Oppositional Training

“[T]he land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys ….” Deuteronomy 11:11 (NIV)

If you’ve done any strength training, you’ve learned the principle of oppositional training. To really strengthen any muscle group, you have to strengthen the opposing muscle group. If you want to strengthen your biceps, for example, you need to also strengthen your triceps. If you want to grow your quadriceps, you also need to grow your hamstrings. To train effectively, you have to train in opposition.

Interestingly, the rest of life is like that too.  We cannot have pleasure, for example, without pain (otherwise it would all seem the same and all feel neutral). We cannot have highs without lows, or as the writer of Ecclesiastes so adeptly put it, we cannot have laughter without tears or dancing without mourning (see Ecc. 3:4).  It is the order that God created.  We cannot achieve great heights without going through great valleys.

Problems arise, of course, when we ignore the principles of oppositional training. When we want large biceps, for example, but don’t like the triceps exercises … so we don’t do them much. Not only do we become out of balance, but we can’t achieve the results we really desire when we deny the way in which God made things.

Of course, I see myself in this paradox frequently. I would much prefer to avoid great pain, sadness, loss or mourning.  I’d much prefer avoid, deny, repress or run away from that side of life.  But I am learning that even God’s Promised Land had mountains and valleys … and that in His economy, I cannot avoid one without losing the other.

So I am learning afresh the principle of oppositional training.  And it’s hard.  It’s hard to sit in the hard places and remain present and not to rush through or ignore it.  It’s hard.  Really hard sometimes.  But I want the other side.  I endure the valley because I want the mountain-top.  And I strive to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, my example … who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.  (Hebrews 12:2b).


“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?

Embracing trials

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know they are good for us — they help us learn to endure.”  Romans 5:3 (NLT)

It’s amazing how God’s truths are continuously revealed all around us!  Those of us who exercise know that in order for a muscle to get stronger, it must be repeatedly put up against an increasing amount of resistance.  If I want to grow my bicep, for example, I will need to do bicep curls with a fairly heavy weight, repeating until almost the point of muscle exhaustion.  Then repeat.  It is the resistance that makes my bicep stronger.

And so it is with my soul.  In order to grow my character, I have to be put up against things that are hard for me.  I have to learn how to endure a little longer, resist a little more, lean into God a little further.  Just like my bicep, it is the resistance & struggle that makes me stronger.  It is through the storm that my weak areas are made stronger.

I have started working to increase the percentage of muscle mass on my body.  To do that, I have to repeatedly lift heavy enough weights to  tax my body.  I will have to continue to put my body through enough strain and trial that the muscle fibers actually begin to tear so that when the body heals it, the fibers are actually stronger than before.  Do I rejoice in doing this?  Not always, but once I hit my goal — trust me — there will be great rejoicing!

And fortunately, God is putting together the workout plan for my soul.  In His love, He wants to see my weak areas grow stronger.  Do I rejoice in these trials?  Not always, but when I see growth in my own character and soul, I am deeply grateful.  So I am learning not to turn away from problems and trials, but instead to embrace them and ask God what He wants me to learn.  Because, in fact, I do want to come through them rejoicing!