Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. –1 Corinthians 9:24
Well, it’s that time of the year again for people to begin their New Year’s diets and exercise plans. If you’ve ever made a resolution to get in shape and haven’t been able to stick with it, you understand how difficult it is and just how diligent you need to be to make progress. Well, growing as a Christian is something that is a lot like working out. We are training to become more and more like Jesus. It doesn’t just happen. It takes persistence. From the earliest centuries, Christians have identified certain practices that have been helpful to the “disciple in training.” Here are some that you might want to work on as we begin a New Year:
PRAY – Try always to remember that God is not out there someplace. As a Christ-follower, we have the assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Prayer is not just talking to God but living and breathing with an awareness of His presence. For years, some Christians have formed the habit of praying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” throughout the day. Not difficult or complex, this prayer manages to capture the humility that is to mark Christ-followers everywhere.
FASTING — Everybody eats. Restricting foods by simply declining favorites for a time of prayer or spiritual focus is a way to physically demonstrate your humility and devotion. As an additional benefit, fasting can strengthen your “willpower muscle” — and who among us wouldn’t benefit from that? An athlete doesn’t lift weights just so he can lift more weights. Those healthy muscles are ready for any situation. Turn down a doughnut today and tomorrow you might be able to resist calling the person who cut you off on the freeway an idiot.
BITE YOUR TONGUE – Yes, not calling someone a fool, jerk or idiot is a frequent theme in Scripture and early Christian writings. Both place great emphasis on controlling anger. “Sticks and stones” may not break their bones but they do affect our hearts. Sometimes it is best just to keep our mouths shut.
MIND YOUR THOUGHTS – Jesus said that to lust in the imagination is the equivalent of actually committing adultery. I find that extremely challenging! Nearly all sins begin with thinking about sin. Control the thoughts and you’ll have a better handle on your behavior. You may not be able to keep thoughts from popping into your brain but you can decline to entertain them.
When the Apostle Paul wrote that we should be “working out our salvation with fear and trembling,” he was not trying to discourage us but to motivate us. This year, as we exercise our faith and trust in Jesus our faith will grow stronger.
1. In the spiritual disciplines mentioned above, which area do you need to work on most? What steps will you take today to begin focusing on that area?
2. Pray, asking God to give you wisdom and persistence as you seek to stretch your ‘faith muscles.’
Philippians 1:3-11, Philippians 2:12-18, 1 Corinthians 9:19-23