1 Timothy 4:8 … “For, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Any of us who of have done regular physical exercise understand the benefits it has to our bodies. Over time, strength and stamina are developed and professional athletes of any sport understand the importance that regular training has to give them the edge in their performance. Paul in his pastoral letter to Timothy unsurprisingly recognises this value but places far greater value on godliness which is not only relevant for present life but in the eternal one to come. It has been with this in mind that we have been using the Spiritual Formation Workbook by Smith and Graybeal to exercise six areas of our Spiritual lives. Below are six exercises I have picked out from the workbook for us to try in the coming weeks before Easter.
- Exercise for Prayer: set aside five to ten minutes each for prayer
Find a time in your schedule that is free of interruption, when you can turn your thoughts to God. You may want to read a Bible verse and meditate on it, or you may want to spend the time talking with God about your needs and concerns. The idea is simply to set aside your busy activities (or not start them) and turn your attention to God.
- Exercise in Holiness: respond to temptation with the word of God
Jesus overcame the devil’s temptations by holding fast to God’s commandments. Memorise these three responses (Deuteronomy 8:3;6:16;6:13), and when you are tempted by the enemy to (1) gratify selfish desires, (2) doubt God’s power, or (3) seek wealth, power, or fame, respond to the temptation with the corresponding verse of Scripture. Jesus used the power of God through Scripture to defeat the devil, and so can we.
- Nurture the Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Galatians 5:22 lists nine virtues called the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. They are listed in contrast with the “works of the flesh”: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger and so on. (Galatians 5:19-21). While the fruit of the Spirit slips in unawares, Paul says we are responsible for living by the Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit, which helps the fruit grow (Galatians 5:25). Set aside fifteen minutes a day to meditate on the fruit of the Spirit. Ask God to show you which fruit needs to grow more in your life. Then ask the Holy Spirit to begin working in your mind and heart,knowing that change will come through sustained communion with God.
- Exercise in Compassion: write a kind, encouraging letter
This may seem like a small task, but it can work miracles. Take time to write a letter that tells someone how important he or she is to you. We seldom let people know how much they are appreciated. Or perhaps you know someone who is struggling with something a decision, a failed marriage, a disappointment. Write a letter that tells him or her that you care and that you are available to talk or listen. “Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up” (Prov.12:25).
- Exercise in Scripture: read one of the shorter books of the Bible out loud
The Gospels, and even Paul’s letters, were read aloud to the early Christians in their gathered communities. Read one of Paul’s shorter letters (for example, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians,1 and 2 Timothy, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Titus) out loud to yourself. Imagine how the Christians listening to those words for the first time felt and responded.
- Exercising the Incarnational life: take an inventory of your life
List on a piece of paper all of the activities that you are involved in, such as work, church, clubs, housework, parenting, hobbies, sports. Be very specific; if you belong to two clubs, for example, list both. Now, on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 representing the least effective), decide how well you bring the presence of God into each activity. Do not be discouraged if the results are disappointing. Even for people who have been practising the disciplines for quite a while, change takes time. Pray, asking God to help you show forth His presence in those areas that have lower scores. Then, as you participate in the activities, imagine God working through you.
I hope you will enjoy exercising in these six areas and that we grow ever closer to God.
Every blessing in Christ,