“I wish we didn’t have to do this. I wish that I could just eat whatever I want, never work out, and still be thin and in great shape.” This is the remark that someone made to me recently as we were waiting for our Pilates class to begin at the local YMCA. “Yes, that would be nice,” was my reply, but she and I both know it doesn’t work that way. We ALL know that it doesn’t work that way! Now let’s apply that same concept to our spiritual bodies. We know that having a healthy physical body takes effort, so why do we expect that having a healthy spiritual body would take any less effort? The physical body is temporary. Our soul is eternal. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 “We will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.” We will all be changed? Into what? What will that imperishable, immortal us look like?
Personally, that thought makes me stop. Do I really consider that one day the spiritual part of me will be all that there is? I consider it, but do I live my life that way?
How much more time should we be putting into the part of us that will last into eternity? Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8 “for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
If I truly believe that my spirit is eternal, what steps am I taking to keep it healthy?
First, we must realize that just as with physical fitness, spiritual fitness is something that we must do for ourselves. We are told in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” My attending Pilates class does not make my husband’s core muscles any stronger. It makes mine stronger. This is something that no one else can do for us. We see in Romans 14:12 that “each one of us will give an account of himself to God.” We can benefit from being around healthy people and being encouraged by their good influence, but ultimately “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)
Secondly, the old adage “No pain, no gain” applies in matters of the spirit, too. Even though I enjoy physical exercise, there are times when I do not want to do even one more push-up. I am tired, my muscles are exhausted, and I want to stop. However, I know that it is temporary pain. Furthermore, I know that the temporary pain will make me stronger, and the next time the push-ups will be easier. I can mentally tell myself this and keep going. We are told the same thing about our spiritual selves in James 1:2-3 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance,” and in1 Peter 1:6-7 “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” I have heard a fitness instructor say during class that we are breaking down our muscles so that we can build them up stronger. To grow stronger spiritually, we must be willing to go beyond what is comfortable, to be tested, always bearing in mind that the struggles we face are temporary.
Next, in order to be spiritually fit, we must provide the proper nutrition and rest for our spirits. Can you imagine a marathon runner whose diet consisted entirely of Little Debbies and Pepsi? Of course not! Yet we often expect our spirits to be healthy and thrive while feeding them nothing but junk food. We are told in 1Peter 2:2 that “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” There is no nutrition for growth in what the world feeds our spirits. We have all seen the before and after pictures of huge weight loss transformations. The transformation that Paul speaks of in Romans 12:2 is the one that I’m most interested in, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We are also told in Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” The nutrition that will sustain our souls is found in God’s word. Satan wants us to be distracted from renewing our mind with God’s word, and feed our spirits all of the junk that he offers. We must stop letting Satan poison our spirits and instead give our spirits what they need to thrive!
Lastly, we must have endurance. I cannot expect to exercise for a week and then be physically fit for the rest of my life. It is an ongoing effort. We are told in Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Recently my daughter had to complete a run to promote to her next rank in karate. I decided to run with her to encourage her. About half way in, she held her side, looked up at me and said “I hurt, mom.” I told her I knew that it hurt, but to just push through it. It would get better, and in less than five minutes she would be done and have her brown belt. Paul tells us in Philippians 3:13-14 “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” We run in a race with far greater consequences than a karate belt. Spiritual fitness isn’t easy, and we will have many times that we look up to our Heavenly Father and say “Father, I hurt. I’m tired,” but when those times come, I can just see Him bending down and whispering gently to us, “Keep going. It’s only temporary, and I promise it will be worth it.”
By Susan Ling
Susan and her husband, Jonathan, worship with the Eastern Shore Church of Christ in Daphne, AL. They have three children ages 9,7, and 6.