“I can’t believe I let you talk me into doing this! I quit!” I screamed at my friend, Lisa, as I sat down on the side of the track and cried. A few months earlier, Lisa asked me if I’d like to run in a race with her. At the time it sounded like a good idea. But when I was unable to complete the race, I was angry and embarrassed and wanted to blame someone. Lisa, of course, had nothing to do with my failure. I failed to complete the race because I lacked the discipline to train properly.
The Scriptures often compare the Christian life to running a race. In 1 Cor. 9:24, 25, Paul writes, “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. 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.” And in Hebrews 12:1 we’re admonished to “...throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us nun with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Running around the track once a week wasn’t enough to train me adequately for the race I attempted to run with Lisa. And, going to church once a week and reading the Bible now and then won’t whip any of us into shape spiritually. To be strong in the Lord, we must exercise our muscles of faith. We must allow ourselves to be stretched if we want to increase our flexibility and usefulness to God. And, we must develop perseverance so we won’t quit when the going gets tough.
Spiritual disciplines are what give us the strength to run the race with gladness. They are what make us strong in the Lord. The disciplines I’m referring to include (among other things) prayer, fasting, scripture memory, meditation and stillness. They are referred to as disciplines because discipline is exactly what they require. Practicing the disciplines isn’t always easy, but I’m committed to them because they hold the key to crossing the finish line triumphantly.
Now that you’ve read about the importance of spiritual disciplines, you may be geared up and ready to run. But before you take off, take a moment to consider the following hints; they’ll help you avoid the most common pit-falls along the road to the finish line.
Every successful athlete has an effective training program which requires planning and discipline. In the same way, Christians who desire to run the race set before them with joy must plan to incor¬porate spiritual disci¬plines into their daily lives. If you don’t set goals and develop a plan to accomplish them, growing in godliness most likely won’t happen. Minimal plans include WHAT (e.g., pray systematically), WHEN (e.g., first thing in the morning), and HOW (e.g., write in prayer journal daily.) I’ve often heard the saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This is definitely true in the area of spiritual discipline.
We’ve all heard stories about great men and women of God who rise daily at 2:00 a.m. and pray non-stop for four hours. I met a guy like that once. I was so impressed by him I wanted to be just like him. So, I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. and went to bed with a deep sense of anticipation. I could hardly wait to meet the Lord the next morning! When the alarm went off, I quickly discovered that I’m not very spiritual at 2:00 in the morning! Nevertheless, I forced myself out of bed and began to pray. I prayed for what seemed like hours, but one glance at the clock told me I had only been praying for ten minutes. I felt like a complete failure that morning all because I couldn’t keep up with the guy at the head of the pack. I was trying to run a marathon when I didn’t even have enough spiritual strength to make it around the block. After that humbling experience, I set a more realistic goal of getting up fifteen minutes earlier than normal. As my spiritual appetite grew, I gradually increased the time I spent alone with God. Don’t try to keep up with the guy at the head of the pack. Start small, and be faithful, and God will increase your spiritual strength.
Guard against pride.
God dealt with me about this sin in my own life one day while I was reading through the book of 2 Chronicles. 2 Chron. 25:2 (KJV) says, “And he (King Amaziah) did what was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.” At the time I was doing all the right things, but my heart was full of pride. Remember the prideful Pharisees? They were extremely disciplined, but when they stood face to face with Jesus, they failed to recognize Him as the Son of God. Although spiritual disciplines can lead to godliness, discipline with wrong motives results in pride.
Make yourself accountable.
My spiritual life accelerated when I became involved in an accountability group. Meeting with friends who faithfully ask me, “What did you get from your quiet time this morning?” has helped me to be more consistent. And, when I fall down, those same friends are there to help me up. (Ecc. 4:10)
God asked Jeremiah, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 1 2:5) Apart from God, competing with horses is ludicrous. But, in order to show Himself strong, God calls us to do that which we could never do on our own. We must remember that we can “do everything through Him who gives us strength.” (Phil. 4:1 3) So lace up your Reeboks®, and head for the Kentucky Derby.