I found myself with new determination the other day. I was at the gym and working out on the elliptical machine. It’s a crazy device that is a cross between running, climbing and cross-country skiing. The first time I tried it I made like 10 minutes. This past week I made 60 minutes and covered a distance of 5 miles (I don’t know if that means up or out or both on that machine!). I was happy with the progress I had made, mostly because I knew it would help me reform my physical health, which is my goal.
Now, I wish I could tell you that I jumped on that machine determined to make that goal of 1 hour and 5 miles, but that’s not the case. As I began I thought, “okay, I’ll just do 30 minutes, that will be good enough.” And then as I was about 10-12 minutes in I began to say, “nah, I’ll go ahead and do the 45 minutes I usually do.” And then somewhere along the way I saw I might be able to make 5 miles and I wanted to do it at or under 60 minutes. So I kept at it. It was exhausting. And, it was exhilarating. I knew that fighting through the impulse to just give up and do good enough had given me a better shot at changing my physical well-being (and, to be honest, a big part of that for me is how I look).
I could have been fine with my normal routine or even a little less. I wouldn’t have lost any ground, or at least not much. But, by taking on the harder challenge, by deciding to keep at it and go a bit further and push through, it made a bigger impact on me. Doing the hard work helped me move closer to my goals. I feel stronger and more ready to take on new challenges.
The Apostle Paul understood this idea from a spiritual perspective:
25 Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. 26 So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. 27 Rather, I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.
(1 Corinthians 9:25-27)
It takes discipline to fight through the spiritual battles, to make our spiritual workouts meaningful. To be a follower of Jesus Christ means to engage in the greater work of faith to “take up our cross and follow him.” I have found it easy at times to simply stop and say, “that’s good enough,” and it is in some respects. I can spend time in prayer. I can read the Bible. I can meditate on God’s Word and give some time to the work piled up on my desk and I can feel good about having done something. But, if I take on the harder things, if I push through and work hard to subdue my mind and body and submit myself to the greater call of God – then I will find myself changing most dramatically. Pushing through and working to overcome my penchant for procrastination and laziness will cause my spirit to be transformed. I can easily do enough to keep myself from losing any ground in my relationship with God and in my efforts to do the Kingdom work God has for me. But how much more might I do if I were to push through and seek the greater goal, do the harder work and fight against the bigger spiritual forces before me?
It is in working through and pushing through and allowing God to give you all you need to make it through – it is in those times that you will find yourself changing the most. It is through those times that you will find your spiritual well-being ratcheting up a notch or two or three.
So, what elliptical machine-type challenge has God placed before you at this point in your life? What is God calling you to take on in order to make you stronger and more healthy deep down in your soul? A call to serve in the church, to take on a leadership role? A call to engage in serious Bible study? A call to greater generosity or to serve the poor in your community? In taking on those challenges and fighting through the temptations to give up or settle for mediocrity, you WILL be changed. It is giving yourself to the greater goal that will strengthen you and make your life better.
I know it to be true physically, and I want to do more to help me know it in a greater way spiritually. I hope you will as well.
Holy high-five to you,