Have you ever awakened early with the sole purpose of seeing the first exquisite glimmers of daylight? Well, I remember one morning I decided to begin my day of work with an extended view of the beautiful sunrise. Looking forward to those sweet, yellow and orange hues, I awoke just in time to enjoy the bright dawning of the sun before a long day of landscaping. Yet as I peered out of my bedroom window at the first shaft of light on the eastern horizon, I heard some clanging noises coming from the dark, damp annals of our basement room. This was a noise I had heard consistently, even quite incessantly for more than four years, but today it prompted me to walk down two short flights of stairs to speak with the one making all the racket.
Sweat and Steel
As I approached the door to the basement, the noise grew louder. I heard a “swish” and a boom, then a grunt followed by a deep sigh. Finally I arrived where I found my brother sprawled out on a bench as he pumped hundreds of pounds of solid iron. Through the dim light of one bare light bulb one could easily see he was sweating profusely. His veins bulged from under his torn muscle shirt and his tendons seemed to twitch at every breath. He was the picture of physical strength and fitness.
As I stood there looking down at my “little brother” who now was not so little at all, I kind of got jealous. Who wouldn’t? The guy was tossing up over 275 pounds on a bench press and he only weighed 165 pounds!
Somewhat inspired by my jealously, I fell to the ground and starting vigorously knocking out push-ups on the concrete floor. A few moments later as my face bulged from strain, I heard a chuckle come from the weight bench area. My brother now sat up with a grin on his face as he watched me press on with my undisciplined workout routine. When I finished my little round of exercises, my brother had one thought for me. He said, “You know Michael, I could easily compete in a body-building competition if I made one compromise. All I would have to do is take steroids for about six weeks and I would be in prime condition. But, you know what? Three weeks after I quit taking steroids, you know what I would look like?” To which I replied, “sure you would be huge!”
He responded, “Wrong. I would have already lost 50% or more of the muscle mass I would have gained in the six weeks of steroid use. That’s why you see body-builders running around in loose-fitting jogging suits when they are not in competition. They don’t want people to see they really are nothing more than fakes.” He then responded with one final thought that has never left me. He remarked, “It has taken much longer for me to build up muscle mass without anabolic steroids, but if I were to stop working out or lose the ability to do so, I would still have 90% or more of that same mass more than a year later.”
The Workout of our Lives
As I sat down on a pile of laundry, and pondered the lasting effects of body-building the “natural way,” I was reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Here Paul admonishes the believers in the often undisciplined or disorderly church in Corinth to look at spiritual growth and maturity through the lens of a serious, professional athlete. This ought to get our attention:
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Now listen here. Paul is not talking about “earning” our salvation through our works, but instead telling us, as already Spirit-regenerated believers in Christ, that we can gain eternal rewards and grow in Christ-likeness through the continual actions of Spirit empowered self-control and discipline. The question is, do you and I run the race of our lives and the boxing match of our days as if it is a real event? Or, do we actually swing our spiritual fists as if we are only in an imaginary fight? It takes serious endurance, strength, and discipline to complete a marathon. Certainly those who run do so for a tangible prize. In Paul’s day, they ran for the glory of Rome and a wreath of honor on their heads. Today, most professional athletes compete for the power of the dollar and honor among their peers. No doubt, there are some who, in the faith, compete professionally for righteous reasons. But nevertheless, all the accomplishments of any sports competition will fade and the satisfaction of victory rapidly slips away.
But for us who run the race of our lives for the Glory of the King, our prize is “imperishable!” Our rewards will never fade and never wane in their satisfaction! For they are not of this world, but for eternal dividends that calculate unto glory for our Lord. Therefore, our motivation for discipline should be all the stronger. This race we run as followers of Christ is the real and lasting event that truly matters for all eternity.
Thinking back now to the discipline of building muscle tissue, there seems to be something wrong with many “new” ways of becoming spiritually strong. Many of us have bought into a mentality that Christ-likeness can be gained at weekend conferences or quick evening seminars on spiritual growth. Yet lasting, godly maturity is often left unnoticed. People such as myself; think that if we can just have a few pick-me-ups here and a strong dose of spiritual steroids there, then we will somehow end up mature Christians. Yet, there seems to be a strong parallel between spiritual body-building and the physical realm of muscle tone.
Too often the tissue of our spiritual maturity is as lasting as that steroid-pumped bodybuilder three weeks after the competition. Because we do not develop consistent, disciplined patterns of prayer, Bible Study, worship, and service, we end up weak and flimsy Christians who rely on once-a-month doses to guard against the temptations of the flesh. It takes lasting and persistent resolve to develop lasting strength in our spiritual lives. If our desire is to display Jesus Christ and become more like Him every day, we need to do more than a few spiritual push-ups here and there. We are in need of something much more persistent. We need the kind of incessant desire to “be strong” as I saw in my brother early that one morning. We are going to have to be “clanging around making noise” when other people may still be resting, in order to develop the kind of spiritual growth that will result in one who is daily progressing in sanctification.
We will do much better in the workout as well, if we pump spiritual iron with people alongside of us. Perhaps for this same reason, body-builders flocked together in gyms so they can work off each other in their progress of strength. The church, the local community of faith, is like a workout gym, where we intentionally gather together to grow together in order to become more like Jesus together for the sake of the Gospel and the glory of God…
Flabby Suits or Steel Armor?
The time has come for us as disciples of the living God, to shake off faulty notions that are pressed on us by pop-the-pill Christianity, and decide to get serious with our Savior. As we dive into the riches of His Word and the strength of the Holy Spirit’s power, we shall truly make a difference in the world at large for the glory of God. Perhaps we also will be able to get out of our loose-fitting jogging suits and instead aptly handle a set of spiritual armor. May His glory be known and His power shown in and through our lives!
This article was originally written on 2/07/2009 by Michael J. Breznau in Dallas, TX.
For more muscle building sessions check out Galatians 5:16 and Hebrews 12:1-3.