In all my years of coaching and training athletes for the challenges of competition, regardless of the sport, the most successful performers were the ones who were the most disciplined in their preparation.The ones who not only engaged in team practices with 100% effort but also followed a rigorous personal training schedule were far more prepared to meet and exceed the demands of competition.
The years have taught me that the same principle applies for the “spiritual athlete” as well.Those who put forth a disciplined effort in preparing for the game of life receive multiple rewards.
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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave . . . (1 Corinthians 9:24-26)
The only way to have any measure of success on the spiritual battlefield of life is to go into it prepared through the consistent practice of the spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible intake, weekly worship, service, generous giving, etc.
The apostle Paul exhorted his spiritual son Timothy to train himself in godliness and holiness (1 Timothy 4:7).In this context, the word “train” was borrowed by Paul from the realm of athletics.The word originally referred to the training and discipline of athletes for competition in the games of that day, but came to include both mental and moral training. Paul used it to set our minds on the need for consistent spiritual training.
To be sure, there is much for the committed Christian to do in pursuit of growing up into Christ, but it is never to be attempted in our own strength.We are as much dependent upon the Holy Spirit to guide, govern, and grow us in the area of sanctification as we were in the area of justification.Without grace, there simply is no race!But without a disciplined effort there is no race either.Jerry Bridges explained it this way in his book, The Discipline of Grace:
There are many instances in the Scriptures where the concepts of both dependence and responsibility appear in the same sentence or paragraph.For example, Psalm 127:1 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”The psalmist sees God so intimately involved in the building and watching. He does not say, “Unless the Lord helps the builders and the watchmen” but unless the Lord builds and watches.Yet it is obvious that the psalmist envisions the builders laboring to build the house and the watchmen standing guard over the city.The builders cannot put away their tools and go fishing and expect God to build the house.Neither can the watchmen retire to their beds and expect god to watch over the city.
In a word, when it comes to advancing in our walk with Christ we are to both “walk” and “pray” every step of the way.We work and God works and it is all of grace.Our next breath is a grace from God.Our next heartbeat is a grace from God.Yet we must be disciplined in how we use our breath and the beating of our heart in order to make progress in the Christian life.Make no mistake, the discipline I am speaking of here in the life of the believer is not a “work of the flesh,” as some imagine it to be.When the Bible tells us to train ourselves, it is not telling us to do it apart from the grace that God is working in our lives.
The apostle Paul never envisioned Timothy training through sheer willpower and “want-to,” but in fact he urged Timothy to be strong in the grace of God (2 Timothy 2:1).But he also never envisioned Timothy leaving it solely up to the Lord.He was to both trust in God and train himself, knowing that his disciplined effort would return multiple rewards.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!