No Pain, No Gain: Part II

I’ve learned to take a mild Facebook hiatus from about January 1st until just about February 15th every year.

That’s because everyone’s New Years Resolution seems to involve fitness and they are all eager to share their chosen method of extreme weight loss.

I know better.  I always feel that making exercise an official “resolution” sets me up for failure every time.

Cynic that I am at times, I also admit that I just wait for the Facebook exercise updates to disappear after a few weeks and then we all return to a normal and pleasantly non-guilt-inducing state of indolence and inactivity.

If you’re a Facebook user, you likely know exactly what I mean.  It begins on the very first day of the year:

“I hit the gym at 6 a.m. today!”

“I ran 3 miles in the rain, uphill, did my Zumba class and swam 15 laps today. Spin class tonight”

“I’m training for the around-the-world marathon and made it to Switzerland in record time today.”

Okay, that last one was a bit of a stretch.  Still, you’ve probably read updates just like that.  Or, perhaps you’ve written them yourself.

Over time, all but the most ardent of exercise-lovers cease to post how many miles they ran that day or how many hours they spent at the gym or how much sleep they missed out on in order to run twelve miles.

Lesson Two: Transformation Takes Time

For most of us, lack of instant results sabotages our best health intentions.  As I wrote in No Pain, No Gain: Part I, we must remember that no one begins as an expert or starts perfectly.  No one achieves perfection at the moment of salvation or within a week of starting Bible study.

And yet, somehow we expect this of ourselves.  We step on the scale after a few days of exercising, blink our eyes in disappointment that we haven’t lost 50 pounds and dropped two dress sizes, and pack it all in.  Clearly, exercising to the point of not being able to walk isn’t working.

Then again, maybe you do drop off 5 pounds a day for a short time.  And then you plateau.  And the results don’t come as easily any more.  And you don’t think you’re making progress.

And you quit.

In our faith-walks, also, God is engaged in a life-long work of transforming us into His Son.  Sometimes we expect one week of consistent quiet times, one month of ministry, one Bible study session, or one afternoon of prayer to serve as the Bippity Boppity Boo of a fairy godmother, magically transforming us into princesses fit for a heavenly ball.

But there’s beauty in the imperfections that Christ perfects day by day.  There’s power in sharing our growth and progress with one another, in being vulnerable, open, and transparent about the mistakes we make and the God whose grace covers over them.

Lisa Harper wrote in Stumbling Into Grace:

“The older I get, the more convinced I am that admittedly flawed sinners are the most credible witnesses of Jesus, because people with scars can’t fake moral perfection.  It’s glaringly apparent we can’t save ourselves. . . .We prove how miraculous and restorative the love of God really is. . . . Please don’t listen to the enemy when he tries to convince you it’s time to wave a white flag.  To cry uncle.  To stop believing and talking about how good God is simply because you’ve made some bad mistakes.  Stand back up and keep walking in faith.  It’s okay if you’re a little wobbly”  (p. 189).

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus gave His perspective on how perfect we need to be: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (NIV).

Wow!  That’s daunting.  Overwhelming.  Discouraging even.

Yet, Stephen Arterburn wrote that the Greek word for perfect is teleos, which means, “the goal, the consummation, the final purpose toward which we are moving.”  It “carries the sense of ‘complete,’ ‘mature,’ or ‘being at the proper stage at the proper time.”  He says:

What matters to God is the journey, not just the arrival at the goal. God’s concern is not that we’ve arrived but that we continue to face and travel in the right direction.  For his grace both empowers our obedience and forgives our failures.

Jesus gave us freedom to be less than perfect, but still asked us to be involved in the perfecting process. Be on the path to maturity, He said.  Be at the right stage of development; don’t lag behind by becoming a spiritual couch potato.

Paul said it this way: “train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come …Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, 15, NIV). 

We are called to diligence and intense training in godliness, giving ourselves wholly over to maturing in Christ “so that everyone may see our progress.”

The point of our piecemeal progress and stumbling path to grace isn’t to show off our new look.  It’s to give glory to God.  It’s our testimony to others.  They look at us and marvel at the work God has done us and they seek God’s powerful involvement in their own lives as a result.  They want what we have.

We become the slim and toned chick on the exercise video who people want to look like.  They’ve seen the before and after pictures and think, “If God can do this in her life, think what He can do in mine!”

So, they’re willing to engage in some spiritual muscle-building, willing to walk around sore and stiff for a while, willing to skip out on what’s easy in order to do what’s hard—because they want God to transform them just as He transformed us.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

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