven, but natural laws and science reign over all the earth. We struggle when we come in contact with something that doesn’t fit in the right box (like witchcraft, idols, or demons).
And when we are confronted with the traditional/superstitious beliefs held by people in remote, third-world countries, we are lost. We see things that are hard to believe. In those places, the question for evangelism becomes, “Which god is the true god?” And a God “whose Spirit is stronger than curses, witch doctors, and demons is very attractive.”
In order to challenge the Western theology and practices of traditional superstitions, we must turn to the Bible. The spirit world is evident in the Old and New Testaments, and is an understood part of life. Next week we will look at what the Bible says about spiritual warfare.
But if it exists, we must relearn the forgotten art of spiritual warfare. The calling is crucial. We have a job to do, and a role to play. We’ve got to know what we’re doing or we will fight bravely and die quickly. New converts are left unprepared for the battle they have entered. Souls are at stake. Here is what Dr. Murphy says to end this week’s study:
“To see people who are immersed in demonized cultures be set free by the gospel; to truly and completely deliver men, women and children from the kingdom of Satan and bring them into the kingdom of God; and to minister to believers who are still subject to abuse by the spirits, we Christian leaders must relearn the spirit world. We must remove our Western-world view eyeglasses, which blind us to the biblical view of the spirit world, and be willing to become incarnate into the same world into which our Lord entered—a world of deadly spiritual warfare.”
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Walking the Path
Where is God strengthening you in this season?
Do you rest? If not, what is preventing you from this important part of recovery and strengthening?
What does submission look like to you? What areas are easy? What aspects are hard?
Thomas a Kempis prayed, “As thou wilt, what thou wilt, when thou wilt.” Make this your prayer each morning as you rise and evening when you go to bed (and throughout the day).
Read Mark 8:34-35, Philippians 2:4-7, Mark 9:35, Colossians 3:12-4:1. What stood out from those Bible verses?
What do you believe about the spiritual realm? How much emphasis do you place on the natural world?