"Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." 1Timothy 4:7-8
"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 it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified." 1Corinthians 9:24-27
For my birthday earlier this spring, I received some money that I've used towards something new in my life: cycling training with a coach. If you've read my posts here before, you know that in addition to fine coffee, cycling is one of my life's passions. Deep, I know.
Recently, I decided to take this passion up a notch and, with this coach's help, I've been training more purposefully. It almost feels like I've begun a different sport.
In the past, I'd just go out for a ride. It might be some hill-climbing, some rollers, or a flat spin on the plains. Time, weather, and how I felt usually set the agenda. Yes, I'd push it occasionally, getting out more frequently, going longer miles or hours, or pushing faster up a hill. But that was it. Now, I've got a monthly schedule devised by my coach: each day has something purposeful in it, even if it's just rest and recovery. I've got interval workouts finely tuned to set zones, intensities, and durations. I've got increasing hours on the bike, multiple climbs prescribed, things that are pushing me harder than ever. I can feel my body adapting to the training stress and as hard as it is sometimes, I like it.
Training. Discipline. Daily devotion to a consuming passion. Building a lifestyle to support new goals for living. If you've ever trained in the gym with a personal trainer, or had a coach in any sport, or a devoted teacher or mentor or therapist who's pushed you to grow, you know what it's like. You're inspired and empowered to be transformed in positive ways. That's cycling for me now. And it's a window into something else.
Cycling is indeed a worthy pastime. In fact, as I tell myself frequently, I could be into much worse! The friendships, the fitness, the fun (the coffee afterwards!)--it's all good. But this new kind of training has me thinking about spiritual disciplines. For Christians who seek to grow in Christlikeness, for those who want to be transformed from their old lives into the new, the spiritual disciplines serve as aids to growth. They put us in a place where transformation, by God's Spirit, becomes possible.
Physical training is like that: we do the disciplined workouts, which--along with rest and healthy eating--allow a mysterious adaptive process in our bodies to take place. Particularly as we rest, our bodies knit new tissues, mend tiny tears, and lay down new networks of fresh capillaries. We really do become transformed! Our heart rates slow, our body fat disappears, our blood pressure drops, and our endurance expands. Why, before we know it, we've become fit!
Spiritual growth is similar: by attending to our spiritual health, by nourishing ourselves on healthy thoughts harvested from Scripture, by aligning ourselves with lifestyles that promote the good of ourselves and others, by putting off destructive habits, we slowly conform to a new self--a self born in Jesus and awakened in his resurrection from the dead. Daily prayer teaches us an intimate fluency with God. Bible reading corrects mistaken notions of ourselves, others and the world. Faith, as we rely on it more and more, grows like a muscle. Serving others teaches us loving endurance. Most of all, obedience--putting into practice these Christ-centered lifestyles and behaviors--presents our bodies and entire selves to God that we may be reshaped--forever. It's spiritual fitness.
As the apostle Paul puts it above, "physical training is of some value." Indeed it is! But, as he goes on to write: "godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." I live in Boulder, Colorado, a place known for its physical fitness. May I--may we, wherever we live--dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of a spiritual fitness as well--both for now and forevermore.