Faith as a Muscle

As Christians, there are times in our lives when our faith just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. It’s simply not growing. We feel Flat. We go to church every week, go through the motions, and wonder why life doesn’t seem to ever change, God doesn’t seem to get any more real, and our faith stays the same dimensions as it always has.I felt like that, for a long time. It was awful. I began to question why I even believed the things I did. Then, I was privileged to become part of a Church community that helped me discover what it truly means to grow with the Lord. And it all has something to do with Benchpress.

Since early 2007 I’ve been attending the local gym in order to get stronger. I’ve had various fitness goals over the years, and this year I wanted to see whether I could build an ‘all-round’ physique that would help me play a range of sports. To my great surprise, in the last 11 months of attending the gym my biggest gains have not been physical, but spiritual. The lessons I learned at the gym seemed to translate perfectly to my faith. Let me explain.

I think that Faith is like a muscle. Muscle’s have two key attributes I would like to draw on. The first attribute is ‘adaptation’. The second attribute is ‘atrophy’.

‘Adaptation’ is the phenomenon whereby your muscles get stronger by meeting resistance. This is key. Without sufficient resistance, your muscles never grow stronger. You want to be stronger? Increase the resistance, or stress, or ‘challenge’, to your muscles. The result? Your muscles actually tear a little and are damaged by the overload. Over the coming days and nights, the muscles repair thems and adapt to the new strain by getting stronger.

Atrophy is pretty much the opposite concept. If you neglect to use a muscle, it will wither away. The most extreme cases are in situations where an individual will suffer and accident of illness where they lose the use of their limbs. In such cases, the muscles in the limbs wither away.. the body no longer needs them. We can see the same effect on a smaller scale in people who don’t do any exercise at all. Their muscles sag and wither away.

What has this got to do with faith? A lot. When I began attending Blueprint church, my faith was stagnant and flat. I had a faith, but I’d never applied it. I hadn’t truly followed Jesus’ warning in Luke 6:49. Notice how Jesus stressed not just belief in, but application of His teachings as essential for a strong faith that would stand the test of time. I had been applying the teachings that benefited me, but neglecting those concerning servanthood and self-sacrifice. Mine had been a self-centred and self-interested spirituality.

The change came when I started serving at Church, mostly in outreach and community service capacities. It was just a little at first, here and there, but it grew. I began to befriend the homeless. I did menial labour at Church, in the background where no-one could see me. I started a program to teach unemployed youth hospitality skills, and before long I was running it a few days a week. Suddenly, my faith muscle began to meet challenge, levels of resistance it hadn’t encountered before. I encountered a vast array of new and uncomfortable situations, and in the process I had to learn to draw close to God and lean on Him more. In ‘doing’, not just ‘believing’, a kind of sacrament happened. In working alongside the poor, and the poor in spirit, I caught a glimpse of God and His heart for them. I was stretched, I was truly challenged, and as a result my faith grew stronger, more vibrant, and more relevant than ever before. My faith ‘tore’ a little in the weak places, but with adequate rest and nutrition (prayer, seeking God, support from other Christians, and of course much needed time-out!) I was be able to reflect enough on why this had happened, and somewhere in the process God would meet me, reveal more of Himself, and I would become stronger, ready for the next challenge.

Looking around me today, I see countless Christians who feel stagnant and apathetic in their faith. I think the culprit is more often than not a kind of Spiritual Atrophy. My prayer for these is that they would begin to take steps outside of their current comfort zone, to pick up their cross, and in the blood, sweat and tears that follow, find a new kind of life and intimacy with God. I know I have, and it is the most worthwhile thing I have ever done.

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~ by humblemonkey on November 29, 2007.

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