To This End We Toil And Strive
I felt my knees begin to buckle. I did not want to go down, not here, not now.
My lungs burned with fire. My voice hoarse with gasping breath. I imagined specks of spittle were trapped in my beard.
This is hopeless.
As I sank into the grass, buckled at the waist, I began to heave and groan, trying to keep back the inevitable revulsion my body was about to have to what I had been doing.
Then, for a moment, everything went black.
What am I doing here?
Two weeks earlier this had seemed such a great idea. A friend had invited me to join up to a high-intensity interval training team with him. We had had a number of conversations in recent times about our need to look after ourselves a little better, and model good stewardship of our health to our children and Christian community.
Where was that guy now? I want to punch him! The lack of carbohydrates in my system were making me irritable, and the pain arcing through my body was making me angry. There has to be another way.
No. Just pain. Just cravings. Just another rep. Just another station.
So I lay there for a moment, willing oxygen into my broken down, unfit, slightly larger than it was designed to be, body. Then, when I found strength to stand, I stood up next to my buddy, we looked at each other and nodded, and then went again.
That was 'Day One'.
I just trained again last night. Same stations. Same reps. Same pain. But this time, I didn't pass out. I didn't even come close to throwing up. It still hurts, and I've still got a ways to go, but the training is starting to pay off. I'm beginning to reap the benefits of the sweat I've sowed.
The good thing is, I no longer want to punch my buddy.
Training is hard work. Training hurts. Some days, its hard to remember why I’m doing this.
And though my physical training has been difficult, that's not the 'training' I'm thinking about right now. You see, through this experience, the Holy Spirit has being bringing to my remembrance another, more important principle:
1 Timothy 4:6-10 ESV — If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for 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. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
As important as my health is, as important as modelling healthy lifestyle is, as important as disciplining my body is, there is something far greater at stake.
For the last few weeks I've given significant effort to considering the nutrition my body requires. I've spent hours developing strength in my neglected body, and stamina to keep going when it hurts. If I hadn't, I'd still be lining up in my local fast-food drive-through, sitting on my couch, and wishing I was fitter and stronger.
I wonder, how does that relate to how we consider our spiritual training?
Paul writes to Timothy and says, "Rather train yourself for godliness; for 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 hope that I've set some great lifestyle changes that will bear fruit for years to come. But my physical effort, discipline, and training are all short lived. They'll die with me.
Yet if I discipline my life spiritually, if I take my godliness seriously, considering my spiritual diet, my spiritual disciplines, and spiritual stamina, those things reach beyond my earthly existence to impact eternity.
I need to toil and strive for something greater than falling numbers on the scales. When my life is weighed on the only scales that will truly matter, I want my life to count for something more than this present life can offer. My toiling and striving need to be directed toward the hope we have in a living God who has the power to save, not only my sinful life, but also the rebellion of the entire world. Not that we toil and strive to gain God's salvation, we toil and strive because we have God's salvation.
We are in His service.
What shape are we in?