Over the last year I have begun to add weight-lifting to my regular exercise routine and in the process have recognised that there are valuable life lessons to be learned from physical strength building.
God created us as whole human beings with spiritual, mental, emotional and physical aspects to who we are. All of these parts are not separate but related and affect each other. Therefore things we learn in one area can often be applied to other areas too.
What is true about how we approach our physical health and well-being is also true of how we approach work, relationships and spiritual life.
The first important lesson we can learn from lifting weights is that we must accept that pain is necessary for growth in strength.
No pain, no gain
When you lift weights you know that you are challenging your body's ability to bear weight, pressure and pain. You know that it is not going to be easy, comfortable or nice.
There are no illusions about what is required to grow your muscles and increase your physical strength. It is not possible to have any pretense here and expect to endure for long without giving up. You must develop an attitude that pressure is necessary but ultimately beneficial.
Likewise in life there are two ways we can approach difficulty. We can accept the reality of it or we can wish it wasn't this way and live in denial of reality. The fact is life is tough, it is rough and often nasty and painful. Most of us experience this reality sooner or later. Praying for life to be easier and for there to be fewer trials is not based in reality.
Life is a fight. It is always has and always will be a fight. That is not going to change while we dwell in a world at war. Life is a fight to overcome our weaknesses and to pursue God in spite of the challenges to our faith.
Our modern society's values and comfort and ease often don't help us in our pursuit of growth and strength in life. I have come to realize that we must reject the distorted thinking of victim-hood culture and consumerism that is so prevalent today. The future of the West is becoming increasingly uncertain and the comfortable lifestyle we take for granted may not always be here.
Training for hardship is beneficial
There are many reasons that people choose to lift weights. They may want to have strength to be better at a sport or a physically demanding job. They may want to live a more active life and have greater capacity and energy or simply to gain a sense of achievement and mastery.
Either way, once someone accepts that difficulty and pain is an unavoidable fact of weight-lifting and life in general they can deliberately move towards it in order that they are more prepared for it in the future.
We can train for hardship and difficulty by working on developing mental, spiritual, physical and emotional toughness though active exercise and challenging ourselves to reach our full potential. There is danger in being comfortable for too long. We may become lazy and may be lured in to a false sense of security.
Over time as you continue to regularly lift weights your capacity increases. You build physical strength and muscles by pushing through pressure and resistance. God wants to toughen us up because in this life we need to be strong. And we don't reach our full potential when we shy away from adversity or complain about it rather than choosing to cultivate a positive attitude in the midst of it.
We should not pray so much for a lighter load in life, but rather pray for a stronger back that can better carry life's inevitable challenges.
Don’t let our weaknesses define us
And to do this we of course need plenty of grace from God. There is definitely effort involved in the spiritual life but that effort must be realised in the context of what Jesus says in Matthew chapter 11 verse 28: 'Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest... My yoke is easy and my burden is light'. Christianity is not about striving in the flesh but drawing on the supernatural presence and power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
God understands our weaknesses, knowing we will never completely overcome them in this life. There are plenty of places in the Bible where God's people express their feelings of weakness and powerlessness in the midst of life's difficulties and trials. The Psalms, for instance, are full of examples of godly people expressing their feelings of doubt, fear and weakness. Yet God's strength is made perfect in weakness.
We should not celebrate or glorify weakness but find a way of overcoming weakness through leaning on God's power and grace. By the grace of God we can overcome and live victoriously in Christ. Lifting weights, as well as strengthening me physically, has encouraged me in my approach to life with God.
Conor is from Adelaide South Australia. He gardens and mows lawns for a living and is involved in several ministries. He loves God, music, reading and thinking deeply about philosophy and current events in the world.
Conor Ryan’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/conor-ryan.html