An Invitation to Grow
Growth is never easy. I think I first learned that in the gym. After years of watching Bowflex commercials and other home gym advertisements that said, just 15 min a day, 3 days a week can get you totally ripped in 6 weeks, physical growth seemed easy. It doesn’t take a gym junkie to know, there’s a little more work involved in getting in shape.
It really comes as little surprise to learn then, that growing spiritually is really hard too. Like physical training, its exhausting and painful, and can leave you feeling a little sore the next day.
But at the end of the day, growth is good.
I decided to start writing again because God’s been doing a lot of growing lately. Like you may have guessed, its been hard. Its been exhausting and painful and has left me feeling more than a little sore the next day. Like a good trainer in the gym, it has revealed weak areas of my heart and soul that I didn’t even know I had, and at the end of the day, the growth has been good.
Training can be difficult and humbling for a lot of people. Taking time and attention to focus towards growing in areas of weakness actually keeps a lot of people from ever starting. My first experience with working out in the gym felt like one of the most publicly humbling moments of my life. There are few things more humbling than sitting on a piece of equipment that you have no idea how to use and then having to reduce the weight in half compared to the guy who used it before you. All of this happens after about 10 minutes of not so subtly watching other people use that equipment so that you can try to mimic their movements, because lets be honest… you have no clue what you’re doing. All the while, you are focusing every ounce of conscious ability you have on looking like you aren’t struggling nearly as much as you are with the weight. That was my first experience at least… and the second, and third…
Spiritual growth for me feels really similar. It’s humbling to bring light to dark areas of my heart. Like the gym, I barely know how to use the equipment available to me (i.e. my bible, my friends, mentors, the church), but for a majority of my life, I’ve spent so much effort on making it look like I do. I’m kind of like that guy at the gym who is a “regular”. You see him there every time you are. He was there in the gym before you, and he’ll be there after you. For a guy who spends that much time at the gym, you expect that he’d be pretty in shape, but as you start to watch him, you realize he spends more time talking to people that he does doing curls. He spends more time following bodybuilders.com on instagram than he does on the bench press. He stretches more than an olympic gymnast before a gold medal performance, yet somehow can’t touch his toes. After watching this guy, you begin to realize, he really doesn’t train much at all. Physically speaking, I’ve been that guy. Spiritually speaking, I am that guy. I’m the “regular” at church. I’ve spent nearly 14 years being at church constantly. I know most of the people. I spend more time talking to them about “Christian things” than I do talking to God about where my heart is at. I spend more time following Matt Chandler and other pastors on youtube than I do following Jesus. I stretch my arms out to the heavens during worship in a posture of surrender, but really, it’s probably more a posture of defense as if to hold back the light that will expose dark parts of my heart.
Spiritually speaking, what I’ve needed is to be trained. To have God expose weakness, and teach me how to grow through it. To have God coach me through the spiritual nutrition plan that is scripture. To have God create in me a flexibility that means I won’t break under the pressure of living in a culture that shuns the gospel.
I’m happy to say that God has already begun that process. The past few months have been some of the most intense spiritual training I’ve encountered. God has taken me back to some basics, really foundational stuff, and challenged me with growing in what I believe.
Like physical training, 6 weeks doesn’t get you ripped, and even if it did, it doesn’t keep you that way. Perseverance does. I recently was challenged to memorize Romans 5:1–11, and I am glad I did. Memorizing it has kept the challenge of Paul’s word active well beyond when I close my bible. In it he says “we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who we have been given.” (Romans 5:3–5)
Physical training looks the same. The physical training version of that verse would probably say something to the effect of “ we also rejoice in our workouts, knowing that workouts produce perseverance, and perseverance produces discipline, and disciple produces muscle, and muscle does not put us to shame because strength has been given to our bodies through the guidance of our personal trainer, who we paid a lot of money for.”
I like Paul’s version better, and he did too. While writing to his younger counterpart Timothy, he told him “…Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)
I’ve decided to start writing out some of my experiences with spiritual training in response to a lyric that probably a lot of us have sung during a worship song, which I was recently reminded of. “In my life, be lifted high”. I’ve done some writing before and even used to deliver sermons, which are just verbally delivered essays on spiritual topics. This is going to be different though. Those blogs and sermons were usually reflective of an attitude that lifted myself up by seeming wise. They were carefully crafted to produce a sense of humility and strength, without without giving people a real look into the state of my heart. To be honest though, that much hiding is exhausting, so this time, things are going to be different.
If you are reading this, looking for the spiritual equivalent of a fitness blog written by a guy who has 30 kinds of degrees in kinesiology, is ascetically perfect, and posts pictures of perfectly balanced nutritional meals all the time, you’ve got the wrong guy. This is the spiritual writings of a guy who has a reminder on his phone, set for 8am every day to pray for specific people, but who probably only does it once every few weeks. A guy who tells people the good news about Jesus, but struggles to believe that that same Jesus loves him the same way. A guy who owns a gigantic ESV study bible so people will see it and think he’s smart, but who usually re-reads it all in NLT so that he can understand what the heck it’s saying. I can be honest about these things though because I’m done hiding. I’m putting out there an imperfect guide to being grown by a perfect God, written by and for imperfect people. If you keep reading, or are around to watch and see the ways that God is growing me, you are going to watch me mess it up, but the good news here is that my hope (and yours too), is not in me, but instead in a God who redeems the broken, finds the lost, sets free the prisoners, and who makes beautiful things out of dust.
“In my life, be lifted high” (Even higher than I try to lift myself).
I have a love/hate relationship with crossfitters. It’s probably rooted in jealousy, and an awareness that I would likely die if I tried it. But have you ever asked a crossfitter about crossfit? No, you haven’t, because they started telling you about it before you ever asked. But if there is one thing that crossfit does have going for it for sure, it’s community. That’s why crossfitters NEVER stop talking about it. To be honest, they have an enviable community that is closer knit than most churches I’ve been in. Crossfitters get it: they grow better together.
I once watched a circle of about 30 crossfitters do a grueling workout together where they all linked arms and formed a ring. As they performed the workout together, arms linked the entire time, people would begin dropping out as the workout progressed, to the point where they couldn’t even stand up on their own. But the entire time, the ring was never broken. Instead, the circle would litterally carry each other through to the end, knowing that it would only make everyone there stronger. Now that is what I call community. Crossfitters know that they grow better together, and my hope for my spiritual growth is the same.
Writing out my story, and the way that God is growing me is meant to link me to other people who are here to grow. It’s meant to link me up so that when I’m weak, I can be carried, and when I succeed, my friends succeeds with me. If that’s you, keep reading, because it’s about to get real.