It has been a time of major transition in my life. Back in July, I retired from my church in Mankato, MN after 31 years of ministry. It was the right thing to do, but it disrupted my life in many ways. The biggest thing that my retirement did was it shattered my routine.
The entire month of August was a time of change and transition. The normal routine that I had enjoyed for so many years had disappeared. Then, at the beginning of September, we transitioned into a new ministry in North Dakota. As the interim pastor of the church, my role is different than it had been in Mankato. There is less definition and structure than I was used to having. I have struggled to discover a new routine that fits the expectations and responsibilities of my new role.
During this time of transition one of the things that has suffered is my weight. For a variety of reasons, my weight, which had been stable for many years, has climbed and I don’t like it. The lack of a stable routine has been a contributing factor, but not the only factor in play. One of the things that was sacrificed during this time of transition was my exercise routine. Although I tried to maintain some form of regular, physical activity, it is obvious that I have fallen behind. Couple this with too many late-night snacks and you can get the picture.
During my devotions, the thought came to me that losing weight and spiritual growth have some profound similarities. Both take discipline and routine. There are at least three connecting points between losing weight and spiritual growth.
In order to lose weight, a person must watch what they eat. I love to eat. It is one of my favorite things to do. I enjoy going out to a restaurant for dinner. I enjoy meeting a friend for coffee. I delight in munching on snacks while I watch a football game. All of these things work against my goal to lose weight. If I am going to be successful, I must discipline my eating. I need to be sure that I am eating the right foods. I need to monitor how much food I eat and when. And I have to learn to say no at times.
Our spiritual growth is contingent upon what we consume. Just as there is physical junk food, so there is spiritual junk food as well. Spiritual junk food satisfies an immediate desire but actually makes us spiritually lethargic. If we are going to grow spiritually we need to be careful about what we take into our minds and hearts. We need to feed regularly on God’s word. If we are not spending time regularly in the Bible, we will soon become spiritually malnourished. We can supplement our intake from the Bible with uplifting materials in the form of books, movies, music, podcasts, sermons, and the like. The more that we consume the right kinds of spiritual food the stronger we will become.
In order to lose weight, a person needs regular exercise. Managing our diet is not enough to shed those unwanted pounds. We need to burn them away with physical exercise. For me, this comes in the form of running, but there are many ways that a person can exercise. For exercise to be effective it needs to push us. We can fool ourselves by engaging in forms of exercise that really don’t accomplish much. Walking to the end of the block and back twice a week might allow you to check the exercise box on your to-do list, but it won’t help you lose weight. We have to be ready to push our bodies to the level where our bodies are forced to use up some of the energy we have stored in the form of fat.
In a similar way, if we want to grow spiritually, we need to engage in some genuine spiritual exercise. This entails taking what we have been learning from the Bible and putting it into action. If the totality of our spiritual exercise is showing up for an hour worship service on Sunday morning, we will not make much progress. There are many ways we can exercise our spiritual muscles every day. It begins with the way that we treat those people around us. The more that we demonstrate a Christ-like character in our everyday world, the more we will grow. Beyond this we can exercise our spiritual muscles through serving others. Start a small group Bible study. Adopt an elderly person in your neighborhood. Mentor a child. Go on a mission trip. Teach a Sunday School class. Volunteer at the food shelf. Get off the spiritual couch and get involved.
Above all, in order for a person to lose weight, they need to be consistent. The reason why most diets fail is because people fail to be consistent. As I have learned firsthand, when a person is inconsistent with their eating and exercise habits, they begin to lose the battle with their weight. A person may be able to coast for a short time, but sooner or later their lack of consistency will catch up with them.
Consistency is one of the keys to spiritual growth. There really is never a time when we can just coast spiritually. We are either moving forward or slipping back. Establishing a healthy spiritual routine and sticking with it is essential to our spiritual growth. Just as we need regular food and exercise to remain physically healthy, so we need regular spiritual food and exercise to remain spiritually healthy. At first, establishing a healthy routine seems daunting, but once you settle into a spiritual rhythm it becomes much easier.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.