When I was in the hospital with a serious back injury and an un-diagnosed circulatory issue that left me unable to walk, I left the hospital only with the help of a walker. For ten weeks I had to participate in physical therapy in order to rebuild the muscles and nerve connections in my legs. After only two weeks, however, I was able to walk again without the walker. You see, prior to that incident, my daily routine included walking three to four miles per day along with doing various other exercises. My physical therapist told me that having built up that strong muscle memory before my injury is what enabled me to recover as quickly as I did.
While we know how important physical exercise is for our bodies, I think we also need to remember how important spiritual discipline is for our souls. Discipline is the foundation of godliness. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 teaches: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Most people think of fasting as a time to give up something in order to focus on God more. I would like to argue that we can also approach fasting as a time to exercise our spiritual muscles through discipline. When I walked 30 miles as part of a fundraiser, I didn’t just decide to do it that day; I had spent a year walking several miles a day so that when the time came, I would be ready and able. The same concept applies to us spiritually. We need to regularly practice disciplines so that when we need them, our spiritual muscles will be in shape and able to endure.
For example, when a crisis hits in our lives or a situation is overwhelming us, we know we need to pray but sometimes our emotions are so out of control that it is hard to pray -especially if it is not a habit we have formed. Practicing the spiritual discipline of prayer does not have to be difficult. We can decide to add five minutes of prayer time in the morning or evening or both. As we continually exercise prayer in our lives, it will be a strong muscle at time of need. The disciples encountered this truth when they tried to cast a demon out of a boy and were not able to do it. Jesus had given them all power and authority to cast out demons but the disciples wondered why they couldn’t. Jesus answered them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29) Sometimes we can become distracted by arguing with others or serving the people around us so much that we are not continually in prayer. When the need came for the disciples to be especially strong in prayer, their muscles were weak due to lack of use.
As any athlete can attest to, training is of vital importance if they are going to enter a competition. They come prepared! Natural talent only gets you so far, but those who are disciplined and trained usually have great success. In a similar fashion, when we are faced with temptation in our lives, it can be a battle as fierce as any athletic competition. Another valuable spiritual discipline is to spend time memorizing scripture. Even if we only memorized one verse a week, at the end of forty days we would have five additional scriptures to use when competing against the enemy in trials of temptation. Jesus gave a perfect example when He faced Satan in the wilderness. Each time our Lord used scripture to defeat the lies of the enemy with the truth. The final temptation when Satan told Jesus to fall down and worship him, Jesus answered, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.'” (Matthew 4:10)
Finally, one of the most important aspects of exercise is consistency. Exercising once a week is good but it tends to leave you feeling sore and achy all the time because your muscles are not used to it. It is so much harder to exercise occasionally than it is to exercise regularly because your body resists it each time, never growing accustomed to the new training. In a similar way, we can become spiritually apathetic in reading our bibles. If we do not spend time consistently reading God’s Word, it often seems difficult and hard to focus on. But when a decision faces us in life, how will we ever be able to discern God’s guidance if we have not regularly listened to Him through His Word? It would be like trying to run a race without any training and wondering why you are out of breath after half a lap. Spending more time in God’s Word is the most valuable spiritual discipline we could exercise in our walk of faith. Building a foundation of daily bible reading and reflection for forty days is bound to make us more spiritually fit and attractive to those around us who need to hear God’s truth.
So, instead of thinking of fasting as a time to give up chocolate or soda, let’s think of it as a time to exercise and build up a foundation of discipline. A lot of people begin the New Year with a resolution to get in shape, but we can make a resolution to use forty days to make ourselves more attractive by building up a foundation of godliness. Your 40 day workout routine can consist of the following:
Warm-up period: five minutes of prayer in the morning
Followed by memorizing scripture and daily bible reading & reflection
Cool down period: five minutes of prayer in the evening
You may not lose inches or pounds in this routine but you will build a foundation of godliness that is desperately needed in our lives today. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) Let’s take Him at His Word!