At a mere five years of age, the idea is already firmly planted in his mind: big muscles are cool. Not only is he convinced that big muscles are cool, but he is also sure that he wants them.
Determined to get them, actually.
He studies intently the way his elder brother attempts a push-up, and notes the corrections his father suggests to straighten the arched, unstable form. He stretches out his own frame to its full potential and assumes his best “flat as a board” position.
And then the push-ups begin.
He stands up, mildly winded, and checks his progress with a lift of his sleeve.
Dissatisfied, down he goes again.
Again he rises to an upright position and squeezes his hand into a fist to scrutinize his tiny little — [ahem] — budding bicep. I conceal a smile, knowing full well that I could touch the tips of my thumb and forefinger together around the circumference of his upper arm. But instead I gasp in amazement as he asks me to feel the bulk of his new-found friend. My praise encourages him to try harder.
Standing at attention once more, he fully expects to see a visible change in the size of his bicep from the last time he checked (all of twenty seconds ago).
I smile again as I mentally compare his desire for immediate results with my own desires for my Christian faith.
Often, I get frustrated with the slowness of my progress in my journey toward holiness. I long for my sanctification to speed up, so I might see a noticeable change with every sunrise. Instead, it feels as though entire seasons change before I can put my finger on any tangible growth.
Like my son, I want my spiritual biceps to spring up overnight. But I have to do the push-ups.
Don’t get me wrong … God could make me holy overnight. He could even give my kid bulging muscles in a heartbeat if He wanted to. But generally speaking, we don’t wake up in the morning with massive spiritual muscles because of a deep slumber.
There are steps we can take to build those muscles, to strengthen our faith, to become more fit for the kingdom of God. But we can’t do it on our own.
I like what Tim Chester writes in his book, You Can Change:
Here are seven things that reinforce faith. Sometimes people call them “spiritual disciplines.” But I believe this is unhelpful terminology. It can make Christian growth seem like an achievement on our part. In reality, it’s God who changes us through his grace. The only true spiritual disciplines in the Christian life are faith and repentance. So instead I prefer the traditional term: “the means of grace.” These are ways in which God is gracious to us and by which he strengthens his work of grace in our hearts. They are the means God uses to feed our faith in him.
And he goes on to list and unpack the seven means of grace, namely: the Bible, prayer, community, worship, service, suffering and hope.
By tapping into these seven resources and leaning wholly on the grace of God in each one of them, the Lord will be faithful to build those muscles of faith and godliness we so deeply desire as His children.
As Paul says to Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise both for the present life and for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).
May we take these words to heart and ask the Lord to do a mighty work in each one of us as we do our push-ups for Him.