A Fit Faith

Dumbbell B&W

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 New International Version (NIV)

Flipping a 150 pound tractor tire fifty times in a workout was never a line item on my bucket list. Surprisingly, however, this feat hijacked the list, and I crossed it off with pride on my fiftieth birthday. Ha, who knew?! This girl does have strength, coordination, and endurance.

A year ago, I considered myself a fairly physically fit person, but certainly not someone people recognized from the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical and I was good to go. I was not concerned about my biceps or my core, and I had no idea what a TRX or a burpee was.

After a great deal of salesmanship, my husband convinced me that strength training would be good for me to try. Strength training exercises use resistance from things like dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, and even your own body weight to cause muscles to contract. Physical benefits include improved muscle strength, tone, mass, and endurance. Starting slow, I worked with a trainer to learn proper technique and combine new exercises.

Gradually, I noticed changes in strength, and other, more unexpected things too. I finally understood how to properly lift heavy objects with my legs, and not my back. More conscious of my posture, I found myself keeping my shoulders back and down. Flipping a huge tire fifty times became a possibility. My body continues learning to speak this challenging new language every week. Stronger and wiser, my muscles thank me for it by surprising me with what they can do.

In much the same way, I never considered writing a blog about applying Scripture to life. A far cry from a biblical scholar, I attended church randomly most of my life. A good person equals a “fairly fit” Christian, right? I was not concerned about my spiritual biceps or strengthening my core beliefs, and Bible study classes intimidated me.

When a health crisis hit our family, I found myself desperately wishing my muscles of faith were stronger. I longed for courage, for answers to serious questions, and for peace of mind. I scrutinized how fit my faith was. I could not honestly say I was dedicated to loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

Perhaps striving to love God that completely would guide me towards a more “fit faith”? Gradually, I am discovering and adding new spiritual exercises into the routines of my life. Some ideas to power up faith:

Learn about prayer and make it a daily practice. Max Lucado’s book, The Power of a Simple Prayer is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about how to talk to God. Prayer does not have to be a formal, scheduled event; it can take place throughout your day like other conversations.

Express gratitude every day. Just becoming aware of the many things to be thankful for can help us think more positively and ease worry. Use a notebook, an app, or an online journal to record blessings each day.

Seek to understand Scripture. Start understanding and applying Scripture by reading devotions, a life-application Bible, or Christian teaching books. Focus on one verse a day and see what you can learn from it.

Join a supportive network of people who also seek a stronger faith. Support can come in many ways such as attending church, discussing a faith inspired book together, using creative talents, or working on a team project for the community.

Be still. Carving out time to simply sit with a quiet mind can be a very difficult task. Taking this break, however, can rejuvenate us for the challenges we face. Solitude eases worries, brings clarity, and reveals inner strength through the Holy Spirit.

As I see it, improving faith fitness is very similar to improving physical fitness. Exercises should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs. A variety of exercises work best to challenge the mind, body, and spirit. Consistent practice is important for long term benefits. And, the results can inspire others.

Like training in the gym, stretching our faith helps us grow stronger and wiser in new ways. Asking God for help no longer seems like an insurmountable task. Blessings become more apparent than ever before, and we feel grateful to see them. Recognizing the needs of others and showing compassion takes precedence over fulfilling our own needs. And, seeking answers to common faith questions is no longer scary and isolating.

Developing a “fit faith” continues to be a work in progress for me. I do not have a formula to follow for success. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am in better shape now to handle the next downturn in life.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for being my patient trainer as I seek a “fit faith”. Guide me in conversation with you and help me understand how to apply your teachings to my life. Fill my heart with gratitude as I count my blessings each day. Remind me to be still in your holy presence and listen for your direction. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)

Romans 4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How fit is my faith? Are my spiritual muscles getting the workouts they need to sustain me through the ups and downs of life? What can I change in my faith routine to strengthen my love for God?

Joy > Happiness

Dancing in the rain

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” 1 Peter 1:8 New International Version (NIV)

Weary from a long car ride, my then nine-year-old daughter lumbered out of the minivan to stretch, while our dog, Dandy, relieved herself. Dandy stretched, wagged her tail, and rubbed against us for petting. Struck by our dog’s enthusiasm despite the long car ride, my child asked, “Why is Dandy always so joyful?”

Similar to my daughter’s observation of our dog, do you know someone who quickly brightens or calms the moods of others? These people readily provide a smile, reassurance, or even just a sense of peace. A quick judgement leads us to assume they do not experience hardships or burdens. But, in getting to know them, we learn this is not the case. Many joy-filled people are seemingly coping very well with difficult situations. My daughter asked me this “joyful question” over a decade ago, and it has stuck with me not only for it’s humor, but for it’s deeper pondering of what joy really is.

Lately, I have been reading the book Think, Act, Be Like Jesus by Randy Frazee. In his book, Frazee writes about what he sees as an interesting difference between happiness and joy. He describes happiness on a scale of high to low; how happy we are is dependent on the number of problems present in our lives. When problems arise, we become unhappy. When problems are solved, we become happier again. “Joy, however, is not dependent on circumstances, and, in fact, ironically, can become strongest when trouble comes”(Frazee 169). Frazee states that, “Joy has more to do with remaining in the presence of Jesus than with avoiding problems and struggles in our lives”(170).

Since reading this book, I’ve been trying to make sense of the difference between happiness and joy in my own life. For example, I am happier when the furnace works, when appointments run on time, and when my family is healthy. Getting some exercise, sleeping well, and eating nutritious food also brings fewer problems, thus making me happier.

Joy takes more work to define and achieve. Even in the midst of dire circumstances like job layoffs, divorce, and serious illnesses some people demonstrate a resolve not to be defeated. They may be experiencing unhappiness, but they remain content in the knowledge that they cannot control their circumstances. Learning how to be satisfied with the status of things by trusting God, brings a reassurance which is naturally passed along to others.

In thinking about this type of trust and reassurance, I am reminded of the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012. Many of us were in awe of the courage and forgiveness displayed by the families of the 20 children and six teachers and administrators killed.

Scarlett Lewis was one of the parents waiting with her older son, JT, at the firehouse where parents gathered for news about their children. In a Women’s Day article titled “‘I Forgave My Son’s Shooter,’” she writes about finding words of comfort for her older son, stating, “I prayed for the words to comfort him. Somehow, they came out: I told him that even if something had happened to Jesse—maybe even the worst and he had been killed—that he was in heaven and that he was fine now. I told him that we were going to be OK too” (Web. 11 December 2013).

Trusting God to help us find the right words and actions when we are hurting is difficult. How do we get to the place where our assurances of God’s promises shine through even when discouraging things are happening? The joy displayed in our character depends upon strengthening our relationship with Christ. Nurturing joy requires planting faith-filled habits, like prayer, into our daily lives, so that turning to God becomes a natural occurrence no matter what is happening.

The more at ease we become with including God in our lives, the more we start to notice the opportunities for joy God has placed in front of us. We find ourselves turning over more of our worry to him and trusting in his plan. We start seeing the good acts around us that work to alleviate the bad. And, we begin searching for ways to join these efforts by serving him.

Life’s hardships still come our way, but we will be more equipped to handle them if we proactively work on building faith-filled habits into our lives. The things in this life that really scare us will not derail the inner contentment we feel. This contentment or joy will be visible to others through a smile, kind words or actions, or simply by offering a calming presence. Those crossing our paths, then, in turn, may pause and wonder, “why so joyful?”

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the many blessings that bring me happiness. Help me as I work to develop faith-filled habits which nurture joy in my character. Teach me to watch for opportunities to build my trust in your plans for my life. Show me how to embrace even negative circumstances as a way to strengthen my faith, remain content, and lead others to you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” (NIV)

Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)

Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.” (NIV)

Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

Is there someone in your life that exudes joy even in difficult circumstances? Have you ever wondered how their mind-set of faith might bring about such joy? Can you prayerfully begin to model joy for others?