Maybe this has been happening to you too? I’ve been wondering whether the logarithms embedded in my phone and watch are alerting some of my fitness apps to the fact that my waist has gone out a few inches over the summer. Maybe not, but in the last week of August I received requests to sign up to various exercise plans, all with the aim of helping me exercise regularly this September.
My exercise choices included an aerobic workout five days a week for four weeks, cycling 300 miles in September, and doing a ten minute abs workout every day for a month. Maybe to the surprise of some, I actually have an Autumn workout routine that I implement every year. – I’ll work out-side on sunny days and inside on wet days! Seriously, I have actually done my 25 minute cardio workout three times this last week, the last blast was on Saturday evening before I sat down on the couch in an exhausted and delirious state (my only excuse) and consumed a whole tube of Smokey Bacon Pringles! Note: More self control needed!
The Apostle Paul writing to his young friend Timothy says;
Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
It would be safe to say that there are more people exercising today than there were in my fathers generation. Thinking back to when I was younger I never remember my Dad wearing a pair of joggers or trainers, never mind a Lycra all in one cycling suit. However I do remember opening the living room door early one morning and seeing my Dad on his knees praying with the Bible on the chair in front of him. This was his 7 days a week 52 weeks a year spiritual exercise.
My Dad had always been a very physically fit man, and the fact that he worked physically during the day meant he probably didn’t need much exercise when he came home each night. Now my Dad is 83 years old and is confined all day to a bed or chair, his limbs twisted and stiff with the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease. He sometimes lies in bed stretching his hands out in front of himself and will tell you that he’s just doing his exercises. In the early days of his Parkinson’s diagnosis, he used to say; “It just shows you, you can stay fit all your life and then end up with something like this.” The Apostle Paul came to a similar conclusion two thousand years ago; physical exercise is of some value in this life. However, he contrasts it with Spiritual Exercise which he says has a double benefit: it promises a reward in both this life and the next.
Being able to step onto the bathroom scales, look in the mirror or just fasten a pair of jeans, reminds us of our need for physical exercise. But it’s not always that easy for us to recognise that we are becoming Spiritually flabby and out of breath. Often the time we need spiritual exercise the most is the time we think we need it the least. Over time we tend to become self confident and reliant in our own strength, blinding ourselves to the fact that we aren’t in as good a shape spiritually as we may think.
Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
In the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus speaking to his disciples about the dangers of self reliance. He uses a fruit tree as an illustration of this danger. Jesus represents the vine, and the branches represent us. Jesus tried to get the message across to the disciples – and to us – that we need to remain spiritually connected to Him in order for us to continue being spiritually fruitful. As Christians we became Spiritually connected to Jesus when we repented and believed in Him as the one who bore our sin in His own body on the cross! We were born again by the Spirit of God, were adopted into God’s family and spiritually attached to The True Vine – Jesus Christ. However, as we journey on in our Christian life we can neglect to take care of our spiritual life, in the same way we can neglect our physical fitness. Like excess calories are to fitness, so sin is to our Spiritual health. Sin unconfessed, tolerated and played with, leaves us spiritually unfit, and as James chapter 1 says; – sin brings forth death.
If we fail to confess our sins, it doesn’t take long before we become just like the useless branches on a fruit tree, branches that are not doing what they were created to do; e.g. bear good fruit! Now just to be clear: – the fact that we may not be bearing fruit, does not mean that we are not connected to the fruit tree. – Sin may presently be defeating us more than we’re defeating sin, but it doesn’t mean that we’re no longer God’s children. – Remember the prodigal son, he was singing; ‘I Did It My Way’ all the way to the pigsty; but he was still his fathers child even though their relationship was broken through the son’s sinful choices. We remember the scene when the returning son falls at his Fathers feet to ask forgiveness, and the father shows him absolute mercy and grace. – Sometimes Spiritual neglect will take us to this point of repentance and reconciliation and God has promised to always meets His children with abounding grace, and great rejoicing.
If we confess our sins He (Jesus) is faithful andjust to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
So as Christians seeking to remain Spiritually healthy we need to be concerned about keeping our relationship with Jesus free from hindrances that suppress the Spiritual life of God in us. Our sin not only hinders the fellowship that exists between ourselves and God, but between ourselves and other brothers and sister in Christ. Sin suppresses our ability to live as God’s holy (set apart, distinct) people here on earth. Good Spiritual exercise routines like prayer and meditating on the Word of God each day help us be more to alert to the sins which are the killers of our Spiritual fitness. Oftentimes these sin can be sins which people like to pretend wouldn’t be done by them: – gossip, slander, partiality and prejudice. The disciplines, or means of grace as they have been called, (Prayer, bible study, fellowship, and worship) help us to see ourselves in the light of God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit within will reveal to us the sin in our lives, if we are willing to ask.
In the letter to the Hebrew Church we know simply as ‘Hebrews’, it’s probably the Apostle Paul again who uses another sport and fitness analogy to encourage Christians in their Spiritual exercise.
Let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
As followers of Jesus Christ, bearing the name ‘Christian’ we have a race before us that can only begin and end by being run by faith. Faith is trusting in God, or as someone once put it; ‘taking God at His Word’. This faith race in which we each find ourselves isn’t an easy flat race, nor is it a sprint, it’s a long distance, – Forrest Gump style – endurance race. In my Dad’s case he’s been running this faith race for 62 years. By comparison I’m only in my 28th year of however many years my particular faith race is destined to be. In the book of Joshua we are told about a man of faith in God called Caleb. Listen to what he said about himself physically and spiritually as he looked back on his particular life’s race;
Here I am this day, eighty-five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in. Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day…
Unlike Caleb and Joshua we don’t have any physical mountains and physical giants to conquer. However, as Christians we have all been given a task in our particular race. Individually we will only be able to fulfil the purposes of our God, and the gospel mandate of His Son Jesus Christ if we are Spiritually fit. We remain Spiritually fit if we are continually training and exercising in the gym of the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ through spending time with Him through worship, reading His Word and prayer. We want to be like the healthy fruit tree Jesus spoke about, branches that bear our fruit in season. Just like our physical muscles require effort to grow, so we must put effort into our spiritual exercises also.
Brothers and sisters in Christ; I invite you to sign up with me to the rewarding challenge of investing more time in Spiritual exercises this September. Will we hide God’s Word in our heart that we might not sin against him? Will we rise to the challenge of studying God’s Word and praying more regularly that we may know Him more? If we do we’ll be ready to give an answer when asked to give a reason for the hope that is within us, because people will notice something different about us. We’ll be praying for opportunities to share the life giving message of Jesus Christ with those around us who may be physically fitter and stronger, but who in reality are spiritually dead, dying in their sins and in desperate need of new spiritual life in Jesus Christ. Many good people around us, are blissfully unaware of the seriousness of their own spiritual neglect. Many are exercising physically for this life, but with no thought or concern for their spiritual wellbeing in the next!
So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.
In another fitness analogy the Apostle Paul, said that he did not run for the sake of running or box aimlessly as one who was just punching the air, – we’ve all seen the films where there’s a guy doing all these fancy Karate moves into thin air trying to psych out his opponent – and then he gets knocked out with one punch, Paul was definitely not going to be that guy, he was focused, and he was committed. His training and exercise in spiritual matters was for a goal and for a reason. Paul’s reason was that he wanted everyone to know about the exceeding riches of knowing Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord. His goal was to please his Saviour and God, Jesus Christ. His last words are the best motivational words any Christian can have in their quest to be spiritually fit this September, and for the rest of their life.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.”