For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
John visits the doctor’s office for a follow-up on his annual check-up. He knows he’s overweight, run down, and lacking energy. He knows the doctor ran a bunch of tests and the results are in. The doctor tells him that he had better change some things about his life. The first thing that the doctor prescribes for John is that he start to exercise. John had better start walking or swimming or something to better his health. The doctor explains: if John doesn’t start to exercise, he’ll die.
Steve leaves work promptly at 5:00 pm. There in the passenger seat of his car is his gym bag, a reminder of something he has to do. He drives 20 minutes to his local YMCA, changes into his swim trunks, grabs his goggles and heads for the pool. As he stands there looking over the pool he remembers his days growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan and the swims he would take there. He remembers the freedom and joy that swimming brings to his life. While the pool is not the same as Lake Michigan, it’ll have to do. When asked why Steve is always at the pool he explains that, if he doesn’t keep swimming, he’ll die.
Both these men are compelled to exercise. John is motivated by fear. If he doesn’t make this change to his life, he won’t live long. John wants to live longer so he makes the change. Steve, on the other hand, is motivated by joy. Steve remembers the joy of swimming as a connection to his childhood. Steve has found joy in swimming his entire life. If Steve doesn’t keep swimming, he’ll die inside and miss out on his joy.
What motivates us to keep exercising? For some, it’s a fear of gaining weight, becoming sick, or dying at an early age. Afraid of dying too soon, many people take up exercise in their middle years to stave off an untimely death or a penance for sins of over-indulgence. For others, it’s part of their lifestyle. They may have grown up exercising and just keep doing it “for the fun of it.” Some people even move from one motivation to the other. I know many folks who have started exercising, fearful of future health, only to fall in love with it.
What keeps us in our spiritual fitness? Too many Christians view their daily devotion times like John viewed exercise. If I don’t read my Bible every day, I’ll die. God will strike me down or withhold His blessings. Moreover, many Christians carry a sort of quid pro quo concept to their Christian life. If I bless God with my time, then God will bless me in my life. If I do what God wants, God will give me what I want. If I scratch God’s back, He’ll scratch mine. And they also assume the opposite is true. If I’m not blessed or happy, it must be because God is upset with me. I don’t want God to be upset with me, therefore out of fear, I have devotions every day.
A key component of my spiritual development has been the Christian Camp. I’ve enjoyed taking up to a week to leave the world behind and living with other Christians while soaking in as much salvation as possible. These have been some of the most joyous times of my life. These have been some places where I’ve made the biggest decisions of my life. The people from camp have been my dearest friends for the largest part of my life. I’ve always left a camp thinking, “Boy, I wish I could just live here.” What I’ve learned over the years is that I can live there. I can live there by making worship a regular part of my week. I can live there by daily reading the Scriptures and praying. I’ve learned to do all those things as a way to recapture the joy of camp. My spiritual fitness is motivated by joy, wanting to recapture that experience every day.
I’ve met many Christians who have moved from one motivation to the other. They started attending worship and having devotions and praying because they wanted to appease an angry God only to discover the pure joy of the Gospel, a joy that they wanted to recapture each and every day.
In my previous post, Disciples are Disciplined, I may have come across as harsh. Phrases like “have to” are Law words, fear words, burden words. “Have to” is often followed by “or else.” These are not our proper motivation for discipleship and spiritual fitness. Our motivation is always the Gospel, the truth of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We ‘have to” hear of this love each and every day because Satan, the world, and our own sinful desires want us to believe otherwise. Spiritual fitness is about staying connected to our joy in the same way that physical fitness can keep us connected to our youth.
What were some of your favorite activities as a child? Where were some of your best memories made? How can you recapture those good times every day? I’d love to hear you comments.