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« LE90X: The Next Step in Spiritual Fitness | Main | Thank God for My Wife »

Out of Shape

The fitness craze reigns!  Sweat suited walkers and joggers, with their obligatory earbuds, mingle with roadway traffic, advertisers hawk weird contraptions designed (so they say) to chisel pounds from mountains of flab, nearly every magazine features exercise regimens ranging from office-chair calisthenics to extreme workouts, and exercise centers are as ubiquitous as Subways and McDonalds.  It’s cool to be fit.

It is true that we have a mandate for the stewardship of our physical bodies.  The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and it is not to be defiled by abuse or disuse.  But, Paul also told Timothy, “Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”  1 Timothy 4:8 (MSG).  The priority goes to spiritual fitness over physical fitness.  Indeed, true spiritual fitness makes a place for physical fitness. 

It is tragic for Spirit-filled people to be spiritually out of shape.  Anemic, meager prayer lives, little or no fasting, people struggling to read more than one verse in the Bible on occasion,  sporadic church attendance, inconsistent giving—all of these lapses pose serious threats to spirituality in general.  With many church services cut to one or two times a week, we need to intensify our personal efforts to regain an acceptable level of spiritual fitness.  Why?  Because, if we are not in shape spiritually, we cannot execute basic Christian principles.

It would be unthinkable for a commander to send green, untrained troops into the battlefield. Even if the most sophisticated weapons systems or ingenious strategies were given to them, without physical fitness they would be doomed from the start. Neither would any football coach teach players their blocking assignments, passing routes and game plans and proceed to send them into a game weak and out of shape. The best plan in the world will not succeed if it cannot be executed.

Despite this need for training, many Christians run from spiritual disciplines.  The rugged training regimens of the past have evolved into the softness of focus groups, elective series, seeker sensitivity and ministries designed to build self-esteem and self-actualization. These methods have been useful in establishing rapport with people and we have benefitted from a more user-friendly atmosphere in the church. But the downside has been that people are largely unfit—and thus unprepared—for the battle of spiritual survival. The Scriptures issue stern warnings about the spiritually hostile territory that we occupy and point out a very different approach. They remind us over and over to be watchful, alert, strong, filled with the Spirit and proficient in the Word. Far too many out-of-shape Christians, fat with the outward trappings of Christianity but lazy in spiritual disciplines, have become easy prey for Satan who “walks around as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”

The Bible does not use the term “spiritual fitness”, but we do know that the persons whom God used had to go through intense training. The exercises consisted of persecution, loneliness, isolation, deprivation and hardships of every kind, along with spiritual encounters and tests of faith. Moses was in training for forty years before he led Israel out of Egypt. Paul was dispatched into the Arabian Desert for three years before he began his ministry. Jesus himself went into the wilderness and fasted for forty days and nights, culminating in the temptations of Satan. The purpose of these adverse situations was to help each one to become battle-ready for the task ahead. Of course, we must take care not to claim that works, legalism or human effort make us worthy or accepted by God. We are saved by grace. We do, however, contend with the flesh in this life and we are instructed to overcome the carnal nature. This is why Paul wrote, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV) These observations provide all the impetus we need for getting into shape.

Actually, spiritual fitness finds its basis in the routines of physical fitness. The number of similarities that exist between the two is amazing. When you understand this correlation, physical exercise will enlighten spiritual exercise and fitness. Physical exercise concepts have definite spiritual counterparts. For example:

Resistance: Just as you feel resistance by picking up weights or pulling on elastic bands, when you begin to pray and read the Bible with determination and purpose, you will meet with resistance. And yet, it is resistance that strengthens you and builds you up. “But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14 (NKJV). Spiritual victory comes through resistance. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7.

Repetition: Physical fitness routines involve repetitions because the more times an exercise is repeated, the more that physical strength is built up. In spiritual fitness routines, repetitions are not meaningless forms of busy-work or droning intended to induce a trance-like state. Rather, they are purposeful exercises that hone the believer’s spiritual acumen. Moreover, the more repetitively one prays and reads the Bible, the repetitions become new and edifying to the inner person.

Flexibility: Failure to engage in physical activity for a long period of time results in stiffness of the joints and muscles. As people start working out again, they have to work through their body’s stiffness to achieve a state of flexibility. Optimum spiritual fitness means inner resiliency and flexibility of the spirit, along with the ability to absorb life’s blows without being broken or crushed. Spiritual fitness allows you to bend and not break. 

Nutrition: Serious physical fitness adherents pay attention to the food they eat and the liquids they drink. They train themselves to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet because ingesting poisons or toxins found in junk food negates any progress they make in exercise. Again, the spiritual parallel is easily seen. Consuming the Word of God and rejecting the trash of the world only makes sense. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalms 119:11. 

Atrophy: Studies have shown that muscles begin to atrophy within three days of deactivation. “Use it or lose it.” That’s the reality of the physical fitness world. Spiritual faculties must also be kept fresh, well used and continually challenged to remain effective. Regardless of how fit a person “used to be,” he or she must stay active in order to stay spiritually fit. Just because you were physically fit in high school or in the military doesn’t mean that you have “paid your dues” and are exempt from exercise for the rest of your life. Maybe you addressed the needs of the spiritual being when you were a child or a young adult, but it is not sufficient for today. In case you haven’t noticed, your spirituality has atrophied. You need to hit it again and then stay active and engaged.

Are you out of shape?  Sign up a membership to the prayer room.  It is time.

“The vision must be followed by the venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps—we must step up the stairs.”  (Vance Havner.)

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Reader Comments (2)

Amen! Agreed! Bravo!
The analogy holds true and I am blessed to be in Toledo, under your pastorship to share and learn your and His instruction.
We are so excited to participate in this new spiritual fitness program! It is something I know I definitely need in my life. We want to be laborers in His harvest, soldiers in His army, and while I struggle every day, I want Jesus to be proud of me doing His work that He has seen fit to give me to do.
Thank you much for your heart, your direction, and your obedience to Him. You set a fine example, shepherd. Proud to be a sheep of your flock.

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Manuel


February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTracy

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