I am thankful to be typing right now because it means I don’t really have to lift my arms! Actually, it’s not quite that bad. I am, however, feeling the effects of my workouts (I recently felt like I was going to DIE working in the yard and it made me realize how out of shape I am. I am now trying to remedy that). I have been through this before and these feelings are not unfamiliar, but today I began to think about my workouts, my physical changes, and my life in Christ filled with the Holy Spirit.
The reality of my physical being and my workouts is that no amount of exercise makes new muscles appear. Yes, it does make existing muscles come to life, get stronger, and get bigger (watch out Arnold, here I come!). But, it does not create a muscle that is not already there in some form or fashion. The reality of my life with the Holy Spirit is much the same.
These past few weeks we have been focused on life in and with the Holy Spirit of God. And I have learned a valuable lesson – if you focus on the Holy Spirit you will discover spiritual muscles you never knew you had. If you focus on life with the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit will focus on life in you! And, as a result, you will feel it deep down in your soul.
I will say more about that in a moment. First I want to address this issue of not creating new muscles. Just like physical workouts do not “make” new muscles, spiritual disciplines and focusing on life in the Spirit will not bring more of the Spirit into us. When we give our lives to Christ we receive the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus breathed on the disciples (John 20:21-23) when he was in their presence, that breath carries out across time and space to reach all those who call on his name. The Spirit of God is in us as followers of Jesus Christ. When we do things like engage in passionate worship, give ourselves to times of prayer and fasting, search the Scriptures to know and live in truth, receive Holy Communion, and meet with others to share in moments of confession and mutual accountability, those spiritual “exercises” allow the Spirit to grow stronger in us. But, the Spirit is already there.
I noticed the other day that the muscles in my leg were much more visible and defined than they had been. Okay, it was my wife who noticed but that’s too personal to write in a blog, so I won’t. The point is, I am able to see my physical transformation more not just because the muscle is getting stronger, but because the fat is being reduced and is no longer there to hide the muscle. When we let go of some of the things of this world that distract us from life in the Spirit and that hinder our walk with Christ, it’s like clearing away the spiritual fat. When we confess our sins and repent and go a new direction with Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit, our spirit becomes more toned and lean.
As I said earlier, developing our spiritual strength is not painless. It is almost inevitable that things will come up to distract you even more than before. To me, and based on what I read in Scripture, the enemy will seek to keep us from that life Christ calls us into – a perfect and amazing and abundant life. But even if we don’t go there, the reality is that moving into a life in the Spirit means leaving other things behind. And that can be painful. We feel it.
Now, the result is the prize for which we reach. I am excited to get my weight down and to feel stronger and to be in shape enough that they don’t have to ship my body back from Nicaragua in a few weeks (headed there on a mission trip with Living Water International –LWI – and it is one of my big motivators for exercising). My goals are what I have to think about as I get on that torturous elliptical machine and push the weights and walk the treadmill.
And the same is true for my spiritual workouts. Each morning I sit down at the kitchen table and go through my “morning orders” ( I use the book “Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals – click HERE to see the online version). I don’t always want to, but I do, mostly. I gather monthly with clergy friends for a time of accountability and encouragement. It is easy to make that optional so I have to push myself to be there and not let other things pull me away. It is easier to do when I look to the goal. I am more faithful to my spiritual work when I am looking to experience more of Christ in my life. I am more disciplined when I think of how amazing life can be when I let the Spirit grow stronger within me.
Pain is not something we need to avoid. Often times, the painful work of discipline – physical and spiritual – will yield a life we never knew we could have. We will find ourselves stronger as we begin to see and feel muscles – physical and spiritual – we didn’t realize were there. In the end, we find life at a whole new level.
I pray we will all find such a life more and more – physically and spiritually.
Holy high-five to you,