At age 16, Gabrielle Douglas became one of the most inspiring athletes at the 2012 Olympics in London, winning the gold medal in gymnastics and becoming the first African-American to win the gold medal in gymnastics. She wowed the crowd with her skill, and then gave all the glory to God. But as young as she is, it still took years to get there. She began training at age 6, at the encouragement of her older sister.
Athletes like Gabby Douglas inspire all of us, because we appreciate the dedication they put into training their bodies to excel. But the Bible teaches us that this same principle applies in even greater ways to our spiritual lives.
First Timothy 4:7-8 says, “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.”
We should training our spirits, getting into spiritual shape, but how?
I. Put your heart into it.
Dotsie Bausch was a runway model, but she developed a severe eating disorder. She felt like her life was out of control, and went to a counselor who suggested that she do something new in her life. So she started riding a mountain bicycle.
One day she was riding around Griffith Park in Los Angeles when a group of guys flew past on road bikes. Dotsie chased them. Her heart was pounding, her legs burning, but she stayed on their heels for one mile, then two miles. These guys were competitive cyclists, but she was keeping up with them on a clunky mountain bike, no less.
That night she told a friend, “This cycling thing, I’m actually pretty decent at it.” Four years later she was on the U.S. national cycling team, and became the seven-time U.S. National champion.
Dotsie also went to church, started studying the Bible, and found a ministry helping over 70 women she mentors overcome eating disorders. (Evan Miller, “Dotsie Bausch: Cycling,” Guideposts, July 2012, p. 47-49.)
Just as Dotsie had a life-changing experience that caused her to put her whole heart into physical training, so we need to have a life-changing experience with Jesus Christ that causes us to have a new desire to get into spiritual shape.
Ezekiel 18:31. “Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel?”
Exodus 40 tells how they consecrated the tabernacle by anointing everything and everybody in it, and then it says after they did that, the glory of the Lord filled the place. Don’t you want the glory of the Lord to fill your heart? When you have a heart-felt desire to follow God, when you desire it more than anything, and you are willing to make a public statement of it, being baptized, saying publicly you are a believer and proud of it, that’s when things start happening. That’s when the glory comes down.
II. Remove hindrances.
In football, the offense has a big obstacle. It’s called the defense. The defense tries to stop your drive. It tries to block your way. It tries to get you stuck on the field. It tries to keep you from scoring. In football, it’s called the defense. In your spiritual life, the defense is the demon-fence. The old devil wants to stop you. And guess what? Part of that problem is in your own life. The Bible calls it the “flesh.” You have a flesh nature at war with your spirit nature. If you ignore the flesh nature, it will trip you up.
Ezekiel 18:30: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that they will not be a stumbling block that causes your punishment.”
Hebrews 12:1: “… let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.”
God has given you a spiritual football, but you have to remove the hindrances. You need an offensive line to block for you. You need to learn how to run around the defenders. You need to learn how to get up and go again when they knock you down. Listen to me! This will require making some hard choices. It may be painful. But you must do it. Do it now. Choose to remove the hindrances to your spiritual life, especially sinful lifestyles that have been dragging you down. Do it!
III. Exercise your spirit daily.
There are two major types of exercise: cardiovascular exercise, also known as aerobic exercise, and strength training, which is usually by lifting weights. Some people just do cardio and they are all skin and bones with little muscle, and some just lift weights and have bulging muscles but a fat stomach and they can’t up the stairs without breathing hard, but the most healthy people do both. In a similar way, you need a balanced daily exercise that includes both habits, or actions, and your thinking.
Daily habits. Just as a person must exercise daily to get into physical shape, you must exercise spiritual disciplines daily to get into spiritual shape. 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air. Instead, I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” And what is that discipline to bring ourselves under control? We need to practice the daily habits like Bible reading, stewardship and resisting temptation.
Some people say, “But I don’t like to read, so I don’t read the Bible.” If you don’t like to read, do you like to hear? Get the Bible on CD and listen to it driving to work. If your heart’s desire is to hear from God, this does not have to be a problem. Many people say they don’t like to read, yet they read text messages all the time! God has a message for you in this text!
Read small portions of the Bible, like one chapter a day. Get an easy-to-read translation. I preach from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, which is easy to read and is accurate. If you need something very easy to read, I would recommend the New Living Translation.
Stewardship involves giving of yourself to God. That includes your time, your talent, and your treasure. God deserves it all. Give him a regular portion of your time in worship at church. Give him a regular portion of your talent by volunteering to serve. Give him a regular portion of your treasure by tithing from your income to support your church financially.
Romans 8:12-13: “So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to living according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
This reminds us of the importance of resisting temptation. You must make it a daily habit to say “no” to temptation. It is going to come. That is guaranteed. So make a practice of living according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.
Daily thinking. Many of the spiritual disciplines focus on the mind. Colossians 3:2: “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on earth.” Set your mind on God. Romans 8:5-6: “For those who live according to the flesh think about the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, about the things of the Spirit. For the mind-set of the flesh is death, but the mind-set of the Spirit is life and peace.”
You have a choice of what you are going to think about. If you constantly turn over problems in your mind, you are going to worry and get depressed. If you constantly meditate on God’s word and talk to Him in prayer, you are going to grow stronger and be lifted up.
We need to practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and worship. Prayer and meditation can go hand in hand with Bible reading. Many Christians find that the best time for this is early in the morning, when their minds are fresh. Read over the scripture, then ask yourself some questions: what is God saying to me? Is there a promise to claim? A sin to confess and forsake? A resolution to make? A truth to learn?
Then on Sunday we need the spiritual discipline of worship with other believers. We benefit from the fellowship and Bible study as well. And in the worship service, as we come together, we get the spiritual lift that we need for that week.
IV. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Baseball pitcher Philip Humber had a great career in college, and was drafted by major league baseball. Then came elbow surgery and six years of failure. Three teams gave up on him. Then the Chicago White Sox took a chance on him. His first time to pitch, he threw two pitches at two hitters who both got hits. When he got on the team bus, he said, “Why did you put me here, God? To embarrass me some more?”
A Christian, Humber finally said he had to relinquish control and focus on God instead of worrying about what others thought of him. Then in April of this year, he pitched perfect game against the Seattle Mariners, winning 4-0.
Humber says that whenever he walks off the mound, he prays that God will be glorified. “As Christians, that’s really our mission. Wherever we at, whatever we’re doing. That God be glorified in what we’re doing.” (J.C. Derrick, “Perfection,” World, April 21, 2012.)
Hebrews 12:2: “Keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…”
Philippians 3:13-14: “Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world. In 2009, he ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. When he runs he focuses on just one thing: the finish line. As you grow spiritually, your focus is Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and God’s call go reach your goal in heaven.
1 Peter 2:21: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so you should follow in His steps.” Jesus is your role model. He’s your example. Learn everything you can about Jesus. If you’re new to reading the Bible, read the gospels. Notice how he treated people. Notice how he talked. Follow His example, and you will grow spiritually strong.
Four years ago, I weighed 225 pounds, and I decided it was time to get into shape physically. The same principles we have talked about today spiritually, I saw happen physically in my life.
When I got in shape physically, it all started with a decision. I was huffing and puffing to walk up the stairs. My pants were too tight. I had enough of that. I got serious about getting into shape. I put my heart into it.
When I decided to get into shape, I had to change some things in my life. I had to change some of my eating habits. I starting eating baked and grilled instead of fried foods more often, and eating more fruit and vegetables. I started going to bed earlier and getting up earlier to exercise.
I began to go to the YMCA five days a week. When I started exercising regularly, I started rotating between cardiovascular exercise and weight-lifting.
And when I started getting into shape, I focused on reaching goals. When I started, I weighed 225 pounds. Now I weigh 195 pounds. I could barely lift 80 pounds on the bench press. Now I can bench press 175 pounds. Riding a bicycle 2 miles was a huge chore. This summer, I rode a bicycle 44 miles.
Now, I’m excited about that, but I’m more excited about my spiritual life! The greatest day in my life was the day I gave my heart and soul to Jesus. And while I am far from perfect, I have seen how God has helped me grow as I decided to remove hindrances in my spiritual life and develop those habits of obedience. It has been a continual growing process. I remember as a seventh-grader getting serious about reading the Bible, and I began the habit of reading the Bible from cover to cover. Then in the tenth grade, I sensed God calling me to preach the gospel while on a youth choir trip. In college, I discovered more about my spiritual gifts as I learned to service and exercise my faith in church ministry. As a young pastor, I was asked to preach a sermon series on prayer, and I had to confront the fact that my own prayer life was shallow, but through that I grew in my prayer life. Then later in my experience as a pastor, I became even more bold in sharing the gospel and personal witnessing.
Am I where I need to be? No, I’m not. God has much work yet to do in me. But I thank God that I’m not where I used to be. How about you? Are you getting into spiritual shape? It’s got to start with a change of heart. Are you ready to begin the journey?