“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” “1 Tim 4:8 NLT.
When we plan to climb a high mountain or run a marathon, we are prepared to spend much time in physical training to ensure that we are physically fit. Soldiers also need physical training in order to be fit for battle. The motifs of a race and a war are to teach us that the journey of faith requires motivation, endurance and discipline to persevere in the ups and downs as well as challenges of life. As followers of Christ, we are in a spiritual race against sin:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1, NLT
We are also soldiers of Christ in a spiritual battle:
“Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12, NLT
Living as a Christian in the comfort zone of the prosperity gospel of health and wealth keeps us from the living in the joyful confidence of God’s presence and the pleasures of living with God forever (Psalms 16:11). We are either distracted by the demands of living in this world or are simply waiting to go to heaven when we die. Like the believers in Samaria, many Christians are not aware of their need for the Holy Spirit:
“When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that the people of Samaria had accepted God’s message, they sent Peter and John there. As soon as they arrived, they prayed for these new believers to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them, for they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 8:14-17)
And some are tempted by the lust for power to seek the gifts of the Spirit like Simon, the sorcerer in Samaria for personal gain:
“When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed,” so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit.” But Peter replied, “May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin.” Acts 8:18-23
Without spiritual training, we will not be spiritually fit to journey through the dark valleys of life or to be an effective soldier of Christ. Spiritual training is not something we do but what God does in us when we embark on the spiritual disciplines to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit. We need spiritual training to examine our hearts for the sins of lust, pride and greed so that we will not be like Simon the sorcerer.
Jesus and his early followers lived out the truths they found in the Old Testament. The New Testament is the evidence of how the Scriptures became alive in their lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. Their stories are to inspire us to follow their example as well as to help us avoid the dangers and temptations:
“Eventually there’s an epidemic of backstabbing, and truth is but a distant memory. They think religion is a way to make a fast buck. A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.
But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. “ 1 Timothy 6: 5-10, MSG)
Although Timothy had received a spiritual gift through prophecy when the elders of the church laid their hands on him, he was reminded that he need to train himself to be godly so that he will live a life of example to all the believers in what he say, in the way he live, in his love, his faith, and his purity. He was to focus on reading the Scriptures, encouraging the believers, and teaching them. (1 Timothy 4:6-16)
Spiritual training is not trying harder to be a better Christian but offering ourselves as living sacrifices to our God of Love. I have found the spiritual habit of worship through centering prayer essential to examine my heart as I wait on the Lord in silence and observe the thoughts and feelings going through my mind.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6) and spiritual training is to hunger and thirst for Christ – the Bread of Life and Living Water. We will have a fountain of living water in our hearts when we feed on God’s Word and draw deeply from the well of salvation each day:
“Jesus said, “ Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst – not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” John 4:13-14, MSG
Spiritual training is the practice of the presence of God by walking with the Holy Spirit. Richard Rohr described it as an invitation to find our way to “heaven” by engaging each day with a joyful mind. It is only when our minds are renewed and our hearts are filled with compassion that just and caring actions towards others will become our second nature. We will then be Christ’s hands and feet to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Spiritual training is to learning to see the burning bushes in the difficult and trying circumstances of our lives and to trust that the Holy Spirit is refining us and changing our hearts:
Spirit of Life, You are God’s holy fire
You have kindled my heart with your blaze
And I know You’re refining me, changing my life
And by faith You’re revealing Your ways.