Someone recently challenged me to think of spiritual discipline as training for a sport. Of course this got my mind churning on tangible ways to envision the practice of spiritual discipline. The following are my thoughts on the subject.
I ran track and cross country in high school. We practiced every day after school for two hours in preparation for our weekly Saturday morning meet. I can’t say that I loved having to stretch for thirty minutes, jog several miles, run sprints, and plunge my legs into solid ice baths every day after a long day of school. But when Saturday rolled around, I was super thankful for the week leading up to it because my body was ready. I felt equipped and confident at the start line, knowing that I had invested the time and energy to pull me through the race.
You wouldn’t dare show up for a Saturday meet without practicing the week before. That would just be foolish. Your muscles would not be stretched well, your lungs would not function to the necessary degree, and your nerves would not be accustomed to the level of exertion.
So why is spiritual life any different?
We often become complacent about our spiritual life, and don’t show up for practice. We forget to stretch those spiritual muscles and tendons that keep us moving forward.
We panic when that “Saturday meet” comes around, ignoring the fact that we have a guide book, a training manual readily available for every single one of us.
We don’t take advantage of the team we have all around us that becomes our biggest fans cheering us on, or better yet, the ones who put in the hours during practice and run the race alongside us.
We walk aimlessly through life, forgetting that we have a coach who is more than willing to instruct us along the way. He finds joy in the early morning sprints and the late night jogs. He is ecstatic when we show up for the race on Saturday, ready and fearless because we have put in the hard work.
Don’t be mistaken— I’m not talking about a Sunday service as our “track meet.” I’m talking about anything that requires us to shift outside of ourselves, anything that forces us to exert effort, thought, emotion, etc. Anything that threatens to strip away the layers of our identity. It could be a divorce, a new job, a loss in the family, or a season of wealth. It can be a positive or negative event— anything that brings us to a point of decision on who we are becoming. You wouldn’t show up unprepared for a meet, so why are these events any different?
And this is the best part— it isn’t our performance that matters to our coach. It is our willingness to show up that brings him joy. It is our discipline to roll out of bed an hour earlier, or stay at the track a little bit later in which he delights. Our coach smiles and chuckles deeply when he sees us walking across the field with our cleats on, returning the next day despite the sore muscles and achy joints.
Without spiritual discipline, we tire easily and give up quickly. With spiritual discipline, our very lives become an act of worship and freedom. We are able to run the race not with perfection, but with excellence.
When the meet comes, when the race is about to be run, our legs will be strong, our lungs will breathe deeper, and our minds will be clearer if we just show up to practice.