- Your diet matters a lot in spiritual fitness just like it does in physical fitness. Not all spiritual food is created equal and if you are trying to get in great shape a variety of highly nutritious substances is ideal. For example, the Bible is of the highest varieties of nutrition content, but if you only read one book of the Bible for example you will not be as nourished as if you get a variety and read many of its books.
Starting with the New Testament is a great idea, but don’t limit yourself to just that. Devotional books with one verse and a paragraph of text are a great addition to a diet, but if you eat only that your spiritual health and knowledge will be limited. There are other ways to feed yourself which include prayer, thanksgiving, and worship (“Singing and making music in your heart to the Lord” Eph 5:19b, as well as Col 3:16b), as well as hearing the Word of God preached and hearing other believers testify to what God has done in their lives. Reading literature by Christians (books, blogs, magazine articles, devotionals, Christian non-fiction, Christian fiction) definitely has nutritional benefit but shouldn’t be all you have in your diet. Nothing takes the place of reading/listening to God’s Word for yourself.
I recommend the “high protein green leafy vegetable” of confessing scripture out-loud with your own mouth. This has had high nutritional benefit in my own life. I used to really rely on it when I was a waitress last year to help set apart my mouth for good for the day when I was struggling with complaining to co-workers and having other negativity come out sometimes before I could catch myself. It really helped me improve in those areas over time, I felt like I had more control over my mouth after I started the day repeating scripture out loud as compared to the days when I did not start my day that way. I listened to a scripture CD on my car stereo on the way to work every day and tried to speak it out loud after it the best I could. Now if I am going be interacting with other people (vs just at home) I try to start my day with repeating some verses out loud from biblegateway.com on my phone quietly to myself as I take my morning walk. I don’t know why it makes such a difference for me as compared to reading the Bible silently but it does. Also consider singing along out loud to spirit-influenced songs when alone (even some “secular” songs, all true truth is God’s truth!).
I don’t always feel like “eating” some things spiritually but I know if I don’t my ministry here will suffer. Please comment below about what types of spiritual veggies, fruits, proteins, grains, supplements etc have really helped your spiritual diet.
- Just like physical fitness, sometimes it can take months or years to develop certain areas of spiritual fitness. At my gym I noticed after about a month that the amount of weight I was lifting seemed lighter and I was able to start lifting a heavier amount. I received one physical training session and the physical trainer told me that after about a year of working out my body fat vs muscle percentage would be higher. This is something that thin people cannot achieve without working out. He said I would feel better than I ever have before in my life.
Why do we treat our spiritual lives so differently? A pastor once told me, in commenting on the passage about when Jesus drove out a demon and said “this one only comes out with fasting and prayer” (as to why the disciples could not drive it out – Mark 9:29), that Jesus was “fasted up, and prayed up”. Christians often talk about “having enough faith” as they pray for something etc. Well, what type of faith have you been showing every other day of the week? Why do we think that our faith in the moment is the only factor?
Jesus is very gracious and isn’t harsh with us, but think about how things look when you are observed by others besides Jesus. Have you ever heard of the concept of moral authority? Andy Stanley describes this as walking the walk and talking the talk. If you are a manager and your employees see you being inconsistent in major areas, no matter how well you may act in one moment if they notice you know you do the opposite thing later your moral inconsistency ruins your credibility in that area with those employees. Even if they do not see you, it still matters in God’s book if we are not talking the talk and walking the walk. He loves us no matter what, but there can be a loss of spiritual authority.
We need to take times to relax. I just saw this mug design by Joyce Myers Ministries that I love – it said “Good morning this is God! I will be handling all your problems today, I will not need your help – have a good day! I love you” That is totally true, God can handle our problems. We don’t need to get in spiritual shape to talk to God, or to have our problems handled. God has got that – he has us in his hands. We can lay back and relax and get well and drink chicken soup and rest up!
However, after we get well, are feeling better, and notice that God has all our problems handled, our conscience may start to twitch. We may start thinking about all the ways the world is not the way it should be, other people are hurting, bad things are happening, people all around us don’t know Jesus (and throwing apologetics haphazardly at people doesn’t count!), and realize this life is the only chance we have to make an impact for eternity. Because of this, we may start to desire to get better at fighting in the spiritual battle. That is when you move on to pursuing what I am talking about.
Once you are well and feeling better, you need to get in shape to advance in any battle, whether spiritual or physical. Do what you need to do. If you can’t pray without falling asleep in the morning bundle up and take a quick walk around the block to keep you awake while you talk to God, he loves to hear from you and it builds you up spiritually. Skip a meal now and then as a fast only between you and God. Show faith in the way that you talk to people (do you complain a lot?) and the way that you think (God’s got it covered vs worry) and the way you make decisions (no need to panic!). Be ready to do things for God, that is what I believe it means when it says “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15).
If you are unfamiliar with the Bible passage on our spiritual armor you can read about it in Ephesians 6:10-18. You have armor but are you able to use it? Is it strapped on well? That shield of faith can seem heavy sometimes but it is much better if you are used to carrying it around. Having a good defense is all well and good, and sometimes we are called to just be on the defensive line, but we need to be able to carry that shield in one hand, have our other armor on securely and be able to move forward in it, while having the other hand used to handling that sword of the spirit if we are going to advance in enemy territory.
Realize that it might take a year or maybe longer of consistently eating well and getting spiritual exercise till you really notice a difference in your spiritual strength – don’t give up! That is how you know it is for real and not just an artificial high or look due to steroids or whatever.
- It is good to have “aerobic exercise” as well as “anaerobic” exercise in addition to that good diet. Aerobic exercise involves the heart. Here are some ways you can exercise your heart spiritually:
Courage: stepping out in faith and love even when it is uncomfortable, hard, or inconvenient.
Ways you can exercise and develop this quality – praying throughout your day by asking God what you should do in every little situation (at the gas station, at the grocery store, at a party, on your night off, at church, at work) and being willing to follow his prompting even if it is uncomfortable for you and/or involves sacrifice. (Remember to be wise!!! And only do this when you are stable and thinking rationally; and don’t do anything bizarre!)
Compassion: sympathetic concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. Ways you can exercise this – grieving for someone or for people enduring injustice, pouring out prayers for people and/or people groups oversees and in your own country, listening to someone in their pain, going somewhere and holding babies or playing with children, serving at a homeless shelter, making care packages, going to a senior center, visiting people in the hospital…all those things are good exercise for our hearts and are ways of developing the muscles of compassion. We also can walk around each day with an open heart to bless the people around us including people in the grocery store, at the gas station, etc. and try to see them through God’s eyes – beyond their behavior and into their true selves.
Service: serving others – offering to do more than what is expected, washing the dishes so the host can spend time with others, helping put chairs away after small group, making a meal for someone, helping with a church event, helping your neighbors move furniture, etc.
Blessing God: Doing things for God as an act of love towards him. He is blessed when we show love to him, sing for him, talk to him throughout the day, clear out an afternoon to spend with him, listen well, treasure his Word, secretly skip one meal as a fast for him, give as an act of love to him, show that we prefer his company, talk to him more than what we feel like we “have to/ought to”.
Testifying: Speaking/sharing truth, sharing your story and what the Lord has done for you, giving encouragement, etc.
- Finally, to keep good health you need to take care of yourself! Obviously if you are smoking five packs of cigarettes a day you won’t be in good health. Similarly with things that are dangerous spiritually.
Things called the “spiritual disciplines” help us in getting spiritually fit. There are many books and web pages about that (too long of a list for me to cover in this post). If you are looking up the spiritually disciplines online just realize most websites do not have a complete list so its better to look at multiple sites. This whole process can also be called spiritual formation.