Have you heard of HIIT? High Intensity Interval Training. This winter my workout partners and I have done some HIIT workouts. They’re really tiring. You exercise hard for 20 secs, take a 10 sec rest, and then exercise again, rest again, etc. We’ve done a variety of exercises and work/rest patterns, and every time we finish, I’m wiped out. Then at night, I’m sore.
So you might like to know that we did a HIIT workout at the beginning of my sermon this past Sunday! We did 8 rounds of 20 sec exercise and 10 rest. 4 minutes. It was great! I invited anyone from the congregation who wanted to come up front and do the workout. About ten people of all ages came up front, while one lady from our congregation who is a HIIT trainer led us in exercises. That 4 minutes is all it took for me to start sweating. When it was over, I tried to continue with the sermon, and I couldn’t catch my breath.
You do a 4 minute HIIT workout and then try to read the Bible out loud!!! It’s hard!!!
So why would I have our congregation do a HIIT workout in a worship service? Read the passage I was struggling to read, and see if you can find out. It is 1 Timothy 4:6-10.
In that passage Paul teaches Timothy to do two things: Stop and Start.
Stop anyone who is involved in telling false stories. Start training yourselves for godliness. The word “train” where we get our English word Gymnasium. It is the Greek word “Gymnadzo” and the scholars tells us that it means “to control oneself by thorough discipline…In a number of languages the equivalent of ‘to discipline oneself’ is literally ‘to make oneself obey.’ This may sometimes be expressed as ‘to command one’s heart.”
Before we look at explaining what spiritual discipline toward godliness is all about, look at what Paul says in verse 8. He says that bodily discipline does have value, but he describes it as some/little value. Godliness, though, has value for all things. It has promise, Paul says, for the present life and for the life to come. So physical training is good. But its value is of comparatively small value to spiritual training. Physical training benefits us for the here and now, whereas spiritual training benefits us here, now and for eternity.
Paul is saying that spiritual training, then, should be given more time and priority. How about you?
I spend a lot of time in physical training, and I do not look at my time spent running or working out as wasted time. Not one second of it. I think it is really important. The question I need to ask is whether or not I give spiritual training an ample amount of time.
Let’s talk about spiritual training, then. What does Paul mean in verse 7 when he says “train yourself to be godly”? To try to answer that, let me first ask you: What does it take to be physically fit?
If you ask me how to train to be physically fit, that is a pretty easy question to answer. Look at a show like The Biggest Loser, and they have it all worked out. It involves exercising, a trainer, and healthy eating. Then take those components and implement them consistently in your life. What happens? The pounds fall off your body, and your build muscle. Ailments start to fade. A person moves from sickness to health. I love that show. I love to see the transformation take place in people’s lives.
Probably because I personally experienced a bit of that myself.
You don’t have to get on The Biggest Loser to train yourself physically. There are tons of local gyms with trainers and there are training apps. For me it was Joe Yu. Joe was an LBC student and pastoral intern here at Faith Church back in 2008-2009. He also had a background in being an exercise trainer. He was regularly asking me to work out. I was in seminary then and never thought I had time. Then my wife Michelle also started saying I should work out. I knew I had gained weight over the years, but nothing out of control. Had some back problems.
One day after Thanksgiving 2009 Joe was at our house, and he and Michelle were both saying I should starting working out. I said “Ok, ok…but the only time I could meet is early in the morning.” Joe was a part-time security guard late at night, and I figured it wouldn’t work for him. So he shocked me when he said “Great! Let’s do it!” Joe is a very enthusiastic guy. So that next week, we met up at the gym at 5:30am. Joe brought one of his friends along, Matt, who was a professor at LBC and also very into training.
I’ll never forget that first day. And especially that first night. Those guys put me through a beginning training workout that morning. At night, I was SO sore. I woke up in pain, and then put muscle cream on. But I put too much cream on, and it stunk up the room. I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. Michelle couldn’t sleep because of the smell!
Little by little, though, through Joe and Matt training me, leading me, encouraging me, my weight came off. I started working out four times per week, and eating less, cutting out sugar. In about six months, I figure I lost 50 pounds.
The running started that spring when Brandon Hershey, Matt Marvin and I ran my first 5K, the Race Against Racism in the city. Now years later at Faith Church we have an informal running group that has completed 3 half marathons and 2 full marathons, and a slew of other events. We do quite a bit to help each other out. Accountability during training. Entering events to give us motivation to achieve a goal.
For me it was personal, and it was communal. I wasn’t shocked by any of the methodology it took to get fit. And I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what getting physically fit will entail. We might not do it, but we at least know how.
But what about training for godliness? How do we do that?
Spiritual disciplines such as reading the Bible, praying, deeply participating in a church family, are all wonderful steps to take. But I have to admit, those are all standard answers. Good answers, but they bring to my mind some questions:
Do you do these things on a regular basis? More time than you give to physical exercise? More time than you give to TV, phone, etc.
If you don’t do them, why?
And if you do them, have you found them to be helpful in training you to become more godly?
If not, what else do you need to do to train yourself to be godly?
Could it be that something more is needed? As I think about how I’ve experienced physical fitness, it has always been best accomplished with other people. Especially when I’ve had people training me, leading, me, helping me see the way forward, encouraging me, holding me accountable. So when it comes to your spiritual life, maybe you need a trainer? Spiritual Director.
When we have done marathons and half-marathons, we have done 18 or 12 week training programs. You run 4 or 5 times per week. And you follow the plan. You don’t want to get to race day unprepared. Race day is going to be hard enough. But if you don’t train, it might mean either the race will be super painful, or unfinishable. So we faithfully follow the training plan, and little by little it builds you up to run 26.2 miles.
But do we give anything close to that amount of time and energy to allowing a spiritual director to train us?
Keep that question in mind. If you know a trainer at the gym could help you get physically fit, then how much time have you spent with a spiritual trainer to get spiritual fit?
This makes me think again of discipleship. We all should be training ourselves to be godly. We don’t have to hire a professional spiritual director, though I suspect that for most of us hiring a spiritual director would be a good thing.
During my upcoming sabbatical one activity that I am going to seek out is a spiritual director. There is a Jesuit retreat center that offers spiritual direction retreats for 5, 7, and even 30 days.
And here in our church family we should also focus on discipleship relationships that emphasize helping one another train for godliness. Who is helping to train you for godliness? And then after you answer the question about who is training you for godliness, the next question to answer is “Who are you training for godliness?”
Paul will say to Timothy in his next letter, in 2 Timothy 2:2, “the things you’ve heard me say, teach other also, so they can teach.” Paul trained Timothy, and then he wanted Timothy to train others, so that others could train even more!
Have a trainer, be a trainer!
Go out and get a book that will coach you on how to train for godliness: Spiritual Discipline for the Christian Life – Donald Whitney. This is a book that is like a trainer.
I urge you to read that book, and then pick one spiritual discipline to work on this year. But don’t do it alone. Get a trainer to help you. Talk with someone who is better at this spiritual discipline and have them train you!
Next, who is your spiritual trainer?
Who are you training?
Have a trainer, be a trainer!