“We must run and do now what will benefit us forever.”
Rule of St. Benedict, Personal Translation
(Lonni Collins Pratt, Father Daniel Homan, Benedict’s Way)
7Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
(I Timothy 4.7-8, ESV)
The King James Version reads “exercise thyself … unto godliness” for the English Standard Version’s “train yourself for godliness” (v. 7). The English Standard Version’s “bodily training” is “bodily exercise” in the King James Version.
The Greek term Paul uses for “exercise” or “train” is gumnaze, from which derives “gymnasium.” The Greek word for “bodily training” is gumnasia.
What motivates us to engage in spiritual exercise? The result, “godliness,” is “of value in every way.” Likewise, such exercise has positive ramifications for now and after our passing on.
Okay, have you noticed the increased advertisements about the physical body? Do you want more firm albs? Tighter buttocks? Do you want to be trimmer? Maybe you want to get your hair back? Do you want to look slimmer? Look younger? Look better? Look more muscular? Have whiter, brighter teeth? Do you ever hear through the media, “Would you like to live a more wholesome, unselfish, and harmless life?" Or, how many advertisers would dare mention the profitability of living a godly life? Sadly, the larger society, and more sadly our young children, are being baptized into a culture driven largely, not by love, joy, and peace, but an ethos defined as materialistically sensual.
Media offers a consistent influx of this one message: What most matters, I guarantee you, is what your body looks like to others? Contrast that message with the message of Christian Spiritual Formation, derived principally from the Gospels, the remaining New Testament books, and the early Church.
Dallas Willard observes how spiritual exercise was considered normal in the early Church: “So, wherever early Christians looked they saw examples and practice of solitude, fasting, prayer, private study, communal study, worship, and sacrificial service and giving…” (The Spirit of the Disciplines).
Where are we of the Church, really, when speaking of spiritual disciplines is considered something out of the ordinary and persons can remain “faithful church members” with little or no evidence of being spiritually disciplined, in any way? Indeed, "faithful church member" seems to mean, according to most Christians, "someone who attends our church regularly." Then, we wonder why so many of the churches are declining and many outside the churches have no attraction to a “soft and flabby” religiousness?
Spiritual exercise is the practice of time-honored spiritual disciplines, not just to prepare us to live after this life, but to live, and live well, this life. As Willard remarks: “But grace does not mean that sufficient strength and insight will be automatically ‘infused’ into our being in the moment of need.” Rather, “a baseball player who expects to excel in the game without adequate exercise of his body is no more ridiculous than the Christian who hopes to be able to act in the manner of Christ when put to the test without the appropriate exercise in godly living.”
The re-emergence of Christian spirituality, individually and collectively, must be joined with the renewal of an emphasis on spiritual gumnasia. This renewal will not only benefit the entire Church and its witness to those who have lost all trust in the pertinence of the Church and Christians' commitment to the One they claim to follow; the gumnasia will prepare us to be prepared to face the challenges of life in love, joy, and peace. And, in being exercised to live such a life, that life of love, joy, and peace will be a far greater witness to the applicability of the Gospel than all the efforts that can be mustered by churches trying to save “their” churches by more evangelistic programs and church growth strategies.
1. When you hear “spiritual disciplines,” what do you think of? Feel?
2. What daily spiritual exercises enable you to grow in your life with Christ?
3. What spiritual exercises does your church encourage persons to engage in?
4. What is one spiritual discipline that you would like to explore?
5. What one spiritual discipline has helped you the most in your Christian walk?
God, thank you for loving me with a most tender and dear Love. Enlarge my heart and mind until I contain all of you, as even now you embrace all of me.
*Brian K. Wilcox
OneLife Ministries is a pastoral outreach and nurture ministry of the First United Methodist Church, Fort Meade, FL. For Spiritual Direction, Pastoral Counseling, spiritual formation workshops, Christian meditation retreats, or more information about OneLife, write Rev. Dr. Brian K. Wilcox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian's book of mystical love poetry, An Ache for Union, can be ordered through major bookdealers.
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