Before and After
"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come."
- 1 Timothy 4:8 NLT
This week I worked out for the first time in months. (According to my Fitbit, it looks like I haven't truly broken a sweat since early December.) While the change on the scale was tolerable, I could see a definite lack in my motivation and a loss of endurance. I went from crushing 60 minute HIIT workouts to struggling to keep my arms raised in worship for the duration of a chorus and a bridge.
My fall from physical fitness began innocently enough. I went on a vacation and fell out of the habit of exercising daily. Around that same time, due to a changing schedule, I needed to start waking up well before the sun rose to fit my workout in. So the excuses began. I went from exercising five days a week to feeling accomplished if fit it in two or three times. Then I started missing whole weeks at a time until I quit thinking of it altogether. This all happened under the guise of “I don't have the time,” said the girl who snoozed her alarm five times before begrudgingly climbing out of bed. The truth: I had lost touch with the purpose (to be healthy) and I made it about looking a certain way. I had made significant progress and quite frankly I was comfortable where I was at. I had grown complacent.
Complacency doesn't just happen in our physical lives, spiritual complacency is just as prevalent. The majority of American's are overweight; the majority of the American church is malnourished. Now I'm not trying to pick a fight with the church in America, I'm sure we're not the only church that struggles with this and I know that it didn't originate with us either. The author of Hebrews wrote to the Jewish believers about this very thing almost two thousand years ago.
"For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn't know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the
difference between right and wrong."
- Hebrews 5:13-14 NLT, emphasis mine
I'm also not negating the importance of milk. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:2 that we are to “crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation.” Milk is the beginning, the basics are where everyone must start, but we are called to grow up from there.
But how do we grow? Through training! The Greek word used there is gymnazo, it is the word that we get 'gymnasium' from today. It means to exercise vigorously. So in order to mature we need to train or exercise our skill to be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong. But what good is recognizing the difference if you're not doing something about it? The author isn't saying, “You should totally work to develop religious head knowledge to be able to tell other people what they should be doing.” Absolutely not! The writer was saying that through use, or practice, you learn and apply the knowledge of what is right and wrong in your own life.
Physical training takes a commitment, it takes time, there is a sacrifice involved. It's about saying 'no' to our wants and whims and doing what is healthy. Just watching someone else work out or listening to them talk about their trip to the gym does not shred our muscles or melt away the extra pounds that have settled around our midsections. The knowledge of what we should do requires a response to reap any results.
The same goes for spiritual training. Just knowing what you should do and doing it are two different things.
"...Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away."
- 2 Peter 1:5-10 NLT, emphasis mine
I love this passage of scripture, it is a wonderful illustration of spiritual growth. Each of the listed attributes builds upon the last one. This is what training looks like: exercise these things, allow God to grow you, and you will never fall away! I love when the Bible uses big words like 'never', 'always', and 'all'. While we need to be careful how we use these words in our own speech (though that is a topic for another day), when the Bible uses them, they are powerful. What a beautiful promise, to never fall away! If you have fallen away (or 'stumbled' as some other translations say) this list is a helpful troubleshooter to get you back on track by spotting the area where you have grown complacent.
When I started exercising again, I took a before picture. Let's be honest we all love to see a good transformation and I'm excited to see my beginning side by side with the results that my consistency will bring. If I do it right, if I follow through, I will inevitably end up looking different. But on top of that, I will slowly become more comfortable with the movements and my inherent awkwardness will fade away as I gain muscle memory. Eventually, the whole process will take less thought as my body changes and develops according to the effort that I have made.
Another way to look at spiritual growth is by developing “spiritual muscle memory.” In the beginning, doing the right things feel foreign and awkward, but the more repetitions we do, the more often we surrender our will for God's, the less thought we have to put into it and the more natural it becomes until one day we will find ourselves reacting differently without having to try. We will look in the mirror and see a different person looking back at us from the one that began this journey.
Transformation looks like something, it is tangible, measurable.
My transformation? Before: I was a creator of chaos. After: I am now a carrier of hope. I react differently, I think differently, I talk differently, and I reason differently. I'm not fully there, either physically or spiritually but I press forward towards the goal, to know Him and to reflect Him purely. I look different from when I started and I will look more like Him before I am done.
Written by Amanda Strauser