As we begin a new school year, there are so many things to keep our kids (and us) cRaZy BUSY. So let’s make sure that all the good things of homework, band rehearsals, football practices, piano lessons, etc. don’t squeeze out the most important thing – relationships – especially our relationship with God. Let’s make spiritual fitness a routine part of our day by exercising in God’s gym.
Take to heart the words of Timothy’s Life Coach, Paul:
Train yourself in godliness, for, the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7b-8
1. Spiritual Fitness involves repetitive training exercises. “Train…”
Spiritual training is not the self-centered struggle for moral and religious perfection, but the repetitive training and testing necessary for us to pursue God and His purposes. (Hebrews 12:1-3). There is a price to godliness, and godliness never goes on sale. It never comes cheaply or easily.
The verb train, which Paul deliberately chose, implies persevering, painstaking, diligent practice. The Greek word for train is gumnazō (γυμναζω), a word speaking of athletes engaging in athletic exercises in the gymnasium. It means to exercise ourselves with a view of winning in athletic competitions. Doing this takes discipline and purposeful decision. Nobody ever wakes up “trained” or stumbles into exercise. The person who benefits most from exercise is the one who does it routinely and with determination. The disciplined athlete stretches and runs because these exercises lead him toward the greater goal of fitness and athletic achievement.
Any good football good coach will tell you that regular, consistent practice is where fundamental skills are developed and muscle memory is formed to make the athlete competitive in his/her sport. It is practice that puts feet to the commitment and applies the teaching of the coach. Spiritual fitness involves the regular, consistent reading of God’s Word and prayer, just as the athlete practices his particular sport. To follow Jesus Christ, especially when we don’t feel like, it is the route to receiving the very best from Him and the best life with Him.
2. Spiritual Fitness is personal. “Train yourself…”
No one can condition someone else. The instructor can teach, motivate, and direct, but the student has to take personal responsibility to study and take the test. Spiritual fitness, likewise, is up to each individual. It requires personal dedication, personal discipline, and personal desire. Many of us may be very disciplined and industrious in our schoolwork, our home, our work, or even in ministry, but it’s easy to become lazy when it comes to exercise in our own spiritual lives because we’re so busy.
We are dependent upon God for His divine enablement, but we have to take personal responsibility for the action; we are not passive in this process.
3. Spiritual Fitness is about godliness. “Train yourself in godliness…” Our objective in this training process is godliness – not following rules, not gaining knowledge, and not even performing, but rather, God-centered devotion (Deuteronomy 6:5). Of course, we want to be obedient, but for training in godliness we want to focus on our greatest responsibility and privilege – to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind (Matthew 22:37-38).
“Godliness,” mentioned eight times in 1 Timothy, refers to the right attitude toward God and to His holiness, His majesty and His love. A godly person is one who progressively moves from being self-centered to becoming God-centered. Godliness is both an attitude in life and the activity of life where our whole focus is consumed with pleasing God (Romans 12:1-2). In the Pastoral Letters of Paul, godly people uphold and practice sound doctrine. As a result, they treat others with love and respect.
Godliness does not come automatically, but is something into which we must put effort and, especially, help our kids focus. Neither is the training done alone – it is to be lived out in the body of Christ where each one exercises his or her spiritual gifts. Training in godliness is a team effort (1 Peter 4:10). It requires practice with one another to promote godliness – love that results in good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).
4. Spiritual Fitness is beneficial for a balanced life. “Godliness is beneficial in every way…” Spiritual fitness is not an end in itself – it is a means to an end: Knowing and loving Christ. Disciplines are the spiritual habits by which we develop a deeper friendship with the Lord of heaven and earth. Our ultimate goal as Christians is to become like Christ (Romans 8:29).
If we want our kids to merely be good kids, make good grades, have more self-control, or become more peaceful, any meditative religion or discipline will do. What sets Christian spiritual activity apart from all other religions is that we have a relationship with Christ as our goal – not moral perfection, not tranquility, and not even success. What really matters in life is godliness on earth while we wait to see Jesus face to face in heaven (Titus 2:11-14).
5. Spiritual Fitness is the best way to live in the now and the best way to prepare for eternity. “[Godliness] holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
It doesn’t matter if a person invests in physical exercise or careful dietary plans. Inevitably, death confronts all of us. Jesus addressed this truth when he said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). What we become in this life we carry into eternity.
The present, literally the “life now,” aspect includes a life of purpose (John 10:10). The future aspect involves finishing well because of greater rewards in the coming reign of Christ (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:9, 10). Godliness is the result of faithfulness and the reason for genuine love (2 Peter 1:6).
Spiritual Fitness starts in the Gymnasium of the Soul. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance” (1 Tim. 4:9a).
Spiritual exercise is not easy; that’s why we must “labor and strive” (1 Tim. 4:10a). The word translated “strive” is another athletic word from which we get our English word agonize. It is the picture of an athlete straining, sweating, working through pain, and giving his or her best to win. We give our best to God because “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:9-10). We discipline ourselves for the calisthenics of praise, prayer, meditation, self-examination, confession, fellowship, service, sacrifice, submission to others, and loving others because all of these can assist us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to become a more godly person. Through regular spiritual exercise, we gain practical, day-by-day awareness of Jesus and find personal, moment-by-moment experience with Him in a close friendship that helps us become more like Him in every way.
Making good grades is important for our kids further education and personal careers. Performing well on the football field is important to learn discipline and teamwork for later in life. Developing the skill of playing a musical instrument with others has significant value for the mind and emotions. But let’s not forget that we want our kids to also work out regularly in God’s gym because of the far greater and longer lasting advantages of godliness in Christ – for the present life and for the life to come.