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

The Struggle for Change

I’ve been on a diet since 2005.

At the time, I realized I had gained over 30 pounds since college and I decided I needed to be more proactive about my weight and overall health. You can read about my initial weight loss journey here. (https://bit.ly/Mar05-LD)

Photo by Jamie Matocinos on Unsplash

Since losing those 30 pounds fifteen years ago, I have found that keeping the weight off isn’t easy.

There are so many forces working against us, including, but not limited to donuts, chocolate, french fries, chips, cookies, ice cream, pizza and cheesecake.

Donuts and junk food are just a few of the challenges that face those who desire to get fit!
Photo by Jae Park on Unsplash

There are other non-food forces working against us as well, including lower metabolism and energy levels, slower recovery rates, and of course, Netflix.

The truth is that losing weight and maintaining fitness requires a certain level of surrender. I’m free to eat whatever I want and exercise as little as I want (or not at all), but every choice has its consequences. If I want to maintain a certain weight and fitness level, it will require some sacrifices and some intentionality.

With my 55th birthday approaching, I decided to once again embark on the fitness roller coaster in my attempt to lose 10 pounds. If I’m being honest though, my interest is not just in losing 10 pounds. What I’d really like is to get rid of this spare tire around my waist. I’d like to look different!

I’m doing the work, but so far, I look more like the guy on the left than the guy on the right!
Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

I’m four weeks into this current program and every day I’m reminded why so many people give up. It’s HARD work. And while I’ve made some progress on the weight loss portion of the goal, I’m not sure I’ve made any changes to my waistline as my desired 6-pack still looks more like a keg!

I’m reminded that transformation isn’t immediate. Change takes time.

I think that’s true in our spiritual lives as well.

Years ago, I heard a speaker ask this question: “What do you want to become?”

He said that the choices we make today shape the person we will become in the future. I remember him saying these memorable words, “Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus said to his disciples,

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Many people become Christians because they want forgiveness and eternity in heaven. They want the eternal benefits that come after they die. This isn’t bad or wrong, but Scripture is clear that Jesus has a different purpose for those who follow Him – TRANSFORMATION.

Jesus’ desire is that we would become more like him – that we would be a reflection of His character to those around us. The theological word for this is sanctification, which simply means that over time, my life becomes more and more like the life of Jesus.

Sanctification isn’t easy though, because it requires surrender, discipline and intentionality, just like dieting. This is why Jesus said that those who would follow Him must DENY themselves.  If we want to change spiritually (and physically), we have to deny that part of us that just wants to sit on the couch eating donuts and binge-watching Netflix!

Spiritual fitness. like physical fitness, requires sacrifice, intentionality and training
Photo by Tomasz Wozniak on Unsplash

In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul compares the Christian life to a race. In order to win, strict training is required. Paul says that he beats his body and makes it his slave so that he might run the race and win!

Paul’s language shows the reality that our bodies don’t necessarily want to comply with our demands for discipline and training. We know this intuitively when it comes to fitness training or other skills like musical talent, but we don’t always think of our spiritual growth in the same way.

As Jen and I continue to minister to Young Professionals, we’re asking them this question, “What do you want to become?”

As they wrestle with the challenges of becoming the Christ-followers they desire, our job is to come along-side them, as coaches, and provide encouragement and support to help them “win the race.”

How about you?

What do you want to become?

How are you doing in this race Paul described? Are you winning or are you finding it to be a struggle?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns or prayer requests, you can reach out to us through the Prayer Tab!

 

Butterfly Photo by Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash