Spiritual Fitness Training, part 2
In the first part of this series, I discussed the need for spiritual conditioning to be in the kind of spiritual “shape” to handle challenges to our faith – temptations, trials, etc. We need regular practice of spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, worship, etc.) to be the kind of people who live out our identity as redeemed sinners.
But we also need focused attention on the specific skills to handle specific situations. Responding kindly to an insult taps into different aspects of Messiah-likeness than warding off discouragement or turning away from lust or finding calm in the midst of anger-prompting circumstances or many other real-life challenges. Generic faith may not cut it for specific trials.
Allow me to continue the athletic training metaphor. Athletes perform numerous exercises to get their bodies into the condition needed to perform well on the field. But they also practice precise movements they will need for specific tasks. I once watched a catcher warm up with another fielder before a major league baseball game. The two men stood about twenty feet apart and threw line drives to each other with pinpoint accuracy. Neither player needed to move his glove very much to catch the ball.
But, after each successful throw, they both took one step backwards. Thus, each throw became a little bit farther. The challenge to be accurate increased in difficulty with each throw. By the time they were well over one hundred feet apart, their repeated pinpoint accuracy amazed me. You can see how this kind of conditioning would come in handy when the catcher needed to throw the ball from a crouching position behind home plate the 127 feet, 3 & 3/8 inches to catch a runner attempting to steal second base.
The general conditioning made the task a possibility. The specific skill training increased the likelihood of success. The general conditioning, while necessary, was not sufficient.
If we’re going to “succeed” at overcoming some temptations, we may need more than general Bible study, time in prayer, and other “basic” practices.
To return to the situation I discussed in the first part in this series, my friend may have needed more than good spiritual health to handle the unique challenge of a slowly moving line at the grocery store. He could benefit from concentrated study about and reflection upon the problem of anger.
This blog isn’t the place for an extended treatise about anger. But some of us need to read those documents – perhaps more than once! We could benefit from Biblical insight, such as Ephesians 4:26, where we learn that anger can certainly lead to sin, that some anger isn’t necessarily sin, and that letting it stew (“do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”) can do tremendous harm.
We can also benefit from wise people who study the emotion and experience of anger. They can help us recognize that anger is often a secondary emotion that springs from things like frustration, hurt, fear, or other more foundational problems. We may not get relief from the surface problem (the angry outburst) if we don’t address the root problem (the fear we feel whenever we’re in similar settings).
How wonderful that our God has inspired the Bible with a wide variety of helps for us. We have passages that teach about general conditioning for maturity (such as Ephesians 5:15-21) and other passages for specific skill training (such as the numerous proverbs about anger or lust or speech, etc.).
Let us press on toward maturity.
To be continued.