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Spiritual Fitness

When my family lived in Salem, Virginia, I would exercise at our local YMCA.  I’d arrive there early in the morning.  One pre-dawn Monday—it was the first week of a new year—I turned into our Y’s football-field-sized parking lot.  I expected to park in one of my usual spots somewhere on the front row…but I couldn’t.  They were taken.  All of them.  In fact, the lot was full of cars, trucks and SUV’s to about the fifty-yard line that morning!  Then it hit me:  new year’s resolutions.  After I found a spot…finally…on a back row…I was cursing new-year’s-resolution exercisers!

 

According to at least one poll I’ve read, at least half of us will make a new year’s resolution to be more physically fit in 2024.  Maybe you’re one of them.  Maybe not.  Regardless, I pray that as Christians we all will resolve to be spiritually fit.  In fact, the apostle Paul sometimes talks about the Christian life in terms of an athletic contest.  For example, he writes, “Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win the prize.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

 

Pauls’ athletic metaphors remind us that Christian discipleship demands discipline.  We have to work at it.  We have to be willing to strengthen our spiritual muscles.  We have to want to be spiritually fit.  We need the Spirit to do that, of course; we can’t do it on our own.   But we also have to put in the effort.  Knowing that truth and especially at the outset of a new year, we commit or recommit ourselves to disciplines such as worship (personal and as a church), prayer, Bible reading and study (personal and with others), service and Christian fellowship.  (Essential disciplines like these are expressed in our Values of Ministry here at First Presbyterian:  Joyful Worship, Gracious Invitation, Prayerful Study, Sacrificial Service and Caring Connections.)

 

I’ll highlight the value of two of these vital “spiritual exercises” here:  worship and prayer as well as Bible reading and study.  The weekly rhythm of worship with other believers—and daily prayer—gradually mold us more and more into the image of Christ by focusing and refocusing our hearts on God, by forming and reforming how we see the world and our role and purpose in it, and by helping us to live as Christ’s faithful followers, loving God and our neighbors and producing the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  (Eugene Peterson’s book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction:  Discipleship in an Instant Society, has a helpful chapter on the meaning and value of worship.)

 

To be spiritually fit, we also need to commit or recommit ourselves to Bible reading and study.  I like to start my day with prayer and/or a devotional.  The particular devotional I use varies from one day to the next, but one I’ve appreciated and that I highly recommended is “Pray As You Go.”  It’s a free app that you can download to your smartphone (or you can access it online).  It’s based on a tried-and-true spiritual practice of St. Ignatius of Loyola and includes music.  Our spiritual fitness also depends on studying the Bible with others, such as in a class or a small group.  In fact, at the outset of His ministry, Jesus formed a small group.  Mark 3:14 says, “Jesus chose twelve of them to be his disciples, so that they could be with him.”  In that (first!) small group, the disciples explored the Scriptures with Jesus and learned how to apply them to their lives.

 

In the end, with the Spirit’s help, our spiritual fitness enables us to live as “healthy” (i.e., faithful) disciples and to fully enjoy the abundant life we have in Christ our Lord and Savior.

 

How about you?

 

  • At the outset of a new year, how’s your spiritual fitness?  What are some signs that you are spiritually fit?  Are there spiritual muscles that you need or would like to strengthen?  If so, what disciplines or “spiritual exercises” might help you do that?

 

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