Hard Work

“So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you are really among those God has called and chosen. ” 2 Peter 1:10a (NLT)

When we consider the spiritual aspect of our lives, most Christians know that staying strong in their faith takes work, and growing in our faith takes hard work.  While we know that God is ultimately the One who causes the growth (see 1 Corinthians 3:6-9), we also know that there is some mysterious partnership between us and God — we know that we have to participate by working hard to maintain and strengthen our faith.

The same is true about the physical aspect of our lives.  While God created it as an amazing organism that grows and heals itself … in order for it to obtain its higher and God-given potential, hard work is required.  We have to be thoughtful about what we eat, how much exercise we get, how must rest we give our bodies, etc.

The Greek word used in 2 Peter for “work hard” also can be translated as “be more diligent” or “give diligence.”  Many of us fall into one of two categories:  either we are diligent about the spiritual aspect of our lives or we are diligent about the physical aspect.  Given time restraints and responsibilities, many of us can only find time to give diligence to one.  What I wish to propose is that we not consider it and either-or choice, but that we could see there is a both-and option.

Caring for my body is an act of worship.  God created my body and gave it to me to steward during my life on earth.  Practically speaking, my exercise room has become my sanctuary.  My time on the treadmill has become my best prayer time.  It’s a time I am open and listening and laying things before God and have the space to hear Him respond.  Eating well has strengthened my discipline and self-control (not to mention I feel better too!).  Getting enough rest not only reminds me to let go of things and trust God but also to value and respect my personal limits.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

So, dear brothers and sisters, I trust that you are working hard, but I ask you to consider your hard work not to be an either-or choice, but a both-and.  (For more, see April 7, 2014 entry).

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An Offering

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship.” Romans 12:1 (NIV)

If you are anything like me, there are days when you really look forward to your workout … then there are other days you’d much rather be elsewhere, whether it’s tackling the pile of work or the list of to-do’s. But regardless of your mood, I’d challenge you to offer your workout time as an act of worship. Say to God: “Lord, here I am to worship and to meet with You. Here I am, ready, open, available to hear from You … to meet with You … to bring myself, my thoughts, my needs, my desires … and lay them at Your feet … or to be quiet and hear and receive from You. As I do my part to care for this amazing gift of body that You made and designed just for me, I trust in You to be the one who cares for the whole of me — to strengthen, restore and heal me. I offer this time to You. Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.”

It has been my experience that every time I offer my workout time to God, He is faithful to meet me … and the time spent becomes more than physical workout time. It strengthens my body, mind and soul. The sweat releases impurities from more than just my physical body, and I am stretched in my entire being.

As this new year begins, I urge you, brothers and sisters, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Offer your workouts to Him and for Him … and, regardless of your mood, He will meet with you. This is a spiritual act of worship.

(For related discussion, see also Posture of Prayer entry, 7/22/14; Exercise as Worship 2 entry, 5/9/14; and Exercise as Worship 1 entry, 4/11/14.)

Stretching

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle into desolate cities.” Isaiah 54:2-4 (NIV)

Recently, I’ve started teaching some stretching classes again. It’s such a good practice to get into — the intentional stretching and lengthening of muscles.  One of the things I remind the women in my class is the truth that we lose flexibility as we age … & as we lose flexibility, we lose mobility. Our joints are restricted from their normal maximum range of motion because the surrounding muscles are too tight to allow such motion. So by losing flexibility and then mobility, we become less able to respond to the demands life puts on us. To the extent I can help it, I don’t want that to happen to my body.

And I don’t want that to happen my soul either. Our souls can also become inflexible. We can get too comfortable, too stiff, or too brittle to respond to God’s call on our lives. We can refuse to lengthen and stretch and grow … & by doing so, we can impede God’s work not only in our lives but also through our lives to the world and others around us.

Just as I tell the women in my stretch class that it takes time and repetition to stretch tight muscle groups, I am reminded it also takes time and repeated intentionality to open up & allow God to do new things in me and through me. Just as it takes practice for muscle memory to develop and for muscles to expand, so it takes spiritual practices to allow God to stretch us in new ways and to new heights.

God has a wonderful plan for our lives. He has great things He is going to accomplish, and He wants to use us to do it! May we stay malleable and flexible enough to always respond to Him!

Honoring God

“Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

This coming Sunday at brunch, I am excited to ask my kids how they think we honor God as a family. I anticipate hearing responses like: we go to church, we pray, we love God, etc. Then I intend to ask them how we could honor God more as a family. I hope to get answers like: argue less, love each other more, be more generous, etc. We will see!

In this passage of scripture, God is asking us to honor Him with our bodies. Yes, the specific context of the passage is in regard to sexual immorality. And you might say, “hey … I’m good there, so that box is checked!  Move on.” But I don’t think that’s all there is to it. I don’t think honoring God with our bodies stops at sexual morality. Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in the city of Corinth — a city where sexual immorality was rampant. In other words, Paul wrote about sexual immorality because  that was the most prevalent sin against the body in the city to which Paul wrote the letter.

What might Paul see as the most prevalent sin against the body in our era? What might Paul see as the most prevalent sin against the temple of the Holy Spirit in America? In your town?  In your home?  In our overindulgent society, I think there might be several ….

So let me ask you — how could you honor God with your body?  You are not your own.  You were bought with a high price.  How could you honor Him more?

Seasons

“There is a time for everything; a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NLT)

My favorite form of exercise is cardio. If you were to ask me at any given time what type of exercise I’d like to go do, 90% of the time I would choose a cardiovascular one. However, right now I am in a season of trying to add muscle mass. So, right now, I am in a season of having to increase my weightlifting time and decrease my cardio time. Right now I am in a season of having to make choices that go against my natural tendencies.

Is it a choice I make begrudgingly? Oh, on some days, perhaps. But on most days, I choose it willingly because I truly desire the alternative outcome and know it’s best for me. I choose it willingly because I have the long-term objective in mind, and this is a necessary season for me to go through in order to achieve that objective.  (See also Long-Term View, October 2, 2014 post).

There are seasons in our spiritual journeys too. Sometimes we are in seasons of deep Bible study because we need more of God’s Word implanted in our minds. Perhaps other times we are in a season of needing more to live out the Word we already know instead of gaining more head knowledge. Or perhaps you are in a season where you need to cut back on the external activities because you really need to do some deep soul work. Or maybe just the inverse — maybe you have focused enough on your own soul and need to focus more on the souls around you.

The seasons of the soul that God takes us through are necessary to form us into image-bearers of Jesus. Some seasons may not be our favorite. But if we keep the end game in mind, we just might start to embrace each season because we know it is integral to that which we really desire — becoming a better reflection of Him.

So what season are you in?

Call to Prayer

“Dear friend, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.” 3 John 2 (NET)

From John’s last letter recorded in the Bible, John prays that his dear friend Gaius enjoys good health. Of course, John wants things to be well with Gaius’ soul, but he seems to assume that. Now John is praying that his friend enjoys good health.

Apparently we need to keep praying John’s prayer. Just today I read a 2007 study that found that only 3% of Americans eat healthfully, engage in regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, and do not smoke. Unfortunately, I doubt that statistic has changed much in the he past 7 years. Childhood obesity in the U.S., of course, has also steadily risen from around 5% in 1971 to 16% or more in 2010.  Based on those statistics alone, the prospect of America enjoying good health is slim.  (No pun intended.)

Jesus tells us to fear the evil one who can destroy the soul more than we fear one who can destroy only the body (see Matthew 10:28). Why? Because our soul is the only part of us that carries over to the other side of life; because our soul and it’s relationship with God is of utmost importance.

However, on this side of life, God has made us in His image — triune. He has made us body, mind and soul. (See SHEMA entry, April 3, 2014).  And I deeply believe He wants us to steward and care for each aspect. (E.g., I doubt you would ever agree with me if I said our minds were of little importance to God or our journeys on earth ….). He has given us amazing gifts wrapped our own bodies!

So would you join me in praying for our friends, our relatives and our country: not only that all might be well with their souls, but also that they may enjoy good health.