So, for the past year or so, God has been showing me many illustrations for the spiritual life of a believer in the fashion of something I enjoy and know a good bit about: fitness, exercise and weight lifting. For the longest time, I put this off, as I feared it would make me come off as a pedantic meathead, but whatever. I’m over it. God has given me far too many allusions by now to simply keep them to myself anymore. I hope that these illustrations can help you–whether you’re a gym rat or a couch potato–to understand more about living the spiritual life of a believer.
I began consistently working out freshman year of college, now over four years ago. I began with two days a week, with three or four five-mile runs a week. Then I traveled overseas and completely relied on pull-ups and push-ups for my training. After this, I spent two years doing a plethora of different things here and overseas. By this point, I was probably in the gym three to five days a week. However, try as I did, I could not seem to advance beyond the plateau I had reached. I would look at other men my age and older who were much bigger than me. It was never an inferiority issue or anything, but I certainly noticed that they were somewhere I could not reach. I figured they must either work out more frequently than me (unlikely) or eat a certain supplement that I could not afford (also untrue).
But then I went to Moody Bible Institute. For the first time, I was in the gym consistently with guys I knew, some of whom were stronger than me. One of them pointed out to me one day that, in spite of my regularity in visiting the gym, I did not push myself. He noted that I always used the same weight, and often went through the same cycle of exercises.
He was absolutely right!
I began stacking the plates on the bars beyond what I ever had before. Surprisingly, I could lift more than I expected, and quickly began gaining muscle. I put on twelve pounds by Christmas time. The mystery was solved. The curtain was pulled back. I had not seen results because I was never pushing myself. I unintentionally held back.
Now, how does this apply to Christianity? Very easily. I used to see believers who seemed to be miles ahead of me in their walk with the Lord. Their prayers for strangers on the streets seemed to pour out of them like water from a jar. Miracles happened. They were quick to dive into worship and prayer.
All the while, I would look at myself and, without necessarily putting myself down, assume I would get there eventually. (Some of these people were SO insane, I figured I’d never get there!) Why would the Holy Spirit want to come and be present with me anyway? And the truth was, I would never actually spend time with God. I always told my high schoolers to, yet rarely practiced it myself. My Bible reading was dry and sparse. The desire to be a strong Christian man was there, but the ‘sweat,’ so to speak, was not.
About five months ago, I read a book suggesting the practice of silence (More on this later), and began picking it up. I found that for once, this spiritual exercise paid off! I was experiencing the presence of the Lord! I was hungry, so I began reading the Bible more. As I read the Bible more, my hunger for God’s presence increased. Out of this eventually flowed a richer, more passionate ministry where I could pour into people like never before! By no means am I there, but I am experiencing the Holy Spirit in ways I had only heard others speak of previously. And it’s a relatively rapid growth! I scarcely grew because I scarcely did anything to work for it.
If you seem like you’re stuck in the same place spiritually, the problem could be a lack of pushing yourself. If you seem like you’ve plateaued, and nothing seems to be happening, try throwing on a few plates. Discipline yourself to get in the Word. Get in silence. Get into the Presence. Perhaps you don’t seem to be growing because, despite the consistency of your Sunday morning attendance, you haven’t “gone up in weight.”
Hopefully his is the push you need, where you realize what I did last year at Moody; that to grow, you need to push yourself.
After all, they’re called spiritual disciplines. Not spiritual pieces of cake.
If it were easy, everyone would do it.
PS–Don’t misunderstand me–my intention is not to say that by doing these certain things, God will formulaically show up and miracles will fall like rain and the Holy Spirit will be at our disposal to answer our every whim and desire. But I mean, if you complain of never seeing people healed, ask yourself how many people you’ve ever prayed over for healing! If you gripe about never feeling God’s overwhelming presence, count up the number of times you’ve gotten alone and waited for Him! The numbers will probably add up.