Spiritual Exercise

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 36; 147:12-20, Isaiah 65:1-12, 1 Timothy 4:1-16, Mark 12:13-27


In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encourages the disciples to “train yourselves in Godliness.” The Greek word translated as “train” is also the word for physical exercise. Like physical health, spiritual health is something we can improve with the proper nourishment and exercise.

A good doctor steers people away from fad diets and workout regimens that promise much and deliver little – or worse, cause damage. As our spiritual doctor, Paul warns the disciples to avoid fads like asceticism and celibacy which distract from true spiritual well-being. Instead he prescribes the basics of scripture, the teaching and conduct that will nourish them best. Today we need to be equally as careful to avoid trendy practices and beliefs that distract us from what Jesus really taught us. Just as there is no magic body wrap that will melt away love handles in your sleep, there is no substitute for regular spiritual discipline.

Spiritual and physical fitness have other similarities. Both result in incremental improvements over extended periods of time. As one-time (or even one-time-a-month) trips to the gym won’t turn your fat into muscle, neither will isolated or sporadic instances of prayer or other disciplines develop your spiritual muscles. Furthermore, exercise of either variety is performed to develop strength and endurance. No one who begins a marathon without first putting in the proper time to train will make it to the end, and no one who waits until a crisis to pray is likely to endure spiritually. We exercise not for what we need today, but for what we plan to accomplish in the future.

Finally, we must exercise for the right reasons. Wanting to look good for others is a bad motivator for working out, and rarely leads to sustained success. Practicing spiritual disciplines to impress others or to get God to love you more is also poor motivation. You can’t make anyone love you, and God already loves you as much as He ever will. Diet and physical exercise are about developing healthy relationships with our bodies, and spiritual exercise and discipline are about healthy relationships with our God.

Comfort: Spiritual health, like a marathon, begins with a single step.

Challenge: Find a spiritual discipline (prayer, meditation, scripture, etc.) that works for you, and practice it regularly.

Prayer: God of strength, I dedicate myself to developing spiritual health. Amen.

Discussion: How do you feel about exercise?

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