We're in a midweek series on spiritual growth. Last night we talked about the importance of training versus trying.
I think most of our attempts at spiritual growth consist of us trying really, really, really hard... Eventually, we just get tired of trying, throw in the towel and give up.
Maybe the answer isn't in trying, but in training... There's a world of difference between the two. Think of it like this:
It’s 7:00 o’clock one evening. Imagine a van pulling into your driveway and a group of people jumping out of the van and marching to your front door. They interrupt your Twinkie-eating, TV-watching, and “couch potato” routine with an urgent message: “Good News! We’re from the United States Olympic Committee. We’ve been looking for someone to run the long distance marathon in the next Summer Olympics.”
“We have stats on every person in the entire nation. We’ve checked everyone’s records. We’ve checked their performance on the President’s physical fitness test. We’ve checked their body type, blood type, and bone structure. We’ve even calculated their current percentage of body fat.”
“All of this has led us to believe that out of two hundred forty million people, you are the one person in America with a chance of bringing home the gold medal in the upcoming marathon. You are on the squad! You will run the race. This is the chance of a lifetime.”
You are amazed. You are stunned. You realize that the farthest you’ve ever ran has been from the couch to the refrigerator… But after the initial shock wears off, you're gripped by the realization of what has just transpired. For just a moment, you allow yourself to imagine, “Maybe I do have what it takes to be an Olympian?” When you close your eyes you can picture yourself standing on the podium after the race with a gold medal being placed around your neck and the National Anthem playing in the background.
Now you’re gripped with a sense of urgency. You realize that your body has got to run that 26-mile race. You realize that a billion people will be watching. You feel a huge amount of external pressure, but you also experience some internal pressure. Because something in you starts to believe, “Maybe this is why I was born. This is my chance.”
The marathon starts to dominate your mind. It occupies your attention. It becomes the central focus of your existence. It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you up late at night.
One of the reasons this marathon dominates your attention is because you realize that right now you can’t run a marathon. Right now, you couldn’t run a marathon even if you tried really, really hard. You’re smart enough to know, trying will only get you so far. If you’re going to compete in the marathon and seize this opportunity of a lifetime, you will have to go into a life of training. You are going to have to rearrange your life and priorities around those practices and disciplines that will enable you to do what willpower alone would never allow you to do. When it comes to running in a marathon, you are going to have to do more than try, you're going to have to train.
This is why this is important: training isn’t something that’s reserved for athletes. Training is required for people who want to play a musical instrument, learn a new language or acquire a new skill. Training is a requirement for any significant challenge in life – including spiritual growth.
Here's the way Paul says it to a young guy named Timothy.
"Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. 8 Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next." ~ 1 Timothy 4:7 (Phillips)
So, instead of trying really, really hard. Why not start training? We'll write more about this tomorrow.