By Brandon Lemons
If a person wants to be healthy, a popular step is to “hit the gym” – take a fitness class, lift weights, run on a treadmill, use an elliptical machine. I imagine we all know what this is like, even if we don’t “hit the gym” very often.
Spiritual health is important!
I would say that spiritual health, along with its connection to emotional and relational health, is even more important than trying to be physically fit. The apostle Paul would agree with me. He wrote: “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Paul acknowledges that physical training has value. Personally, I enjoy physical training. For years, I have been active in lifting weights, cycling, and using a rowing machine; at other times in life, I’ve been a runner, a racquetball player, and played a variety of other sports. I like the practical benefits of physical fitness, including greater energy and strength, better health, and less stress.
But as valuable as physical training is, Paul says spiritual training is even more valuable. Physical training has “some” value, but godliness that comes through spiritual training “has value for all things.” Godliness might sound boring or old-fashioned. In a sermon several years ago, I developed a helpful definition: godliness is joyful devotion to God, resulting in a life that glorifies Him.
Devotion to God starts internally and then overflows into our words and actions. It’s related to questions like: How do we treat those around us? Do we display genuine love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness? Do we give generously of our time and money? Are we able to wisely navigate the complexities of life? How do we respond to temptation? Do we live with integrity, or is there a disconnect between who we are publicly versus who we are when no one is looking?
Paul tells us we can (and should) train ourselves to be godly. The Greek word he uses in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 to refer to “training” is gymnasia. Sound familiar? Gymnasium. Gymnastics. Gym class. He uses this term to refer to our pursuit of godliness and spiritual health.
How do we hit the spiritual gym?
There are myriad practices that can help us grow spiritually. Some are done as individuals, such as reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. But right now, I want to highlight practices we do together.
Beginning this Sunday, we are moving into a season of increased ministry activity, which includes Sunday-school classes for children and students, Sunday-morning classes for adults, iGnite children’s ministry, Midweek student ministry, and adult small groups. These are all ways to “hit the spiritual gym” with others – to pursue spiritual health together.
The value of small groups
I want to specifically highlight adult small groups – especially because I know most of you reading this are adults. Small groups are a powerful environment for spiritual fitness – just like a YMCA is for physical fitness. I view small groups as a “spiritual gymnasium,” because it is where people go to deeply invest in their spiritual health. In fact, I view small groups as even more powerful than worship services for helping people grow spiritually. This is because small groups include a strong relational component, where there is accountability, personalized encouragement, opportunities to serve and to pray together, and to discuss what you are learning from Scripture.
Here's how much I believe in the power of small groups: through most of my four years in seminary, I was planning to become an associate pastor who specialized in small groups and discipleship. The reason I changed my focus in my final year to “lead pastor” is because I sawhow frequently the focus on relational, intentional discipleship is marginalized in churches. Churches easily get focused on worship services and large-scale activities; in the process, the importance of relational discipleship receives lip-service but is often relegated to a corner of the church rather than being the central focus. So I switched my focus so that as the pastoral leader in a church, I would have the opportunity to make relational discipleship a primary focal point of the church. I believe the best way this relational discipleship is lived out on a church-wide level is through small groups.
Will you put in the effort?
I recognize it takes effort to get in a small group, to come to a Sunday-morning class, or to get your children to Sunday School. You know what?! Going to the YMCA to work out also takes effort. No one ever got in shape by avoiding or neglecting physical activity. Likewise, we won’t get in shape spiritually by sleeping through the church’s opportunities on Sundays and by allowing busyness to crowd out discipleship opportunities during the week. It comes down to priorities. I am convinced that Paul is correct: “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
And besides, isn’t it a lot more fun to work out together?