Working Forgotten Muscles
by Katherine Britton
"Rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." - 1 Timothy 4:7b-8
Well, it's that time of year again - the time when I shake out the running shoes and hobble through training for a 10k after bumming through the winter. My hearty congratulations to those of you whose diligence makes that distance seem puny, but I suspect many of you empathize more than you'd prefer. My inner athlete is an uncoordinated middle school kid perpetually stuck in gym class, so it's taken some coaxing to begin workouts again.
After last year's run, I knew that I'd regret letting my body relax into semi-hibernation this winter. So why didn't I persevere with crunches, stair steps, or walks on sunny days? I could give you a load of excuses, but you've heard them all before. The bottom line is that power walking a 5k feels like a workout right now. I'm barely thinking about running twice that distance. My husband's prodding has goaded me in walk-jog mode, but I hit the wall more often than I experience a runner's high.
There are no shortcuts available to me in the next month. The only thing that will keep me from making a fool of myself or passing out are consistent training sessions and workouts. Right now, I could sprint a half-mile if I had to, but the distance requires enduring strength, not a short burst of energy. A 20-minute power walk every couple days won't really help me get ready. Real training requires setting the bar a little higher every time, forcing myself to stretch a little farther than the time before, and keeping my appointments on the training schedule.
Strength. Consistency. Goals.
The discipline of running a race means waking up muscles I forgot I had and teaching them a little more every day. Without those practices, I'll be hobbling across the finish line with the last of the stragglers.
It's too easy to kid ourselves that taking the stairs here, walking a little further there, doing a few crunches or pushups one day a month is real exercise. Sure, it's better than nothing, but where's the discipline? Short answer: nonexistent. We wake up our muscles just long enough for them to grumble at us and go back to sleep.
Likewise, I can deceive myself about spiritual disciplines. They require every bit as much training, consistency, and sense of purpose. What good does it do me to pray for five minutes before bed, really? If I want to learn to better speak with God, then I need to do some more praying, more training, trying out the deep prayers of the Bible. Then, maybe I would better understand what a habit of prayer looks like. Do I want to be more generous? More loving? More patient? We've got to do more than let our spiritual muscles wake up and fall asleep again.
In his book, "Disciplines of Grace," T.M. Moore notes that real spiritual training is marked by a transformation of our souls. He writes:
"Disciplines that do not produce growth are not disciplines at all. Rather, they have become mere routines, done to satisfy some sense of "oughtness" or duty but with little sanctifying effect. God has given us the disciplines of grace so that, as we are exposed to his glory from one encounter to the next, we will be progressively transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ, and, being transformed, nothing and no one we encounter will remain the same."
Intersecting Faith & Life: Why do you work out your spiritual muscles? To say that you "exercised" and did your part for the day? Or do you have a purpose in mind for your training - to finish more like Christ than you started?