I hit “submit” and immediately regretted my decision. I had just signed myself up to run a half-marathon. 13.1 miles of running torture. At the time I wasn’t much of a runner, but I wanted to become a runner. Almost immediately I felt the reality of training fall upon my shoulders. The pressure was on!
The first thing I did was download a training guide. I had a vision for what I wanted to become (a runner), the intention of doing it (I signed up for the race), and now I needed to execute the practices for actually achieving my goal. What if we viewed our spiritual development in the same way?
The Apostle Paul made quite the statement about practice in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27,
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Paul trained his body and made it his slave so that he could gain something greater in his relationship with Jesus. He trained because he knew becoming like Jesus wasn’t going to happen by accident.
Paul wasn’t suggesting he could earn anything additional from God. No! Salvation is a gift by grace alone (Ephesians 2:5-9). However, Paul is suggesting there are ways we can posture our body and soul to cooperate with God’s grace more fully and respond to his work in our lives. There are things we can do to “stay in step with the Spirit” – a command in the scriptures.
There is no exhaustive list of spiritual disciplines. A spiritual discipline empowers us to do something we cannot do through will power alone (I owe this point to Dallas Willard). Willard also wrote, “Spiritual practices are activities that open our lives to the action of God in our heart, mind, body, and soul, to progressively remake our whole personality.”
Practices are where growing in the way of Jesus and the heart of Jesus gets exciting! For example, let’s look at the area of patience – something many of us long for but find elusive. Typically, we simply try to be more patient. But that’s trying, not training. Training looks much different. Training might be choosing the longest line at the grocery store and intentionally embracing a posture of patience. It might mean deciding to drive the speed limit. There are many ways to train yourself to be more patient by opening yourself up to God’s grace, already present and active in your life.
Choose an area where you want to grow then embrace two practices to help you (re)train your soul to respond to God’s grace. Here’s a great list of ideas. If a practice helps you, keep doing it! If not, ditch it and try something else. These should be experimental, creative, and experiential. Enjoy the journey of growing in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus!
By Ryan Paulson