by Calven Celliers
The apostle Paul and his circle of acquaintances were well aware of the culture of training and athletic games in the Greek world in which they ministered. His letters were peppered with references like “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training…. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly” and “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” and “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown [wreath] of righteousness….” Paul clearly had a lot of respect for physical training, but in one particular verse its evident where his ultimate values lay. Paul learned the importance of staying spiritually strong and the benefit of developing spiritual habits in his life, like spending time in the Scripture, prayer and daily worship. Paul understood the importance of staying spiritually fit, especially in the face of opposition, and he knew this would be good advice to a young man like Timothy. So he wrote to Timothy saying:
“8 Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 9 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it.”
(1 Timothy 4: 8 & 9NLT)
We all know it’s crucial for healthy living to eat nutritious foods and exercise, but today’s verse reminds us it’s even more important we stay spiritually healthy. Training the physical body has definite value for this life. We benefit from a healthy body during our time on earth, but staying spiritually fit offers benefits now and for eternity.
Physical training requires you to push yourself to do your best. It takes exercise with focus and intensity over time to get you fit. Consistent training increases strength and stamina and the ability to win.
It’s no secret, most days I simply don’t feel like exercising. Whether it’s because I’m tired, unmotivated, or just darn right lazy, I’ve learned that if I don’t intentionally make it a priority and form habits to purposefully add exercise into my day, I won’t make the time. We are the only ones who have control over setting priorities in our lives. If we don’t intentionally make staying spiritually fit and spending time with God of utmost importance, then it won’t happen. And without habitual spiritual nourishment, we will never be spiritually fit and strong.
Professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Donald Whitney comments that,
Spiritual disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of experiential Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times. They are activities. They are not attitudes. Disciplines are practices. Spiritual disciplines are things you do. They are not character qualities. They are not graces. They are not the fruit of the Spirit. They are things you do. So you read the Bible. That is something you do. That is a spiritual discipline. You meditate on Scripture. You pray, fast, worship, serve, learn, and so forth. These are activities. Now the goal of practicing any given discipline is not about doing as much as it is about being: being like Jesus, being with Jesus.
How is your devotional life? What does it consist of? Is it enough to help you get spiritually fit and keep you fit? How do you train yourself for godliness? I look at it as a series of exercises that you do daily and weekly that get you spiritually fit and help you maintain that fitness, and even move beyond it to the next level. It involves knowing God more intimately, and learning to enjoy Him more fully. When it comes to ministering to other people on Jesus’ behalf, you’re able to hear what the Spirit is saying and follow what He says. We form habits in our spiritual lives that help us stay strong, thus having the inner motivation to live out outward actions that glorify God.
If you need to restart your spiritual exercises, I encourage you to set up for yourself a spiritual training regimen. And keep at it until it becomes regular, a discipline so to say. Then increase. If you’re already established in a daily devotional time, think about increasing the time and intensity a bit.