Maybe Christianity is Less Like a Journey and More Like Fitness Training
March 20, 2015
About four years ago, I decided it was time to get more seriously involved in a workout routine. Having been raised in a family that values physical fitness, I have always lived a somewhat active life. However, in my thirties it became apparent that my body was not as obliging to my requests. It was time to get a little more disciplined if I wanted to feel as strong as I did in my twenties. So I did the practical thing for a mother of three: I started buying DVD workouts by experienced trainers. The first workout I did was an hour long. As I was chugging along I thought to myself, “You’re a little winded, Aimee, but you’ve still got it!”
And then I woke up the next morning. Whoever thought it would hurt so much to go down stairs? And bending, what an arduous task when your muscles are screaming at you! The morning after soreness just told me I needed strengthening, I’m not in my twenties anymore, and the exercise was working. So, even in pain, I kept at it six days a week.
The Christian life is littered with obstacles. Athletes train for these kinds of things. Have you ever known a professional athlete who trained alone or without a plan? While I might be able to think of some good exercises, I do not have the knowledge of putting together the most beneficial workout routine. And I certainly wouldn’t go for a full hour unless I was being led. Many of the workouts I do combine circuit training and super-sets. I surely wouldn’t have thought of concepts such as combining emphasis on aerobic and anaerobic metabolic systems or active rest on my own. But these trainers have a plan for me to follow.
Often, the routines require each circuit to be repeated. There are many benefits to this. The first time through, my muscles and my brain are being introduced to the form. However, the second time around is even more advantageous. Now I already know the technique. So if I’m told it’s time for the second set of UFCs or sissy squats, I know what in the world that means as well as the technique involved. At this point my muscles are reaching fatigue, and I am told this is good because that is where “the magic happens.” Muscles are being further toned the second time through. This point of muscle fatigue is also the point in the workout where I ask, “Why did I get myself into this?” That’s when I know change is happening.
Where am I going with all this? Much of our conditioning in the Christian life is hard. As biblical pastors, teachers, and mentors lead us we realize that we aren’t quite as spiritually fit as we thought we were. When we face a challenge or obstacle, we find our strength and stamina are weak. First we have to learn the form. Theology has specialized language just like every other discipline. For my workouts, I need to learn lingo such as skull crushers, spider push-ups, and supination arm extensions. When learning what the Bible teaches about God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ there’s all kinds of vocabulary involved such as propitiation, imputation, eschatology, and covenant. Also, in many of our first experiences in trying to live in light of the gospel, we fall on our faces. We are in a continuous battle with sin. But through repentance and prayer, the Lord uses even those times to strengthen us. When we encounter our new vocabulary the second time, we know it and can learn deeper by the use of it. When we encounter a similar temptation over, we are stronger and wiser to turn away. Our trust in the Lord grows as we see how he has been faithful all along.
There will be many blessings throughout our Christian lives. But there will also be times when we ask ourselves how we got into all this. And sure, there are obvious moments in life where this question is our wisdom talking, telling us we shouldn’t be involved in a particular situation. It is a discerning question. Many times this question comes because we did not properly count the cost. It demands us to estimate the value and purpose of our cause. But make no mistake, we will find that the most valuable things in life bring us to fatigue. That’s when we are toning—during the “burn.”
*This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book Theological Fitness (P&R)