I hate to exercise. One look at me reveals this. I’m not the most toned person out there. I’d much rather go to the Cheesecake Factory with friends or drag my husband to the latest romantic comedy. Not to mention, I’m mom to a 5-year-old, 3-year-old, and a still nursing 10-month-old who make it even harder to find the time to workout.
The main thing I dislike about exercise — besides the physical exertion part — is the lack of instantaneous results. I like things to happen right away. I want to work out, step on the scale, and have lost five pounds. I don’t like waiting for change.
This is paralleled in my spiritual life.
It’s difficult for me to set up a course of action to draw closer to God because I don’t see miraculous results. There are individuals who have life-altering experiences with God when they commit their life to Him — I’m not one of those people.
I grew up in the church and “got saved” when I was 5-years-old. I’ve never had a point from which I could say, “Then I became different.” My walk with God has been gradual and incremental.
Plus, I’ve done fine for years without a definite plan. I’m a Bible college graduate. I’ve been on mission trips, volunteer at my church, and attend bible studies. What more is needed?
Jesus instructs me in Mark to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The truth is that what college I graduated from or how many hours I spend at church each week aren’t necessarily indicators that I love God with all of my strength. It is impossible to follow the command to love God with all of my strength if I don’t have a plan to cultivate and develop the talents and abilities He’s given me.
How much more of an impact would I make if I focused on the talents He’s provided me with? What else could He be doing through me if I was intent on developing my gifts and abilities, seeking ways to use them? I’ll never really know until I take the steps to discover my strengths and make a plan to develop them.
Paul exhorts me to be like an athlete and create a spiritual exercise plan. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 and 27, he says, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable … I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” He goes on in chapter 10 to speak about the importance of being aware of the temptations that surround me and being careful not to fall. If I create ways to strengthen myself I’ll be less likely to fall prey to the temptations he mentions.
So what does this look like? How do I become more intentional and focused on improving the strengths and gifts God has given me? I have three steps in my spiritual exercise plan.
Discover my strengths. I am an assessment test addict. I love to learn why I do what I do. There are many online tests that will tell me, whether free or for a fee, what my areas of strength are. The important thing to remember when taking one of these tests is to find out how reputable it is. Facebook quizzes don’t count. I think it’s a good idea to take more than one because through multiple tests I’ve seen a pattern in the information provided. I also take the results I come away with and pray over them, asking people close to me to confirm them.
Develop my strengths. I’m a planner. When I have steps to follow I am more confident I’ll see greater results. One of the strengths I discovered in my testing was communication. So how do I further develop my strength of communication? One way is through journaling and scheduling quiet time to myself. In journaling, I strengthen my communication by clarifying my thoughts and feelings on paper. I’m also aware of opportunities to speak and teach at my church, whether this is in a small group setting or in front of the main congregation. Each is beneficial in its own way.
Use my strengths. It’s one thing to say, “This is my strength and I’m working on getting better at it.” It’s another to say, “God, You’ve given me this strength, what can I do for You with it?” In the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, the servants who used what they’d been given to gain more were praised. The one who took his talent and hid it was punished. God doesn’t provide me with gifts and abilities for my own pleasure or glory, it is to fulfill the specific purpose that He has for my life. So the last step in the spiritual exercise plan is to use the muscle I’m developing to a purpose.
As a Christian I’ve committed to follow the commands of Jesus — the greatest of which are to love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. In loving God with all my strength I need to create a plan that focuses on my talents and abilities and develops them to their utmost potential.
Maybe next I’ll work on an exercise plan for my physical body.
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Ashleigh Slater, Founder & Managing Editor
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-- Darlene Schacht, author of Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages and co-author of Reshaping it All: Motivation for Spiritual and Physical Fitness
"Real life is not always pleasant. Every marriage experiences disappointments, misunderstandings, sickness and financial crisis. Ashleigh doesn’t camouflage the pain in her own marriage, and offers practical ideas on how to walk through the difficulties and find intimacy on the journey. If you are anything like me, I predict that as you read, you too will find yourself laughing, wiping tears, and saying 'Oh, yes.'"
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