It’s been said difference between training and merely exercising is the setting and achieving of goals. A cursory glance through a fitness magazine will confirm that. Whether you’re perfecting a pull-up, sculpting boulder-shoulders or surviving dead-lifts, there’s a strategy of adherence or faithfulness to the training plan that’s necessary for development.
In muscle development, there’s also requirement for ripping, tearing and otherwise damaging muscle fibers by intentionally and consistently putting them through the rigors of training—even adjusting weight and reps so the challenge stays real. Muscle mags make it look sexy and wild and fun. Maybe it is, sometimes. But usually, it’s focused, solitary and straight-up hard.
And if developing deltoids takes this kind of concerted effort—how can the development of the soul be any different? We may seek a shredded physique yet would avoid a shredded soul at all costs. One image exudes power—the other whimpers pain.
Amazingly, running parallel to physical development is spiritual side of growth that, unlike our bodies, has the potential to run on to eternity. Often, my eyes are opened to see rock-solid truths while getting my sweat on—remember 1 Corinthians 10:31? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do (including lifting, squatting, pressing, jumping and sprinting) do all to the glory of God.
So if I seek to be obedient, training to the glory of God, how does my workout—or yours, become worship? Probably in many ways but this is one of the most blatant.
Not fleeing from adversity, but prayerfully embracing it.
Failure. It’s a wicked ugly word—and though we’ve often arrived at it, none of us ever seek it.
Unless we seek growth.
Because if we’re going to get stronger (even a little bit), our face needs to hit the concrete (in a manner of speaking). We've got to reach our limit. Go until we can't go no more. We’ve got to fail. Not because it means we’ve never tried, as Facebook memes suggest, but because failure is the toll bridge en route to progress.
It was a concept that was widely embraced by every other soul at the gym, but new to me. My trainer wanted me to “go until failure.” It seems funny now, but at the time, it was a completely foreign concept. After all, I had hired a trainer to induce my capabilities not my weaknesses, so why would I would I set myself up to fail? Better, why would I willingly and intentionally fail?
I proceeded with some carefully crafted press and clean squat-thing—knowing it is going to end badly, in front of numerous inquisitive eyes—we’re in a public place after all. (Maybe the next post should include the lessons in humility my proud heart continually receives?)
It starts out easy enough but the weight becomes weightier, muscles get shakier and panic sets in. This struggle is real! My focus shrinks to the size of my task. I must finish. Just…need...to...finish. My form crumbles—I can’t do another one to save my life. And my trainer calls time.
Am I defeated? Feels like it. Looks like it too—sprawled on the ground, chest heaving, body aching.
Am I defeated? Not in the least. In fact, after resting and hydrating, I’ll do it a couple more times.
The difference is that failure isn’t really the goal after all. It is part of the whole progression, an essential part that like everything else will pass away.
Muscle grows in adversity. Endless hours on an elliptical will never build muscle—too much may even waste it, yet pushing against the grain, going up when everything screams down, standing firm when your body demands collapse is where the change happens. And if it can be said of our body, how much more can it be said of our souls!
Nick Vujicic, evangelist, motivational speaker, husband and father, was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, lacking all his limbs. His story is painfully profound, ultimately beautiful and is still being written. And yet when he shares his testimony—it’s clear that his progress was not in spite of the adversity he’s encountered, but because of it.
Why do we run from the very thing that will make us into the very person we want to be?
Our burdens are distinctively crafted by the Father for the very shoulders He’s given us. And while I’d argue that God does give us more than we can bear at times—it’s only so we collapse in failure in his arms and receive the power of His sustaining love--counting intimate knowledge of Him more precious than anything else. Because it really is all about love, isn’t it?
Paul, writing to the Ephesians, encourages them not lose heart over his sufferings which would be for their benefit, asking them to instead pray for spiritual strength.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. -Eph 3:14-20
It would seem that we need strength to even comprehend the dimensions of Christ's love for us. Lord give me that strength!
To be fair, not every struggle ends in failure and neither does every exercise. God is working 10,000 blessings for our good at any given time—strength that emanates from deep within the soul is just one of them. My point is for us to not be surprised or lose heart when we lay broken and beaten at the hands of some new trial.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. -1 Peter 4:10
We don’t need to seek it or envy it—but neither do we need to be surprised by it, fearful of it, for feel God’s love for us has diminished because adversity—and all its looming nightmarish bulk threatens to squash us.
“Oh, paradox of Heaven! The load we think will crush us was sent to lift us up.” -Miss Mary Butterfield, Streams in the Desert.
We are free to fail. Free to be crushed. Free to lose. And when our time of testing has expired—because it most assuredly will, we can climb atop that burden, boasting in our weakness; emptied of foolishly grand notions of ourselves--open to receive the fullness of God.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "