Tuesday, May 8, 2012

No Pain No Gain

Yesterday I talked about the start of softball season.  Today it is the day after.  There is that soreness you have after using muscles you have not used in some time.  Our spiritual life is not that much different.  Getting in shape spiritually hurts.  As they say, not pain no gain, and that same principle can be applied to our spirits.
For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.  1 Timothy 4:8 NKJV
Paul is saying that bodily exercise is okay.  It profits in that it keeps these tents of ours healthy, but that is not what is really important.  We should be good steward of what God has given us to dwell in, but it should not be over-emphasized in our lives.  The real importance lies in spiritual fitness.  Godliness is profitable for all things.  There is no area of your life where godliness will not have a positive effect.  If you are sick, you will see that sickness differently if you are living a godly life.  If you are hurting, you will be able take comfort in ways that would be impossible if not for the godly life you were living.  In fact, no matter the circumstances of your life, godliness puts it all into an entirely new perspective.  The way we become godly is exercise.  God gave us the ability and He provides the strength, but we have to exercise that strength to be able to use it when we need it. 

Let me tell you that this exercise is oftentimes painful.  One example of this is sin.  Sin is poison to our spiritual growth.  It retards our growth or even sends us reeling backwards, yet many of us fall for the same temptation over and over again.  We do not exercise our faith and so we remain weak in that area.  I know it is tough.  I know the first time you stand up to a long-standing temptation, you do not want to fight it.  The flesh screams for that thing whatever it is and you want nothing more to give in to quiet the flesh, if even just for a moment.  You think that temptation is your one area that you can not be victorious in.  You think that it is so ingrained in your life that you can never let it go.  And when you do decide to take a stand?  That first time you are like an alcoholic staring at an open whiskey bottle.  Every part of you wants to give in.  This is spiritual exercise.  This is the pain I am talking about.  It is standing up to the temptation knowing God promises a way of escape.  It means standing strong and not falling once again.  In the beginning, this is very hard to do, especially if that sin is intertwined into your whole life.  Just like earthly exercise, though, as time goes on, it gets easier and easier.  As time goes on, the temptation is not as strong and you are stronger to face it.  Getting to the point where it is no longer a weakness takes time, but as you stand against temptation, you will get there. 

Another area is our trust.  I struggle in this area a lot.  I need to learn to stop thinking that I always need to be doing something and trust that whatever it is, it is in the Lord's hands.  I am not talking on acting on the Lord's command, but thinking that I need to be doing something anyway even if I have no clear direction.  Learning to trust God in all areas of our life takes exercise.  First we trust Him when we at our end and have no other choice but to trust Him.  I am not saying those are bad times to trust Him, but those are easy times to trust Him because we have no other alternative.  I am talking about learning to trust even in the little things in life.  For example, there are those times when you are stuck in traffic scared you will be terribly late and face some consequence.  Who hasn't been there!  But that worry and stress reflects a lack of trust that God knows our circumstances.  This also takes time, but it also requires effort on our part.  It is a strange kind of effort in that we are efforting not to effort.  Sometimes holding back from acting while waiting on the Lord is the hardest thing to do.  Sometimes taking hold of our stress and giving it to the Lord is harder than just lashing out.  Sometimes getting caught up in the day-to-day junk is easier than rising above it.  We must put that effort into it though to learn to trust God in all those circumstances.  At first, sure it is hard, we are striving against our flesh.  Over time, though, it becomes easier and easier and we truly begin to experience the joy of the Lord.

Finally, there is the area of faith.  I am not so much talking about strengthening our faith but about having it in all circumstances.  It is easy to have faith those times we see an immediate outcome to our prayers, but how about those times when there is no immediate answer?  We all remind God about Gideon and ask for our fleece.  That fleece. however, is not always forthcoming.  Sometimes God wants us to learn to trust that He hears our prayers and will answer them in their perfect time.  Sometimes God wants us to learn to listen to His still small voice instead of looking for grand signs in the sky.  Sometimes God wants us to learn to trust the leading of the Holy Spirit before leading us by a giant pillar of fire.  It is easy to follow God with obvious undeniable signs, it is not very easy when there aren't.  This also takes exercise.  It means taking our thoughts captive so that we can clearly hear the voice of God.  It means weeding our hearts allowing us to feel the presence of leading of the Holy Spirit.  It means facing our doubts and fears and defeating them.  Once again, this is a process that takes time, but with time, but as we learn more and more about God and learn more and more His voice and leading, it will become much easier. 

Training is important, this is especially true in our spiritual lives.  When we fail to train, we can get hurt.  It was Peter who stepped out in pride beyond what he was prepared for and ended up denying Jesus.  It was David who was not strong enough to resist the temptation of Bathsheba bathing on her roof.  The Bible is filled with examples of what could befall us should we not allow that work of God to happen in our hearts.  Faith, trust, and righteous living are the main areas in our Christian lives that God wants to do a work in.  Our part is allowing that work to happen.  We do that through prayer, experience, testing, study, and fellowship.  Our trainer is the Holy Spirit and as we learn to trust His training, we will grow in leaps and bounds in the Lord.  I can say that with confidence because the strength we are learning to rely on is not our own.  The same Holy Spirit that trained Peter from the one who denied Jesus to the one who died proclaiming Him is the same Holy Spirit that resides in your heart. The same Holy Spirit that led Paul on those amazing missionary journeys, planting and tending to churches, suffering persecution of the likes we could not imagine, and doing so with the joy of the Lord is the same Holy Spirit that resides in our hearts.  The first part of our training is learning and trusting in that.  On our own, we would not even get our warm up clothes on.  With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can train up to be champions of the faith. 
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [us], and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2 NKJV

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