Maybe it’s just me…but I think we are fooling ourselves.
After watching the Cleveland Indians blow another lead. I just could not stomach any more baseball for one night. So I started my nightly channel surfing routine… when I came across the NCAA Track and Field Division II Championships. I love to watch track and field. I sat there watching these fine tuned and highly trained athletes demonstrate their skills and abilities as they competed on the track.
I know it is hard for anyone to believe but I was a pretty good runner back in the day. The longer the distance the better I was. I have always wanted to run in a marathon. I would often imagine what it would be like to run in the NCAA or the Olympics.
As I sat there on my couch, I imagined for a moment that there is a knock on my door. I open the door only to find that standing on my doorstep is a delegation from the USA Olympic Committee. They inform me that they have had some serious discussions and the result is that they would like ME to be the representative for the marathon at the next Olympic Games.
Of course this is the very moment which I have been waiting for. Now is my chance to get into those brief marathon togs and show the world how good of a runner I am (was). But suddenly it dawns upon me that I have difficulty running to the refrigerator, let alone in a marathon! In fact, I couldn’t run a marathon even if I tried really hard! No matter how hard I would try…unless I had trained there would be no way I could accomplish the task.
When it comes to running a marathon, you must train, not merely try. If I went out tomorrow and tried to run an marathon…I might make it a few hundred yards before the paramedics would have to surround me, with shock paddles in hand to jump start my heart. I can almost hear them yell, “CLEAR!!!” I know for a fact that it would end in disaster.
Trying hard can accomplish only so much. So, if I am serious about grasping this chance of a lifetime, then I will have to enter into some serious training. I would have to rearrange my life around some practices that will enable me to do what I cannot do now, by willpower alone.
I laugh at myself for the ridiculous thought of me ever running 100 yards, let alone a marathon.
Then it hits me. I realize that the same principle applies to my spiritual walk as well. Simply trying is not enough. I have to train my mind and my heart to be more like Christ.
In fact, training is required for any significant challenge in life. We learn much more by Training than we do by Trying.
Which one are you? Are you trying to be more Christlike, or training to be more Christlike?
We even talk about the Christian faith sometimes as “trying to live like Jesus”! – but that’s not what the Christian faith is about at all. Its not all about us “trying” harder. Unless I have developed some of the skills and abilities in life which Jesus had, then try as hard as I may, I will still not be able to live like Him or respond to life’s challenges as He did! This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages his young protégé Timothy to “train yourself in godliness.”- He didn’t say “try to be godly”! Paul uses the familiar imagery of training for athletics when he writes to the Christians in Phillipi when he says how he is “striving to win the prize” – and how he is running straight towards the goal in order to win the prize. Inherent in this imagery is the strong understanding of the necessity for training.
So spiritual transformation is not a matter trying harder, but of training wisely. It’s a time to get serious about our spiritual training.
I believe Jesus was effective when tempted by the devil and overcame those temptations because he had spent the first thirty years of his life “training in godliness “. He didn’t just come out of nowhere – without any background of prayer, or learning of scripture, or communing with God, or fasting – he didn’t just arrive on the scene in the dessert without having spent time in spiritual formation – and then faced Satan head on, and overcame him – just like that! . I am sure there were many other lesser occasions when Jesus knew the power of Satan to tempt and to lead astray, but he had grown through those temptations.
I want to conclude with briefly pointing out just three reasons why Training in godliness is important.
1. To get the most out of life!
If I can be more like Christ – then I think there is a much greater chance that I will get along with people better, enjoy relationships with people more, find that life runs more smoothly than before. The apostle Paul writes that he “doesn’t want to put obstacles in anyone’s way, and so we show that we are God’s servants by patiently enduring troubles, hardships and difficulties.” ( 2Cor.6:3f)
Life isn’t always easy, and we need to learn how to patiently endure troubles, how to be kind, how to be joyful even when we don’t feel like it. If I can be more like Christ then living my life as an example to others, will be less of a challenge for me, because I will want the things which God wants for my life. If I can be more like Christ then mostly I should get along with my friends (and my family) better, handle my finances more sensibly and have better priorities for my life. Just as I get more out of myself physically when I train for a marathon, which I would never get by simply trying, – so I will get more out of my own life, spiritually, and my relationship with others and with Jesus Christ – when I train in godliness.
2. Training in godliness is important because it’s the only way we mature, or grow up into the likeness of Christ.
In Ephesians chapter 4 , the apostle Paul speaks about the church as the Body of Christ and how God gave each of us spiritual gifts which, when we diligently exercise them, and employ them – then the whole church is built up in maturity. We are given spiritual gifts, – in order for the church to benefit from them – we should also train well in their use.
3. Training in godliness is important because it pleases God.
This really, is a combination of the previous two.
Does God want us to grow spiritually– to be more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, more generous, more joyful– and all those other fruits of the spirit? I believe Yes!
And those things only happen, and those fruits of the spirit only grow when we employ the means that help them grow.
Jesus confronted people directly about the choice to become a follower. He came with the gracious announcement that it is now possible to live in the presence and under the reign of God.
It IS possible to live in such a way that when people see us they will say “I didn’t know a life could look like that?” It has happened for many who have followed Christ, and its really possible for us to experience that. This is the race for which we were born.
But we will not drift into such a life if we merely try…we must decide to enter into training.
We need to stop fooling ourselves and quit trying to be Christ-like and train to run the race He has called us to run.
I believe that today is the time to start.
But then again…maybe it’s just me.