Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better…. – 1 Timothy 4:8
On July 1, one of the greatest sporting events on the planet began – the Tour de France. The Tour is perhaps the greatest of cycling races, including 200 professional cyclists on a three-week all-out-leg-punishing trek of 2,100 miles. You read that right – 2,100 miles in just three weeks, including some brutal climbs through mountain passes. As a cyclist, I’m in awe of this event.
How do they do it? How do they climb mountain passes faster than I can pedal on the flats? How do they sprint to the finish at speeds upwards of 50 mph after a 170-mile day? Teamwork, strategy, top-of-the-line equipment and great coaching play an important role. But at the heart of it these remarkable athletes excel because of diligent and disciplined physical training. Their incredible performance on the Tour is a direct result of endless hours in the saddle, practicing technique, building strength and developing endurance. No cyclist rides the Tour unless they’ve spent literally thousands of hours in the saddle.
In his letter to a young church leader named Timothy, St. Paul encourages disciples to engage in disciplined spiritual training. In another letter Paul described the life of following Jesus as a race. He wrote, “This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way.” (2 Timothy 4:7) In other words, if you want to excel at being a follower of Jesus, you need to train.
So, what does spiritual training look like? There are lots of different answers to that question. Weekly worship, active engagement in a small group, generosity, serving the needs of others and prayer are all powerful training practices. While no spiritual training program is right for everyone, let me share the three practices that I’m finding most helpful these days.
Reflection on Scripture. I’ve spent years reading and studying the Bible, but lately I’ve been reflecting more on the intersection of Scripture and my daily life. It’s one thing to seek to understand the original intention of the biblical author; it’s something else to slowly allow the Word to speak directly to you. Recently I’ve been using an awesome free app called “YouVersion” and a devotional plan called “Deeper into Scripture: James” which parallels our current preaching series. It’s bringing Scripture alive for me. You can find more on YouVersion here.
Journaling. I’ve gone through fits and starts with journaling for years, but I’ve just picked it up again after reading this article. Each morning after reflection on Scripture I write down what I’ve heard and what I sense God calling me to do that day. And then I write a summary of the previous day, noting those things that carried emotional energy for me, both positive and negative. There is something about putting my thoughts into writing that more deeply embeds them and clarifies my thinking.
Meditation. Learning to dwell in silence has become an increasingly important discipline in my spiritual journey. It has taught me to be more mindful, present to God in the moment and less attached to the past or the future. Recently I’ve been using a new app called Calm. While not explicitly Christian it’s a great resource for beginningers and practiced meditators alike. You can find more here.
I’ll never ride the Tour, except in my daydreams! But by God’s grace I’m deep and steep into the race of following Jesus daily. Training is both a duty and a delight, and I dare to believe that it’s shaping both my heart and my mind to be of greater use in the work of God’s Kingdom.
What’s your training program?
Jeff Marian serves as lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN
PS. As long as I’m talking cycling…later this week I’ll be heading to Iowa to join my cycling team for our annual ride across the state of Iowa (www.RAGBRAI.org). We’ll join 20,000 of our closest friends from around the world on a 450-mile trek filled with pie, beautiful scenery, quad-crushing hills, pie, headwinds, humidity, pie, Iowa craft beer…and pie. So, for the next couple of weeks we’ll be welcoming a couple of guest bloggers to this site. Then August 7-21 I’ll be blogging from Germany as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Auf Wiedersehen!