Growing up as an athlete, it was ingrained in me to train hard in order to achieve the goals I set to accomplish. I would lift, run, change my diet, get more rest, watch film, study my opponents, and more, in order to reach peak performance. It became a lifestyle. Sure, it intensified during seasons and built up to seasons, but there weren’t many days and weeks that fell outside that time period. It was devotion. And the level of devotion determined, in large part, how successful I was. All of that was for what? A title? Medals? Acknowledgment?
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV
Eating healthy and physical training are good things. Athletics are beneficial. Pushing ourselves and being dedicated are great qualities. However, I think it would be safe to say that most people, even most Christians, don’t put in the same level of devotion to spiritual training that athletes put into physical training. I know I certainly don’t. And I am convicted of that. If I was willing to spend so much energy and change my life habits so much, in order to win a championship that doesn’t matter one lick in light of eternity, I should be far more willing to put in equal, if not greater, effort, in spiritual matters. And so should we all.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.Philippians 3:12-14 ESV
Our spiritual lives deserve the attention that we fail to give it. Paul says it’s like straining towards the goal. It’s a battle against literally everything in life that seeks to distract us from Christ. How do we ‘press on’ as Paul said? How do we train ourselves spiritually? I believe it consists of setting up habits, much like an athlete, that commutatively, will help us reach the goal. So, what’s the goal? Paul says it’s the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. He is the prize. Our impact on the lives around us is the prize. A heart at peace is the prize. A beautiful legacy is the prize.
I don’t want anyone to get the idea that I am promoting earned salvation or works-based doctrine. Jesus already earned salvation for everyone who puts their faith in Him. But anyone who has tred the ground of the Christian life for long, knows that it takes work and consistency to maintain. There are so many ways to fall off the path. Just think about how differently we respond to things and treat people when we haven’t been tending our spiritual life. Our thoughts and words are even different depending on the amount of time we’ve put into building up our faith. To train spiritually can be summed up in the words that Jesus spoke during His earthly ministry.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:4-5 ESV
All the things we do, the habits if you will, are meant to keep us in connection with Him. I know January is a time that a lot of people use to evaluate how they are spending their time and setting new goals for the coming years. So why not set the goal of creating more life-giving habits? Not as a checklist, but as an intentional training ground for the heart and mind. More habits of prayer, reading the bible, studying the bible, meditating on bible, meeting with other believers regularly, Christian counseling, regular acts of service, increased church attendance, becoming more involved in the church, giving more, etc…Spiritually, we are all somewhere. And we can all go deeper. We can all add new habits. We can all train harder. Not to the point of burnout, but to the point our cups are overflowing with God’s goodness and character and those streams of living water are pouring over everyone in our lives.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.Galatians 2:20 ESV
The spiritual habits of the Christians are not just part of their life, they are their life. To live, is to live for Jesus. To live, is to live with and in Jesus. If He is our prize, our daily habits should reflect that. For me, as a husband and father, my spiritual habits are not just about me, but about my wife and kids as well. Even for those who are single, people still need you to train…to abide in Jesus.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to my 8 year old daughter about being a light and having a positive impact on people. She has this little glow in the dark cross. The longer it is exposed to light, the longer and brighter it will glow. You can see the spiritual illustration. I was trying to help her see, understanding that she is only 8 (but habits start early), that the more we do to be close to Jesus, the more we’ll be like Jesus. The same simple illustration works for me and you. Time to train!
Peace in Christ brothers and sisters.