As I write about Spiritual Fitness, about living out the holy life God has called His kids to, I’m not unaware of the irony that neither I nor anyone else has actually done that—lived a holy life. None save Jesus. It’s like if a personal trainer with a less-than-perfect body tried to give you advice about how to have a perfect body.
So, in order to cure this irony and hypocrisy, I come to you, Sweet Reader, with an inoculation of humility in my veins.
Just because your personal trainer doesn’t have every muscle chiseled to vein-bulging perfection doesn’t mean she can’t give you powerful advice that will help you get into better shape. Your trainer still eats salads and goes to the gym every day, or did you think she’s now immune to having to try or to work hard?
Yet, she’s got trouble spots, too. Muscles that aren’t as strong as she wants, endurance yet to be achieved, and a bikini she’s hoping to look better in. And also, guess what? She eats pizza and ice cream and feels bad about it afterward sometimes. She forgets to take her supplements and even skips the veggies from time to time.
So, this isn’t “whaddabout you” because I’m admitting up front that I’m probably not “better” at keeping spiritual disciplines than you are. That’s not what credentials me to write on this, and it’s not what disqualifies me either. I’ve probably just been doing these disciplines a little longer than you have or maybe I’ve learned the hard way how NOT to do them, and I wish someone had told me before. You know, back when I was 20 and learning to follow Jesus.
I have a bit of practice, a bit of research, and maybe a little more nerdiness of learning the Bible that you will either admire or disdain. And either way, it’s work that you can read about so you can learn the easy way, or at least take comfort in knowing you’re not alone along the journey.
According to research from the Barna group, one of the least likeable traits most people outside the Christian faith have when it comes to Christians is that they are hypocritical. Sadly, they are right. We rarely practice what we preach or live what we believe, and that’s a problem we have to address if we ever want to be winsome for souls.
The problem is not that we can’t reach the perfection we aspire to, or even that we aspire to become more like the Perfect Christ. The true problem with hypocrisy in this world right now is that it is matched with arrogance at worst, or simple lack of (communicated) humility at best.
So listen up here and now as I communicate to you as clearly as I know how.
I don’t have this down perfectly yet.
I’m still getting more disciplined with my own spiritual disciplines. I’m still planning my work and working my plan. If you read what I write in my book or on my blog or my social media and you think I’ve arrived, or that I think I’ve arrived, you’ve missed the whole entire point, my Friend.
That doesn’t de-legitimize me, though. And it doesn’t make the pursuit of holiness, or spiritual disciplines, or spiritual fitness moot either.
“I want you to pattern your lives after me, just as I pattern mine after Christ.”– 1 Corinthians 11:1 (Passion Translation)
That’s how the apostle Paul said it, and I echo that to you now.
I know this is important like I know the ocean is deep, Dear One. When people try to skip this learning process of HOW to become more like Jesus, something really sad happens. I know because I’ve been there. I was stagnant in my spiritually weak and obese state, and it prevented me from two very important achievements that I think a lot of other people are missing these days too:
- The ability to hear God’s voice intimately and
- The fulfillment my soul longed for
The author of Hebrews calls it an abnormal prolonging of immaturity, as if we are incapacitated adults, still unable to chew and digest meat, addicted to milk, and unwilling or unable to grow up and be as strong as we were meant to be.
I’ve been there—knowing I ought to be farther along in my faith journey, yet unaware of how exactly to graduate to the solid food. But I’m a problem-solver and a researcher, so I didn’t give up. I dug for answers so that I could learn to recognize the loving voice of God and to pursue the actions and beliefs that led me to a deep fulfillment of purpose. I sought out mentors to teach me and show me how they found strong faith. And you can, too. I can show you, and we can go along together. Follow me, as I follow Him.
Think about this. Why do new believers in Jesus tend to flounder or abandon their faith? Why do college students walk away from the church and subsequently away from God?
Arguably, there are many factors, but one crucial aspect is that they are standing on a platform of beliefs that their faith practices can’t support. They have no stability.
Their new-found excitement about Jesus’ unconditional love and reckless grace makes them feel invincible, but the moment a struggle or trial or suffering arises (as is life), they begin to topple under the weight of the barbell like the amateur with no quad or hamstring strength.
They wonder if God really does love them and whether He has the power to help them or prevent pain. Because they haven’t yet developed the strength that comes with discipline and practice, which God wants to grant them, they believe the Enemy’s lie that this is all there is to Jesus: a promise unfulfilled, a vision not recognized.
And, Friend, I don’t want that for you. I want much more because I know what is possible. And what’s more, God is pointing you to your need. He’s showing you that maturity is required if you want a faith that goes deeper into intimacy with Him and into your purpose fulfilled. Picture Him inviting you to that delicious banquet, beckoning you to sit at His side so you can dine together.
There’s steak and baked potato on the plate, with salad and steamed broccoli on the side. Decadent wine fills a glass and rich chocolate cake with crunchy topping drips onto another plate. Yet, you’ve only ever had milk. You don’t know how your teeth work and your jaw muscles couldn’t bite into the broccoli or meat. You’ve never eaten something so rich as chocolate cake and the mere scent of its decadent sweetness has your stomach churning. What now?
Let me show you.
Let me get you ready for that feast.
Let me work up the strength of your muscles so that you can lift that barbell.
Let me push your endurance so you can climb that mountain and watch His transfiguration.
Even your own transfiguration.
I can be your spiritual trainer, your faith coach.
How about you? What faith disciplines would you like to strengthen? Do you know how to do that, and what the Bible says on the matter? What are you curious to learn?
This post is part of a series about the book I’m writing called Spiritual Fitness. Here is the first post, if you missed it. Stay tuned for the next one by subscribing. I cherish all of my readers and it’s with you in mind that I write.