“… exercise yourself towards godliness.” 1 Tim 4:7b
In “Run the Race”, I clarified three common misunderstandings prevalent in the Church. However, before we dash out with enthusiasm and new resolve, we need to be reminded that this race is not a sprint but a marathon. It is not how you begin, but how you finish that matters. Every serious marathoner knows that the most gruelling part of the marathon is in the middle. You put one foot in front of the other. You plod on with endurance. You don’t really want to do this, but you just keep the pace.
We may know this in theory but few understand that keeping the pace is not merely holding on with the gritting of our teeth whatever happens. If you attempt a marathon with that thinking, you can collapse and die! To keep the pace requires stamina and that comes with proper exercise and training.
This principle also applies to our race towards the goal of godliness. Using an athletic image, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to “exercise yourself towards godliness.” The word “exercise” comes from the Greek “gumnazo” from which we have our modern day equivalent of “gymnasium”. Surely, one does not go to the gym to sip a latte nor to lounge on a deck chair. Instead, one expects to work out and anyone who has done that knows it is hard work! And yet, Christians expect to breeze through their spiritual journey with no spiritual exercise. How to finish the race if we can’t even keep the pace?
How then does one train spiritually? By observing the athlete in the natural, we can apply the same in the spiritual.
Spiritual Disciplines: An athlete is very disciplined, from his personal habits to his schedules and regimes. Likewise, a Christian is to practise the Spiritual Disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, study, worship, solitude, silence, etc. Sadly, this has been lost through the centuries, but thankfully, it is being re-discovered once again. This strengthens the spirit for the spiritual race.
Spiritual Diet: An athlete watches his intake to ensure only the best are given to his body. Certainly no junk food. Christians are to watch their spiritual intake through the gates of the eyes and ears. What are we watching in the movies, magazines and the internet? What are we listening to over the radio and in our music selection? Without realising it, we are taking in the messages of the world that feed our flesh rather than the Word of God that nourishes and gives life to our spirits.
Spiritual Workout: An athlete does not simply read a book on “How to Run a Race” and hopes to be able to fare well. He has to get out there and run! Similarly, our faith needs to be worked out. It needs to be stretched that it may be corrected, grown and matured. How many Christians have you come across who appear well-versed in the Word of God but have never put any biblical principle into practice? I have seen too many falter and stumble when crises come their way. In the same way muscles are stretched and built up, our faith too needs to be matured in this way.
Spiritual Trials: An athlete will test himself periodically in time trials where he pushes his body to the limit to meet or even better the timing. We too have trials in our spiritual walk and these all serve to shape us into better “athletes”. These will separate the proverbial “men from the boys”, revealing who gives up and who presses on to the finish line.
I’ve often commented that the Christian walk is no certainly walk in the park. It’s easy to become a Christian. But to be a Christian? Now, that’s a totally different story. In 1 Cor 9:27, Paul said, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” Wow! This is a sobering thought! If Paul could be concerned about the possibility of disqualification, what about us? Jesus Himself warned of the distractions in the last days that would “pull” many out of the race and said, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matt 24:13
Clearly, it’s not how we begin the race, but how we keep the pace that we might finish the race. May we continue to encourage one another when we feel like giving up – keep the pace, keep the pace, keep the pace!