Friday, 19 September 2014
Gospel Workout: Strength Training
Gospel Workout Part 3: What does a gospel workout look like? A different kind of strength training.
I hate lifting weights. But I hate being weak even more. So imagine my delight when my trainer and fellow grandmother told me a quicker, more effective way to get stronger:
No, that doesn’t mean “Superheroes Must Strength Train” despite paparazzi evidence of the Caped Crusader. Nor is it “Start Monday Skip Tuesday,” though that’s not a bad idea, especially if you get to skip Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, too. No, it stands for “Slow Motion Strength Training.”
The basic idea of this method is to do a small number of very difficult lifts. Picture a slow 10 count on the way up and slow 10 count on the way down with weights heavy enough to make you shake by the 6th repetition. Then move on to the next machine. The whole ordeal only took 20 minutes. And I only had to do it twice a week. Boom.
My trainer had home schooled seven children so she had my program up and running with perfect form in no time. It worked great until I became too sick to work out.
That’s when I needed a different kind of strength training.
Trials come in many shapes and sizes, sometimes through our circumstances and sometimes through ourselves.
Weakness that’s brought on by circumstances seems easier to handle. The problem is “out there.” We can hope and pray that it will go away or at least be resolved. Possibly we can get help or make adjustments in the meantime.
But the weakness that comes from within seems to carry a double blow. Not only are we affected by the weakness itself–things like depression, anxiety, auto-immune disease, insomnia–but the problem is “in here.” We can’t distance ourselves from it; we can’t get a measure of objectivity that would give us perspective on it. We struggle with the voices in our heads telling us what a loser we are.
- the world, speaking according to its value system, tells us we’re worthless
- our flesh, speaking the scorn of pride, tells us to get our act together
- the devil, speaking in lies and doubts, taunts us by calling us names
Not only that, but as a Christian I’ve been created for good works. Personal weakness makes those feel difficult if not impossible. Strength is good, right? I need it, right? Then what am I supposed to do with this weakness?
Paul experienced weakness. The worst of it didn’t come from his circumstances, it came from within him. He called it his “thorn in the flesh.” It was described as “a messenger of Satan” and its express purpose was to harass him. That sounds like the kind of project the devil would enjoy. Who knows what taunts might have accompanied Paul’s thorn?
What was his thorn in the flesh? Well, we don’t know, but “flesh” could mean his physical body or his sin nature. Nevertheless we do know this. Whether the problem was purely physical or more along the lines of a besetting sin, Paul hated it. He wanted it gone.
Paul didn’t just pray about this, we’re told that “three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me” (2 Cor 12:8). This isn’t just closing your eyes and bowing your head prayer, this is falling on the floor, face down, with tears and sobs prayer.
Paul prayed three times. Why three? You might have prayed a hundred times about your weakness. Why did he stop at three?
Perhaps his groans and tears reminded him of the One who prayed fervently three times for the cup to pass from him. Paul was not alone in his praying.
Paul received his answer from the Crucified and Risen One. Jesus himself, who had been told “no” by his Father in the garden, now told Paul, “No, but…”
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This answer came from the garden and the cross and the empty tomb. God’s grace was sufficient for the Christ to bear our sins in his own body on the tree. God’s power was made perfect in the weakness of the cross.
Not only is Christ’s answer powerful, it’s perfect. He answers our need without feeding our pride. If he gave us our strength, we would be tempted to trust ourselves. We don’t need our strength, we need his.
And our weakness makes us ready to receive it. That’s a different kind of strength training.
“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10b