The Struggle for Endurance

James 1

2Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. 3For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything. (James 1:2-4, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Last year around this time, I decided I wanted to shed about 10 pounds by the time I hit my birthday about 3 months later. I developed a plan that involved counting my calories through an app called LoseIt and increasing my fitness level through running.

I should say that I really don’t like running. Actually, that’s too generous. “Hate” would be a more appropriate word to describe the feelings I had for running.

My twins are runners so I’ve been exposed to the running culture for a number of years and I’ve made many attempts to get myself out there. But honestly, it was always just so dreadful. I couldn’t go very far before I was completely gasping for air and I almost always developed some kind of knee/leg/calf/shin/ankle/foot injury within a couple of weeks, which always required time for healing which in turn meant a complete restart a few weeks later.

I was in the habit of driving over to the high school and doing laps around the track because it was flat. I thought that anything I could do to make running easier would be better. I was wrong.

It turns out that when Covid hit, the school closed the track to the public. Those of us in the know knew how to get onto the track even when the gates were locked but then the school hired security guards to kick out anyone who might try to circumvent the rules.

At that point, I had no choice. If I was going to try to burn off excess calories via running, I was going to have to do it in my own neighborhood, which meant running up and down hills.

It turns out that running only on flat surfaces was not exactly helpful for my progress. It also turns out that running up hills is helpful. The struggle of going up a hill actually builds endurance.

After a few weeks of running, I was able to slowly extend my distance. Three miles had been about my max but I was now able to do three miles more regularly.

One day, I decided to do a long run of 6 miles. The plan was to run out of my neighborhood and over to the man-made Lake Mission Viejo. There’s a walking loop around the lake that’s about 3.1 miles. Running that loop and then running back would be about 6 miles total. The problem was that there are a number of long hill inclines around that lake and I found that I couldn’t run that whole loop without having to make several stops to get my heart rate down and control my breathing.

But one day, I was able to push myself and make it all the way around that lake loop without stopping. It was a big achievement. I decided that I would make another attempt in a few days, which I did. Running around that lake became easier and more routine, precisely because I had to struggle to do it in the first place. It was the struggle that increased my endurance and helped me build my stamina, a feat that had always seemed to elude me.

Now, a year later, my typical daily run is 6 miles, including the lake loop. About once a week, I’ll run a longer run of 10-13 miles. My times have gotten better and I find that I actually enjoy running more than I ever thought I would.

When James talks about struggles in this first chapter of his letter, I think about running. Just as the struggle of running up hills helped increase my endurance, so the struggles of life increase our faith and ability to trust God.

The struggles of life actually help your endurance grow. Of course nobody likes struggles but they are an inevitable part of life. So James’ advice is to embrace the struggles of life and look at them as an opportunity to develop endurance, which in turn will mold you into a person who is “strong in character and ready for anything.”

Reflection

What examples do you have from your own life that demonstrate how struggle actually promotes growth?

What are some current struggles you’re currently experiencing? In what ways could these struggles be used as an opportunity for growth?

Many missionaries who have served overseas among more underprivileged communities and cultures have remarked how deep and strong the faith is of believers who have relatively little compared to American Christians, whose faith, by comparison, has often been observed to be shallow and lacking in depth. What do you think might be some reasons why American believers, despite our vast biblical and financial resources, often are seen as having a shallow faith, while believers in third world countries are often described as having deep and enduring faith?

What are some steps you can personally take to develop your faith and build endurance?

 

Photo by Emma Simpson on Unsplash

The Importance of Spiritual Fitness

1 Timothy 4

7Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. 8Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. 9This is true, and everyone should accept it. 10We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe the truth, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and particularly of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter of 1 Timothy is chock full of godly advice from Paul to his protege, Timothy.

In this passage, Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid wasting time on meaningless debates and issues and instead, focus his energy on training himself for spiritual fitness.

What does it look like to train for spiritual fitness?

In America alone, fitness is a $50 billion a year industry. People spend a lot of time, effort and money in order to make themselves look as good as they possibly can. Certainly, there’s an element of fitness that’s good – we should strive to be healthy. But there’s no doubt that our culture places an unhealthy emphasis on our physical appearance.

Paul agrees that physical exercise has some value but argues that spiritual exercise is even more valuable.

So we’re back to the question of what does spiritual exercise look like?

Well, since we’re comparing spiritual exercise to physical exercise, think about what is involved in physical exercise. If you want to get in shape, there are certain exercises you’ll pursue. Building up your cardiovascular system and trimming down would likely involve eating healthy as well as physically demanding exercises like running, biking or cross-fit.

Spiritual exercise is no different. If you want to develop yourself spiritually, it will require some effort, wise choices and exercises that are designed to build you up spiritually.

This is exactly the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

In his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”, author John Ortberg describes spiritual disciplines as activities we engage in to train ourselves for spiritual transformation, which is simply a process whereby your internal life is becoming more aligned with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Spiritual exercise is not a barometer of our spirituality, but it is a means necessary to achieving an end – real, authentic spiritual transformation.

Ortberg remarks that many people in the church are surprised when they see people who experience real transformation because it often isn’t the norm. Instead, we see what Ortberg calls “boundary marker” spirituality. Ortberg says that boundary-marker spirituality causes Christians to distinguish themselves from others by the things they do. It may be by the way they dress, the way they talk, or the activities in which they engage.

According to Jesus, this was the problem with the Pharisees, who maintained an impeccable outward appearance, following every rule and regulation in the law to the nth degree, but who were rotten on the inside. 

We can settle for boundary-marker spirituality, which wouldn’t require much time or effort but might help us to “look the part” of a Christ-follower. Or, we can experience real change – authentic transformation from the inside. This is the option Jesus wants us to pursue because it’s the only one that will enable us to truly conform to His image. But it will require work and effort on our part, a commitment to pursuing Jesus and training ourselves to think rightly about God, ourselves, and the world around us.

This is the purpose of spiritual fitness, and Paul encourages Timothy and us to “Just do it!”

Reflection

How have you thought about spiritual disciplines in the past? What role have spiritual disciplines played in your own spiritual development?

What is your reaction to the statement that many Christians have developed what Ortberg calls “boundary-marker” spirituality? What examples can you think of that demonstrate our penchant for promoting a spirituality in the church that is outward focused instead of inwardly focused?

How much time, money and effort do you put into physical fitness compared to your spiritual fitness?

What steps can you take to begin exercising spiritually? What resources are available to help you get started? Who are some people you know who could help you and encourage you in your journey?

 

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash