Some experiences in life are like thumbnail images of the larger mural of our lives. They startle us with their simplicity; they awaken us with their clarity. They are tutors in the larger classroom of our every day lives, guides on the road of our spiritual journeys. Recently I had an opportunity for a gym membership in the community where we were staying for a few months. Not only did I sign up for general use of the gym, but I also worked out in regular sessions with a personal trainer. Having never previously darkened the door of a gym or handled a barbell, I was delighted to discover that gym workouts can supply striking examples of the kind of spiritual principles we need to understand in the panoramic experience of life. Let me share six things I learned at the gym that also apply to our daily growth in grace.
Be a Learner
Taking interest in a new topic deepens appreciation for people different from yourself. I have never been interested in what happens inside a fitness centre, but my husband encouraged me to give it a go. Stepping through the doors and becoming involved inside the gym has increased my willingness to listen and learn more. How God has made the human body to thrive and how He gives people knowledge to understand it! If we want to increase in wisdom, let’s be willing to learn things outside of our natural interests. We will likely discover that God’s handiwork is evident in that subject area too.
A wise man will listen and increase his learning,?and a discerning man will obtain guidance. Prov.1:5
Alone We Groan; Together is Better
Going to the gym with a friend sweetens the whole experience for a reluctant exerciser. In my case, I frequented the gym with my exercise-loving husband Steve. Those killer workouts with our personal trainer Mary became dates to anticipate with excitement. Working out with Steve to share the sweat and Mary to encourage us through her torturous routines provided not only motivation but also appreciation of the fellowship of fitness fanatics. Without the two of them to urge me along, quitting would have been the inevitable outcome. Not only was it fun to share the workouts, but we also shared the pain of recovering muscles. It’s not just inside the gym that we need encouragement and fellowship. Outside the gym too we need others to help us through the tough times of life, sharing our sorrows and joys and keeping us from quitting.
“Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their labor.” Ecc. 4:9
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Heb. 10:24
Falling is not the End
Falling off the treadmill doesn’t have to end your fitness commitment. You may fly ungracefully off the end of the treadmill and seriously bruise your dignity (or something more solid). I did. But it would have been a far worse consequence for me to give up training after that moment of terror and humiliation. Ironically, falling off was the very thing I have always feared about that relentless machine. But I found out that I could face my crushed dignity and my fear and get back on the treadmill the next day and the next, applying what I had learned in my moment of inattention for more successful treadmill experiences. Failure in life is no different. It gives us a chance to evaluate our mistakes and our weaknesses and try again by the grace of God.
“For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.” Prov. 24:16
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Heb. 12:12-13
Sore for More
Soreness is not always bad. I’ve always been a wimp about sore muscles, but working out with Steve and Mary has taught me to appreciate those mornings when I could hardly lift my arms or pick up the dirty clothes from the floor. That pain meant I had burned fat and strengthened muscles. It meant the workouts were changing me. In a similar way, God uses the aches of our hearts to change us for His glorious purposes.
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.” 2 Cor. 4:17
Harder Work Now; Sweeter Rest Later
5. The pleasures of life are better enjoyed when you have worked hard for them. After the self-torture of a serious workout, I really feel like I’ve earned that smooth protein shake and hot shower. Sleep is sweeter after decent exercise. Similarly, the joys of heaven will be brighter for those who have patiently worked hard at the rigours of faith. They are the ones who will hear their Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
“There remains a sabbath rest for the people of God. . . . Let us therefore strive to enter that rest.” Heb. 4: 9, 11
Simply Does It
Getting fit and strong does not have to involve fancy equipment. Most of our workouts involved little more than a few weights and a little floor space. Exercise routines were surprising simple. Simple but not easy. Walking on all fours up and down the length of the gym, pausing only for sit-ups or push-ups or jumping jacks, requires only my own body and plenty of determination. It felt like going back to school for PE again, but those workouts turned my arms and legs to jelly and tested the limits of my cardio endurance. Sometimes we can think that becoming Christlike involves comprehending complex theology and multiple layers of frantic activity. The truth is that it’s the simple things like having a prayerful heart, hanging out with others who love to talk about Jesus, and soaking myself in God’s Word that are moving me towards a deeper walk with God. It’s really that simple.
“As newborn babies want milk, you should want the pure and simple teaching. By it you can mature in your salvation.” 1 Pet. 2:2
Open your eyes to God’s pointers in the thumbnail images of your life. What arena of life is God giving you in 2012 in which to grow in your understanding of Him?