I have had the pleasure of being a personal trainer for over 15 years. During this time, I have worked with many different personalities and have come across all shapes and sizes and varying states of health and wellness. One thing has become apparent to me over the years, however, and it has become my motto, "If you want to have buns of steel, you must have a will of iron."
What does this have to do with Church, God and spiritual growth? We all use our life experiences as the window to our perspective on the world. Since my background is motivating people to permanently change their lifestyle in order to gain a greater level of health and well being, I have come to see my spiritual walk as one of having God as my personal trainer.
The goal of any good personal trainer is to help his or her client achieve permanent lifestyle changes. This always involves making changes in habits, which always includes a paradigm change in diet, exercise and personal perspective. God wants the same from us—our surrender of stagnating bad habits in exchange for life-changing good habits.
God Stretches Us
The start of any good exercise program includes a top-to-bottom stretching program to warm the body up, prepare for a workout and increase blood and oxygen flow to the muscles and the brain. To jump into any workout without this can lead to injuries such as torn muscles. When done properly, stretching increases flexibility and the ability to move more fluidly through an exercise routine without injury.
God stretches us. He does not take us through anything He has not first prepared us for. Instead, He prepares us for our spiritual workout by giving us His Word for study, to warm up our minds and hearts to His perspective. This precious tool will stretch us when we read it, study it and apply it to our lives. This stretching will prepare us for whatever workout God has in mind. Whether it be a smaller issue or a sore trial, we need to prepare for that spiritual exercise by daily stretching (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Spiritual Strength Training
The second aspect of a good training program includes weight or resistance training. This should be done on a regular basis in order for results to be seen, that of increased muscle size and definition. The objective is to strengthen bone, muscle, and connective tissue so the body can be stronger in order to deal with any injuries that may be encountered. An example of this is falling on ice or being in a car accident. The stronger the body is, the greater the ability to withstand any impact. The desired result is to prevent or reduce any long-lasting injury.
God strengthens us as well. He provides the strength we need every day of our life. As life puts obstacles in our path that we may stumble over, or a slippery spot where there is potential for a fall, God gives us the strength to recognize the problem and steer away from it. He also gives us the spiritual muscle we need to recover from an injury if we do fall or slip.
The key is that we have to exercise that spiritual muscle daily. The spiritual muscle we all have is our will. We exercise our will by choosing to dig into God's Word every day. It takes strength to set aside the cares of the world, stop our daily activities and take time to study God's Word. When we apply this strength, our will is surrendered to God's will. He can then give us the strongest spiritual body possible, making it much easier to withstand the blows and impacts of the world (Psalm 27:1-3).
Endurance or cardiovascular training is the third component of a good exercise program. This portion includes daily exercise specifically designed to increase the capacity of the circulatory system by working the heart and lungs. The goal with an endurance program is to build stamina, or endurance, and increase circulation to the heart, lungs and brain.
Circulation is the key to healing. When a muscle or other body part is hurt or injured, good circulation will quickly provide the necessary nutrients to help heal that region. Good circulation also brightens our vision, increases mental alertness and releases endorphins that increase pain tolerance and provide more energy to get through each day with decreased fatigue. This portion of the exercise program provides the greatest sense of well being.
God builds our endurance by trying us. We can sit in church services week after week, but we will never know the strength of our commitment if we are not tested and tried. How will we ever know what kind of stamina we have? It may be too late to get in shape when a severe trial is upon us. As with exercise, just reading about it doesn't accomplish any change. The knowledge and information must be applied.
God is prepared, 24/7, to help us build flexibility, strength and endurance. He has made a commitment to us, just as a trainer is committed to helping his or her clients, by providing them with the right tools to succeed. But one other element is needed for them to succeed. They need a strong will.
Experience has taught me that every client has a different level of commitment. The failing point for those who quit their program before success is their will. They do not have the willpower to see the program through to the end. Getting into shape is not entertainment. It is not always fun. Changing one's lifestyle is a mind/body/spirit commitment. That cannot come from the trainer, only from the clients themselves.
God can only give us the tools for success. It is our choice to pick them up and put them to use. Clients need to have an iron will to overcome their old habits and make way for new ones so the life change they desire will come to fruition.
It is the same with us. We must totally sweep away all else, focus on the goal of total spiritual wellness and pray for a will of iron that we will not veer off the track, that we will not become distracted by anything, but keep our focus on the end result (Philippians 1:27-30).
We all need flexibility, strength and endurance to run that "good race" (2 Timothy 4:7). UN
Pam Redline is a member of the Bismarck, North Dakota, congregation.