The Importance of Conditioning

1 Corinthians 9

24Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. 25All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about spankings and discipline that included passages from Proverbs 23 and 1 Samuel 3. I also included a related story about a box of Lemonheads. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, you can read about it here.

The big idea was about discipline and how we tend to think of discipline as punishment, but the broader idea behind discipline is the idea of training.

In today’s reading, Paul provides the classic passage regarding discipline as training.

Paul compares the Christian life to a race that we run. But this race is not a sprint or a relay; it’s more like a marathon.

I have twin boys who were distance runners in high school. In the Fall, they competed in Cross Country and in the Spring, they ran track.

For distance runners, training is year-round. Even in the off-season, they are still running 5-6 days a week.

Some sports require a lot of what I call “skill acquisition.” Think about baseball and the hand and eye coordination needed to hit a 90 mile per hour fastball.

Or think about a golfer who has to learn the exact right mechanics of his or her body to be able to hit a golf ball off a tee in order to make it fly 250 yards down the green. These are not easy skills to acquire. It takes time and patience and repetition. But if you get injured and have to take several weeks or a month off, when you resume, you can often pick up right where you left off. You haven’t lost the skill.

But this isn’t the case with a distance runner because their success is not so dependent on acquiring certain skills as much as it’s dependent on developing their level of conditioning. To miss a week of training means your conditioning suffers and when you resume, you will not be able to pick up where you left off. There is often ground that needs to be made up to get back to where you were.

This is the idea Paul is presenting when he says we should train like an athlete. He’s talking about training like an endurance runner. This kind of training takes focus, intentionality and consistency. There are no short-cuts and it is hard work.

Can you imagine a distance runner who only trains one or two days a week? Or how about an Olympic marathon hopeful who rarely runs 26 miles in a week, let alone 26 miles in one race! What kind of results would you expect for the person who approaches running with this kind of mentality?

And yet, many Christians approach the Christian life by investing in their personal spiritual development only once or twice a week. This kind of haphazard approach will never yield the kind of conditioning necessary to compete in and finish the race.

For the distance runner who is not properly conditioned, one of two things will generally happen when they run in a race. He or she will fall so far behind the rest of the group that functionally, they are not even in the race. There  is ZERO measurable impact.

The other potential outcome is they may give up and drop out of the race altogether. Paul equates this with a person who ultimately abandons the faith, walking away from the Lord.

This was Paul’s biggest fear. You probably know people who once called themselves Christians but who have abandoned the faith, forsaking the person and the cause of Christ.

If we don’t want that fate to befall us, we have to discipline ourselves, training and conditioning ourselves spiritually to be able to handle whatever course we run with whatever obstacles we may encounter.

Reflection

What kinds of activities or hobbies have you engaged in that required discipline (sports, music, mental, etc.)?

When is a time you engaged in an activity where you didn’t have adequate conditioning? What were the circumstances? What were the results?

What has been your practice for training yourself spiritually? 

What are some steps you could take to develop a more focused, intentional and consistent approach to your spiritual development and training?

 

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Spankings, Samuel and a Box of Lemonheads

Proverbs 23

13Don’t fail to correct your children. They won’t die if you spank them. 14Physical discipline may well save them from death. (Proverbs 23:13-14, NLT)

1 Samuel 3

11Then the LORD said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel. 12I am going to carry out all my threats against Eli and his family. 13I have warned him continually that judgment is coming for his family, because his sons are blaspheming God and he hasn’t disciplined them. 14So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and his sons will never be forgiven by sacrifices or offerings.” (1 Samuel 3:11-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

I’ve mentioned before that the Bible reading program I’ve been following for the past several years in the Grant Horner Bible reading plan. You can read about the plan here from a pdf that includes a handy list of the 10 “lists”.

What’s unique about the plan is that every day, you read one chapter from each of 10 different lists – Gospels, Pentateuch, Wisdom literature, Psalms, Proverbs and so on. Each successive day, you read the next chapter from that list. When you reach the last chapter in any list, you return to the beginning. Since each list has a different number of chapters, you will never be reading the same 10 chapters. What you begin to realize, as a reader, is how Scripture is interwoven and how different sections comment on and bring clarity to other sections.

A perfect example of this occurred just a few days ago.

On one day, I read Proverbs 23, which included verses 13-14 and the writer’s admonition to not avoid spanking your kids.

Spanking was very common when I was a kid but it seems that there has been a lot of talk in recent years about whether or not spanking is moral. Those against spanking generally feel that it is abusive and unnecessary and that there are more effective ways of dealing with bad behavior and problem youths.

I agree that spanking, when done in anger, and done in a punitive manner, can absolutely be abusive. But it doesn’t logically follow that all spanking is abusive. When done properly, it can be very corrective.

I remember when I was 10 years old, I used to walk home from school with a friend. Some times we would stop off at a Pharmacy that was on the way home and browse and maybe by some candy. When my dad found out that I was sometimes stopping at the pharmacy, he told me he didn’t want me doing that anymore.

Not long after that, as I was walking home from school, my friend wanted to stop at the Pharmacy. Against my dad’s wishes, I went along, and I even bought a box of Lemonheads.

When I got home, my dad happened to be home from work early and he noticed the bulge in my front pocket where the Lemonheads were. He asked, “what’s that in your pocket?” I pulled out the Lemonheads and my dad replied, “you stopped off at the pharmacy didn’t you?” I told him I had and he reminded me that he had expressly forbid me from going there on my way home from school. I was supposed to come straight home and I hadn’t done that.

My dad then informed me that there were consequences for my disobedience. I had been spanked before with a belt and I expected that would be forthcoming. But my dad actually gave me a choice. I had a Little League game later that afternoon and I was scheduled to be the pitcher. My dad told me I could get a spanking, or I could skip the game – it was my choice. I told him I wanted to think about it.

So I went to my room and I thought about it, and I thought about it some more, and even more. I honestly didn’t want to get a spanking. I was a small, scrawny kid and I didn’t have a lot of meat on my glutes to soften the leathery blows.

But I was scheduled to pitch in the game and I knew that if I didn’t get the spanking, I would be letting my team down and my coach would be wondering why I didn’t show up.

At the last possible moment, I went to my dad and told him I would take the spanking, after which, I threw on my uniform and we raced to the field, where I was already late for pre-game warm-ups. I didn’t miss the game though, and like the verse states, I didn’t die from getting spanked. Instead, it was a valuable lesson in obedience and consequences, one that I obviously still remember to this day.

So what does this have to do with the Grant Horner system?

Well, the very next day, I read the chapter in 1 Samuel 3. Actually, on the same day I read Proverbs 23:13-14, I read 1 Samuel 2, where I learned that Eli’s sons Phineas and Hophni were priests who were taking advantage of Israelites who came to the temple to worship the Lord. The text calls them “scoundrels”. Eli is warned by God about what his sons are doing but Eli essentially does nothing about it. He does not discipline his sons. He provides no meaningful correction.

As a result, in 1 Samuel 3, the Lord speaks to the boy Samuel and tells him that he’s going to bring about justice for the wrongs committed by Eli’s sons. Verse 13 says that God is bringing this about because he has warned Eli about what his son’s are doing but Eli “hasn’t disciplined them.”

I think our culture has a hard time with physical discipline like spanking because we think of discipline as punishment. But the more general understanding of discipline is the word “training”. Athletes discipline themselves in order to train their bodies. Spiritual disciplines are for the purpose of training ourselves spiritually.

So when we think about disciplining our kids, we are not trying to punish them, though there may be negative consequences for disobedience and bad behavior. Instead, we are training our children to know what is right and to respond in right ways in varied circumstances. This is godly and as we can see from these passages, it is also biblical.

Reflection

What was your experience with discipline growing up? If you’re a parent, what has been your practice of discipline with your kids? What do you think are some effective ways you have found for correcting and disciplining your kids?

The idea of spanking has become a controversial issue in our culture today. What are your views on spanking and physical discipline? What has shaped the position you hold today?

In what ways can physical discipline, such as spanking, be done in a way that is corrective and not abusive? 

We often think of discipline as “punishment”. When you think of discipline in it’s broader sense, as training, how does this affect your view and understanding of discipline as a corrective measure?

What are some common ways you discipline or train yourself (i.e. finances, fitness, sleep, other habits and routines)? 

 

Photo by Dave Lowe

The Whip of God’s Anger!

Isaiah 10

5“Destruction is certain for Assyria, the whip of my anger. Its military power is a club in my hand. 6Assyria will enslave my people, who are a godless nation. It will plunder them, trampling them like dirt beneath its feet. 7But the king of Assyria will not know that it is I who sent him. He will merely think he is attacking my people as part of his plan to conquer the world. 8He will say, ‘Each of my princes will soon be a king, ruling a conquered land. 9We will destroy Calno just as we did Carchemish. Hamath will fall before us as Arpad did. And we will destroy Samaria just as we did Damascus. 10Yes, we have finished off many a kingdom whose gods were far greater than those in Jerusalem and Samaria. 11So when we have defeated Samaria and her gods, we will destroy Jerusalem with hers.’”

12After the Lord has used the king of Assyria to accomplish his purposes in Jerusalem, he will turn against the king of Assyria and punish him—for he is proud and arrogant. 13He boasts, “By my own power and wisdom I have won these wars. By my own strength I have captured many lands, destroyed their kings, and carried off their treasures. 14By my greatness I have robbed their nests of riches and gathered up kingdoms as a farmer gathers eggs. No one can even flap a wing against me or utter a peep of protest.”

15Can the ax boast greater power than the person who uses it? Is the saw greater than the person who saws? Can a whip strike unless a hand is moving it? Can a cane walk by itself?

16Listen now, king of Assyria! Because of all your evil boasting, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will send a plague among your proud troops, and a flaming fire will ignite your glory. 17The LORD, the Light of Israel and the Holy One, will be a flaming fire that will destroy them. In a single night he will burn those thorns and briers, the Assyrians. 18Assyria’s vast army is like a glorious forest, yet it will be destroyed. The LORD will completely destroy Assyria’s warriors, and they will waste away like sick people in a plague. 19Only a few from all that mighty army will survive—so few that a child could count them! (Isaiah 10:5-19, NLT)


Assyria is an ancient nation that at one time was THE biggest, baddest empire around.

As is typical of big, bad empires, they conquered other nations, took captives, plundered and slaughtered people and generally enforced their will wherever they went.

In this chapter of Isaiah, God describes the Assyrians as “the whip of my anger.” Its mighty military power is described by God as “a club in my hand.”

God explains that He is going to use the Assyrians as His tool to punish the Israelites, His people who have continually forsaken Him, despite many warnings about the consequences of abandoning the Lord for other gods.

After the Lord has used the Assyrians to accomplish His purposes, He explains that He will then punish the Assyrians.

Why would He punish the Assyrians if they were simply God’s tool to accomplish His plan of destruction against Israel?

Verses 12-15 give the answer. The reason Assyria will be punished is because of pride and arrogance. The Assyrian king won’t acknowledge that He is subordinate to God and that the Lord was simply using Him as His vessel of discipline. Instead, the Assyrian king will embrace the belief that everything he’s accomplished is because of his superior nature over those whom he’s subjugated.

The king of Assyria will essentially make himself out to be a god as he mentions all the gods he has conquered from the various lands he now controls.

God reminds the listener that Assyria is no different than an ax, a saw or a cane. They are all just instruments that are completely useless unless there is an active agent to employ the tool for its purpose.

Assyria, at one time, WAS the big bad empire bullying all the surrounding nations of the Ancient Near East. WAS! Somewhere between 612 and 605 BC, Assyria was destroyed. They were overtaken by the next big, bad empire – the Babylonians, but not before God fulfilled His promise of using the Assyrians to discipline and punish His people who had forsaken Him.

Reflection

Under what circumstances are you tempted to take credit for actions and outcomes that are ultimately orchestrated by God?

The Assyrians were supplanted by the Babylonians, who were supplanted by the Persians, who were supplanted by the Greeks, who were supplanted by the Romans, etc. Why do you suppose empires come and go? What conditions do you think would be necessary for an empire to last?

What do you think is the difference between pride/arrogance/boasting and confidence and self-assurance? How can you ensure that you’re confident in yourself without being boastful or proud?

 

Photo by Jamil Kabar on Unsplash