On most mornings, I rise and shine (or rise and whine) and make my way to the living room to sweat it out to a workout video. I like this kind of exercise: a full body workout that gets my heart pumping and evokes memories of my mother’s Richard Simmons videos. I try not to repeat the same workout too often to work different muscle groups for different lengths of time and intensity but mostly to avoid boredom. If I follow the same exercise day after day, the routine becomes just that: routine. My brain switches to auto-pilot, my body goes through the motions with minimal effort, and I can lose track of which moves I’ve already done. This is not good.
A new workout video is a good remedy to break up the routine, but on the first few days with the new video, well…I’m glad no one is watching me. I try to follow the perky instructors as well as I can, but I’m afraid I look like a dizzy octopus with a dumbbell gripped in each tentacle. But even though I might feel a little clumsy and look a little silly, I know the change is good for me. My muscles feel strengthened in new ways, and I definitely feel more awake than after “going through the motions” with an old workout. After a few more times working out with the new video, I know the moves better and I can perform them with more confidence.
How I view my physical health can also be reflected in how I approach my spiritual health. Am I content to follow a boring routine that fails to challenge me? Attending church, praying throughout the day, and reading Scripture can all bring nourishment to a hungry soul. But if the attendance, prayers, and readings feel obligatory, if they fail to stimulate the mind and touch the heart, what good are they? They are no longer ways to deepen a relationship with Jesus Christ or to gain wisdom. They are only characteristics of a lukewarm Christian which God detests (Revelation 3:16). Baby Christians (that’s “Christianese” for a new believer) just crawling or toddling towards the doors of a church for the first time should be encouraged in all they do to learn more about God, no matter how seemingly small the steps. But mature Christians should crave what the author of Hebrews referred to as “solid food”: training and teaching that leads to distinguishing good from evil (Hebrews 5:13-14). Mature Christians should be hiking up mountains while baby Christians are learning to tie their bootlaces.
Wonderfully, growing as a Christian is easy to do – all it takes is effort. God smiles on all His children when they glorify Him, whether they teach a Sunday School class, bring a meal to a needy family, fix a stranger’s flat tire, mentor a child, or build an orphanage. Jesus’ life was not defined by record-breaking attendance at the Temple or showy prayers. He loved the unlovable (John 4:1-42), touched the untouchable (Matthew 8:1-4), and forgave the unforgivable (Luke 23:34). While it might seem like a “sacrifice” of time and effort to get the whole family dressed in their best and arrive at church right at 9:00 every Sunday morning, or praying the same prayer before dinner every night, it is all meaningless to God if the bodies that go to church and pray before meals do not genuinely show God’s love at other times. For God desires mercy and acknowledgement more than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).
So how will you challenge and strengthen yourself as you walk with God? Personally, I look for ways to keep my Sunday School class fresh and fun so the kids want to come rather than feeling forced to come. My husband and I are spearheading an initiative at our church focused on service that will honor God while helping people in our community. And I’m following a one-year plan to read through the new Bible my husband gave me when we were married last year. (“Ugh, I have to underline all my favorite verses again because I got a new Bible.” #FirstWorldChristianProblems) I hope you do not think I’m bragging, reader, or suggesting you have to do these exact same things to grow. These are just ways that fit well with my spiritual gifts, and how you choose to grow may look completely different than my ways. What matters is that Christians honor God with their hearts, souls, minds, and strengths to the best of their abilities. Just as an athlete trains to jump higher, run farther, swim faster, or dive deeper, we should aim to pray more fervently, work more cheerfully, give more generously, suffer more patiently, and live more faithfully. We might look like dizzy octopuses when we start, but God will still be smiling.
Photo credit: https://lostandfounders.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/workout.png