“Train yourself to be godly.”I Timothy 4:7, NIV
Have I recently gone back to the gym? No. I’ve thought about it though. Does that count?
Okay, no gym. I have, though, accepted a challenge. A virtual challenge—yet a challenge taking place in the real world. I have to conquer a certain number of miles. Once I conquer, I’ll get a medal. A real one. And there are little rewards along the way to encourage me to keep going.
If you know me, you know this is a big challenge. I’m not known as an athlete. Never have been. I’m quite happy with the sedentary life.
Unfortunately, my health isn’t. And a recent trip to my health provider emphasized that. My weight had gone up. (Nope. Don’t ask what it is. I’m not telling.) And my A1C was up too. So we discussed options, which, from her viewpoint, included increased medication.
Now I’m very thankful for healthcare professionals and for the medications available to us. But that doesn’t mean I want to let medications do what I should be doing for myself. What I should be doing for the physical body God has given me. So I suggested to my doctor that I get another chance. I’d make changes in diet and exercise, and we’d see how things went from there. She agreed to let me try! (Making me very thankful for this provider.)
Now I find myself trying to conquer this walking challenge. My first commitment was to walk 46 miles. I did it—and in a lot less time than I thought it would take! Now, I’m on my second challenge. A longer one. A 145-mile one! (I’m sharing this challenge with a partner though.)
Some days are harder than others. Some days I just don’t feel like going out to walk. You know, like when we had snow on April 8th! Or when I’m tired. Or when my knee is acting up. But I find that having a goal to aim for helps. And having little rewards along the way helps too. (Who knew I was so needy? I didn’t.)
I receive emailed postcards describing the route I’m walking. A tree is planted in the real world every time I reached 20% of my goal. And when I reach the end of each goal, I receive a beautiful medal. Even better, my weight is down—slightly, and my morning blood glucose levels are down by a lot. But I still have a long, long way to go on the road to good health.
Then, yesterday morning, I read this during my devotional time:
“train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present and the life to come (I Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV).
Uh-oh. It looks as though there’s another challenge for me to conquer. Another training program to get on board with.
It’s not as though I don’t consider my spiritual life and how I’m growing in faith and in my walk as a Christian. I read the Bible—almost daily. I don’t just read it; I study it. I go to church. I pray…
But am I training myself?
Often, when I’m studying the Bible, I like to check out the Greek words. So I looked up this one, “train.” It comes from the Greek word gumnazō. (Does that sound like anything familiar? I guess it really is back to the gym—God’s gym.) This is the kind of training Olympic athletes were involved in. And I’m pretty sure Olympic athletes—then and now—train diligently. They go all out. And they keep trying to improve. I can’t imagine any Olympian or Olympic hopeful saying, “Okay. I guess that’s enough. I’m all set for the coming competition. I can quit training now.” Do I have the attitude of an Olympian as I seek to train spiritually?
But what is my goal? It’s hard to keep training day after day if you don’t have a goal you’re aiming for. In my spiritual life, what am I training for? Paul tells Timothy to train himself to be godly, to eusebeian. (Be patient. I see that puzzled look.) Eusebeian, from eusebeia, which literally means “to pay homage well.” That helps a little. But I find even more meaning from the HELPS Word-studies explanation: a “godly heart-response,” one that “naturally expresses itself in reverence for God” (https://biblehub.com/greek/2150.htm).
Sometimes we think we should have all this down automatically when we become Christians. But a godly heart-response doesn’t come easily. It’s something we have to work on. Something we have to focus on, just as we have to have focus when we’re trying to reach a physical goal. A godly heart-response is a muscle that grows every time we use it. Let’s make a plan for using it.
So what have I learned on my physical journey that can help me with my spiritual one? Perhaps these things can help you too.
- Small steps lead to big gains. Remember, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10, NRSV). We build our physical and spiritual muscles when we take those first small steps. That gives us the strength to reach for bigger goals.
- Success doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes faithful, long-term commitment. I may not immediately see the results I want, but I trust that progress is being made. While salvation is instantaneous, sanctification is a process. I have to persevere with the process even when I don’t see an immediate change. When Paul was giving instructions to Timothy, he told him to “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (I Timothy 4:15, NIV). He didn’t say that everyone would see Timothy’s perfection. He said progress. Keep progressing.
- Focus. We must keep our eyes—and our hearts—on the goal. For me physically that’s been keeping a mileage goal in mind. For me spiritually it must be developing that godly heart-response. And the exercises I focus on to develop that are to read the Word (that’s how I’ll know who God is and what He desires), memorize the Word (that’s how I’ll keep those ideas available at all times), and do the Word (that’s how I show God that I take Him and His Word seriously, and that’s how I show others that I truly believe the Word). “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-2, NIV).
- Keep on keeping on! Don’t give up! It can be so tempting to do so. When you don’t see as much progress as you’d like. When you’re tired. When others try to discourage you from keeping on. Just keep on keeping on: “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…Consider him who endured such oppression from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3, NIV).
- What matters most is pleasing God. This is true in my physical life: I want to faithfully care for this physical body, a gift from God. Doing so, I believe, pleases Him because I’m showing God that I’m thankful for that gift. Likewise, I believe that attending to my spiritual growth pleases Him. “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way…” (Colossians 1:9-10, NIV).
This is my prayer for you this week, that God will fill you with a knowledge of his will, “so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”
Soul Refreshers for your week:
- Take time to prayerfully consider which of your spiritual muscles are weak. Do you need to spend more time in the Word? In prayer? In applying what you’ve read in the Word? In using your spiritual gift? Something else?
- Once you’ve identified those weak areas, think about how you are going to build up those spiritual muscles. Make a plan, something specific. It’s okay if you start small. Just start.
- Keep on keeping on.
- No matter what the plan, keep your focus on pleasing God in all things.