Until this past year I had never joined a gym. In fact, I was kind of anti-gyms. There was something about going to a place with a bunch of equipment and doing stuff to try to make your body look a certain way that seemed very unnatural and weird to me. In a way it still does. But I found that my day to day work involves a lot of sitting still when I am writing, praying, and talking with people on the phone. I wanted to find ways of being more active during the day. So I decided to try joining a gym that offered a lot of options for classes. While I can't say I've found the fitness activity that makes me feel as inspired to work out as some of my friends do, I have surprised myself by enjoying lifting weights, learning a few Zumba routines, and bouncing on a trampoline in a class called "urban rebounding" (not sure exactly what is urban about it yet). It does feel good to be active.
But recently my eye fell on a verse in the J.B. Phillips translation of the New Testament that made me stop and think. It said: "Take time and trouble to keep yourself spiritually fit. Bodily fitness has a limited value, but spiritual fitness is of unlimited value, for it holds promise both for this present life and for the life to come" (I Timothy 4:8). I had already been thinking that I should guard against becoming obsessive about physical fitness, but this message really put things into perspective. It's easy to get carried away with thoughts about how our bodies look and feel and efforts to make them look and feel better. I'm searching for that balance of physical activity and spiritual stillness, both of which have their place. But this verse clearly states that spiritual fitness is of higher value than physical fitness and therefore should not be neglected. In fact, it should be a higher priority.
This past month there has been a challenge at the gym to go to 30 classes in 30 days. There are prizes involved, and I like a challenge, so I'm going for it. This means I've been at the gym almost every day, doubling up on classes a couple times to make up for a few days when I would be away. I had to ask myself, "Am I as conscious about 'working out' spiritually as physically?" And also, "What does it even really mean to be spiritually fit?"
Thinking about the phrase "working out" reminded me of another Bible verse, Philippians 2:12, where it says that we are to "work out" our own salvation. To know what that means, I guess we would have to know what salvation is. In a glossary in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines it this way: "Life, Truth, and Love understood and demonstrated as supreme over all; sin, sickness, and death destroyed" (p. 593). To me salvation is simply complete freedom from anything unlike God. It's a lofty goal, but truly it is a free gift to each of us through Christ. In order to experience it, though, we have to work it out.
This past Sunday evening I was a guest at a youth group at a Methodist church. The youth were discussing their faith struggles openly and honestly, which was an honor to witness. One of the group leaders posed this question to the minister as well as to me: "Is salvation a process or a point in time?" The minister's answer was simply, "Yes." Nice one, pastor! I said that the idea of it being a process resonated more with me. I don't think there is an automatic moment when we suddenly demonstrate our freedom from sin all at once in this human experience. Yet I do believe we have the capacity to do this. Likewise, while we may not be able to lift a tremendous weight or run a marathon tomorrow, we can work toward those fitness goals day by day. Working out our salvation, though, is a moment by moment and thought by thought process.
What does that look like from a practical perspective? I had an epiphany about this in the bath one day (a place where I often seem to have little epiphanies). I was wondering how I could approach spiritual fitness as methodically as one might approach working out at the gym. In some of my classes we do several more reps with weights than might feel comfortable. And we do the same number with each arm or leg. Well, what if I were to force myself to do, say, eight "thought reps" about a particular situation I'm dealing with? If I'm struggling with a relationship issue, what if I had to think eight good thoughts about the individual with which I seem to have a problem? If I'm feeling discouraged about a work situation, what if I required myself to think twelve helpful and inspiring thoughts to support progress in that endeavor?
I tried this approach while I was in the bath, and it was tough. Almost harder than the reps with weights at the gym! But it was doable. And it was refreshing and energizing. The Message has an encouraging interpretation of Philippians 2:13, the verse after the one that tells us we have to work out our own salvation. It says, "Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God's energy, an energy deep within you…" So, as a trainer at the gym spots us and makes sure our weights are not too heavy, the Ultimate Trainer works with us and in us toward the goal of spiritual fitness. And the race has already been won. I can hear God's voice cheering right now, "Work it out! You got this!"