Working out and Follwing Jesus – Part 3: Faith is like a muscle

June 23rd, 2009

My roommate and I just got done having a time of listening prayer together. We regularly sit in our living room and share prayer requests and then spend time praying for each other; but today we decided to try just listening together for whatever God might have to say.

I can’t say for sure where my mind led me was distinctly from God, or just related to things he’d been teaching me about, but I started pondering what I’d been reading lately, as well as a conversation I’d had just minutes before on the phone with another friend. I was telling him about Francis Chan quoting a professor who had once said, “what in your life right now requires faith?”

As I let the thought roll around in my mind, it struck me that maybe there’s not a lot right now in my life that requires faith. I tend to rely on the old faithfuls – like tithing and talking to people on the streets of Hollywood, or asking God to show up in big ways. Things that, at one point, really required a good amount of faith. When I truthfully thought about the question, I realized maybe those areas no longer require faith. I’ve gotten used to how much money I give away and it’s not much of a sacrifice, even as I increase my giving. Because God always provides. And going to Hollywood at midnight isn’t scary anymore, I’m used to it and really enjoy it. Yes, every night requires some kind of faith for God to do big things, but not like it used to.

Then it struck me that it fit perfectly with this physical-spiritual relationship I’ve been writing about. Faith is like a muscle. When you first start lifting weights, your muscles are sore, and your body responds quickly to the load you’re demanding of it to lift. It’s difficult, it challenges your whole body, and your muscles begin to grow as a result.
But it’s fairly common knowledge that after a while of doing a certain routine and working out your muscles the same way, they adapt to whatever load you’ve been putting on them and your body hits a plateau. Then it’s time to increase the reps, or the weight, or the routine so that your body has to readjust and will begin to change once again as you push through the plateau.

Faith seems to be the same for me. When I wrote my first $100 tithe check, it scared the crap out of me. I felt incredibly uncomfortable, but a week or so after I never worried about it again. I always had enough. And after a few months or so of that, I realized it wasn’t much of a sacrifice again, and I decided it was time to increase my giving in faith, out of the blessing God had given to me. And so has been the story of my tithing…getting comfortable with giving more than I originally thought I could, and seeing God provide. But it always gets easy and I have to re-challenge myself. Or when I started doing ministry in Hollywood – that was pretty scary, it definitely required faith to get myself down there. Now? Not so much. Trusting God to do big things still requires faith, but I’m not usually in fear of anything that requires me to leap in faith.

So I realized that there’s not much in my life requiring faith right now. There’s things I anticipate in my future requiring it. And yes, there’s some certain moments or decisions that require it (which I sometimes hold back from in fear, or keep a back-up plan just in case God decides not to show up). But I see that my faith has become like a muscle that’s adapted to its workout. What once was hard has become easy and even if I like to think I’m working hard and growing, the outward appearance proves me wrong.

It’s time to add some weight to my faith, cause it to grow and rebuild, and to see God to even bigger and better things. And I’m scared – oh yes, I’m scared. Because usually growth is painful. Making a muscle grow means that you’re actually creating minor tears in the muscle that cause growth has they heal. Faith can be scary and difficult, but the result is always worth the difficulty. Especially because we don’t just get a physical reward, but we come to know Christ and see his awesome power more and more each time.

How often to I look back on a workout and think “man, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard and tired myself out. I wish my body wasn’t getting stronger and healthier and better looking, it wasn’t worth the hard work”? Nope. It’s always worth it. Same with faith. When have I ever regretted stepping out in faith and trusting Christ and seeing him move? Never. Those are some of the greatest moments of my life. The only moments I regret are the workouts that I ‘dilly-dallied’ my way through (as my dad would say) and didn’t give my all. And the times I could have trusted God but didn’t, and as a result never got to see him in all of his might.

What are you doing in your life right now that requires faith?

Working Out and Following Jesus – Part 2: sacrifice for a purpose

May 14th, 2009

I wrote a few days ago on the fitness concept of working out in order to become motivated to work out, and how similar that is to doing “God’s will”. Sometimes we need to step out in faith and just act, and then God will lead us or give us more direction.

But there are many other comparisons to be made…

Sometimes when I’m monotonously taking step after step on the stair machine, or lunging to the point that it feels like my legs are going to give out, I observe my own actions as well as those around me. The gym is filled, day-after-day, with people working towards a goal they have in mind. Be it health, weight loss, muscle-gain, endurance training, we all share a ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. We have hope, and faith, that if we persist through the toil, we will come out better on the other end.

I enjoy working out for several reasons, but there are days when I’d rather be going out to dinner with friends or taking care of chores at home. But I go to the gym in a routine fashion, fully believing that if I put myself through some pain and difficulty and sacrifice a few things I’d rather be doing, that it’ll all pay off. Why else would I do squats or bicep curls that cause my muscles to burn and ache, or run interval sprints that wear me out? I have confidence that the momentary discomfort will make me stronger, faster, leaner, and help me to look and feel the way I hope for.
In other words, I’m willing to go through some discomfort and pain for something that I can’t see or assure, but that I believe is for my good, for a bigger purpose. And apparently, so are a lot of other people I see in the gym on a daily basis.

I constantly think about my life and how I’m living it for Christ. Am I sacrificing it enough? Am I too comfortable? Am I doing things that are hard, scary, difficult, because I know they’ll result in the saving of souls and God’s glory? Am I being lazy (like when I cop out and walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes just to say I did something that day) and just getting by? Or am I doing all I can do for God, knowing that the momentary discomfort is nothing compared to the treasure in Heaven? If I am aiming to be like Jesus, it is clear from the Bible that my life will include trials, persecution, discomfort, and doing things out of faith, trusting that he will provide the results.

I recently put a verse up on my mirror to read every day that is a perfect example of this from the apostle Paul:

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings. Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 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. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” – 1 Cor. 9:22-27

I wish I could say I have this nailed. That I do what Paul did. That I discipline the way I live my life the same way I discipline my physical body. I wish I could say I take every opportunity to share Christ with those who don’t know him, that I pushed through discomfort to tell every person I encounter about him. I don’t. Not even close.

But when I’m on a cardio machine with sweat pouring down my face, or lifting a weight to the point that my muscles are shaking and can’t lift anymore, I wonder why I seem to train well for a ‘prize’ that will fade, while taking the easy way out when it comes to what really matters…

Working Out and Following Jesus – Part 1

May 12th, 2009

I work out a lot. I love physical activity and being outdoors and active, or in the gym lifting weights or getting in a good cardio session.

I also love God. I love learning more about him, growing in faith and love, and trying to be like him.

I’ve always been aware that there are a lot of similarities between the physical and spiritual, but recently I just seem to be more aware and doing more comparisons. My physical life is becoming a source of better understanding for my spiritual life. Which is why I’m going to start a series of posts on the subject.

I read this in a fitness magazine the other day while I was on the stair machine: “Many people think we need to motivate ourselves before we take action, but the opposite is also true – by acting we can motivate ourselves,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. “If you can force yourself to just get up and start moving, within minutes it’ll get easier and your attitude will change.”

It struck me that these same sentences could be inserted into a spiritual formation book and be talking about the Christian life. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve read things very similar to them in various books.

If you read enough fitness magazines, articles, etc, everyone says that when you don’t feel like working out, just say you’ll go for 5 or 10 minutes. Put your clothes on, get out the door, and do the 5 or 10 minutes. The majority of the time, once you’ve started you’ll gain motivation, start to enjoy it, and end up doing a longer workout. Generally I’m pretty motivated to work out (probably because I’m also very motivated to eat!), but some days it’s just hard. “I should swim today…but I don’t want to, I’m too tired. But I really should. Ok, 20 minutes. I’ll just do a good 20 minute swim and then be done.” I’ve done that with runs, weights, elliptical machines, bike rides, etc. Most of the time, those days when I’m most tired and least motivated are the days I end up not only completing the 20 minutes, but getting so into and enjoying the endorphins so much that I go 40, 45, 60 minutes…just never quite ready to stop. And of course, am SO glad that I chose to just do it.

Similarly, there are many weeks I don’t feel like going out to participate in ministry on the streets of Hollywood. I feel tired, lazy, sleepy, unfocused, etc. But I go anyway, thinking maybe I can leave early, maybe I can just talk to the ‘regulars’ that won’t take as much energy, etc. Ususally those are the nights that I end up in amazing conversations that require great energy, and it’s always there. Sometimes I even end the night energized and excited. Once I’m there, I enjoy it. It’s just getting there that’s hard. Or days that I see a homeless person on the side of the freeway that I want to pass up…but decide to stop and talk to, or give water to or whatever I have. And once I do, the conversation is really not so hard; and I’m happy I stopped, knowing I chose God over me (although I wish I could say that happens more than it does).

On a broader scale, many Christians often wonder ‘what’s God’s will for me? Where does he want me? What ministry should I be doing?’ I know I wondered that for a while, waiting for something to stir my heart and lead me to something. I participated in some things at church and heard about ministries that excited me. But nothing ever quite clicked. I just waited. Then I went to New Orleans. Not necessarily out of desire, but more just the thought that I had to do something (related to a break-up, so not entirely selfless). And God moved me. He stirred something in me that didn’t really come to fruition until I was back and working on our church newspaper that led me to a story about a ministry in Hollywood. Again, the Holy Spirit gripped my heart and I never looked back. That’s where most of my life and passion is dedicated now.

God helped me, he nudged me in the right directions. So, not exactly huge leaps of faith. But neither of those came from a ‘wow, I really want to do this, God told me to do this!’ kind of passion and feeling. But after I made a choice about something, then God did big things. I went, then he changed me and gave me direction. I didn’t wait for motivation to strike, but went, feeling a big, “bleh”, and came back with clarity and drive, glad that I’d gone. Just like when I say, “ugh, I guess I’ll go to the gym for like 20 minutes. But that’s all, then I’m outta there” and then stay for an hour….”Ok, I’ll go to New Orleans….I’ll go write this story, but that’s it, then I’m outta there.”…and still haven’t left.

Not that it has to be that big. I joined a Life Group at church knowing I should, not because I love big groups of people and going to bed late. Now I love my Life Group and the community that is growing there.

Sure, I still wonder what God’s will for me is in ministry or life in general…but I’m learning more often than not, whether at the gym or in my spiritual life, when I just go and do what I know I should, it almost always turns out much better than I could have hoped and God blesses the act of faith.

Don’t look before you leap. Just leap. Then look back to see how God miraculously saved you from falling.