I hate gyms; and no changing my mind on this never features in any of the new year resolution. My defense, everyone has some bad habits they choose to ignore. This one is my bad habit. Why do I hate gyms, not sure? Laziness perhaps, perhaps a theory I have that gym or no gym my time on earth is predetermined, I know they are all shady reasons.
However I have made some baby steps. At the start of the year, my pastor talked to us about the importance of keeping physically fit; yer as if the guilt is not already enough now I get it in church as well. It was a great sermon all the same. It made me get a skipping rope, and once in a very long while I will pick this rope and work out a bit, progress in my books.
So if I hate a physical gym, you can imagine just how much a spiritual gym is unwelcome.
Over the last few weeks I have been on faith sulking mode. Yer, I noticed it too. What with a blog post about the faith challenge, and another that talks about how our faith is strange, and another one that has the many questions I have fought with. And these are just some of the conversations that made it to blog world. In my head, many more occurred. A couple of days ago I was tempted to write another post on this my favorite subject, same idea – sulking, only in a new blog. But as I attempted to do so, I knew God was at work in me. The Doctor Himself has been taking me, well maybe more like coercing me to visit a faith gym.
At the start of this year I attended a service where as we prayed for the year, the church leaders shared with each congregant a specific word. I knew even as I went for this service that this word would be God’s word for me for the year; that was until I received the word.
James 1:2-3: My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.
A word like ‘I will bless you’, ‘I will walk with you’ among other like-minded messages would have been welcome; but this! As if this was not enough I received several confirmations that this was God’s word for me. I was disheartened and threw this message in the pot of forgetfulness. That generally I am not a person that values patience, yes another bad habit, does not help either.
However, as we approach the end to this year, those words cannot have been truer. My patience has been stretched. I have fought with God over what in my head was too long a wait over several things I have trusted Him for. I have sulked over what I considered an ‘unfair’ wait. I have pulled the verses of but you say ‘ask and you will receive’, or that ‘you delight in granting the desires of my heart’; context did not matter.
I seem to have forgotten the words that follow my ‘word for the year’:
…knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing….
I seem to have forgotten (ok chosen to forget) that patience produces character and character hope and that hope does not disappoint. I seem to have forgotten that the testing of my faith produces patience, and that patience is the gyms of my world that leads to growing my character. And God is very much about growing my character, to be more like Jesus.
Patience produces character
I look back at times in my life when I have been impatient, at times when I have truly struggled with faith; I look at times when I hardly could believe God was still at work in me. Now I see with hindsight eyes, and what I see is how I grew in my faith. I see how this drew me closer to God. I see how my spiritual muscles were seriously stretched yet as a result, maturity came. I see how my character was molded by those dark moments.
There is nothing like knowing without a doubt that you were penniless yet God got you through, you will trust God with ease the next time you are in need. There is nothing like being desperate for healing for a broken relationship that you thought was it, the next relationship you will seek the will of God as if your life depends on it. There is nothing like crying to God for a child and He gives you an adopted child that you love with all you are. There is nothing like being in the middle of a struggle with a sexual sin and seeing God redeem that, you give your life with absolute abandon to Him. Life’s struggles fought in the hands of the Father are what build our faith.
Abraham had seen God give him a child in his old age, even after he came up with back up plans in the name of Ishmael. So when God asks him to give this son back to Him, he is more than willing to trust Him. Hard times, moments in the gym, have taught him He can trust this God. They have taught him He must trust God.
A battle alongside other zebras
Yet I will be the first to admit these gym visits are not always the funniest. I would be the first to say if I could a fast forward button that gets me to the other side faster, I would press it.
Yet in this search for shortcuts I have discovered the beauty of having people around you who can stand with you when this spiritual gym gets hard. A friend of mine the other day reminded me of Moses, when he was tired of lifting the nation of Israel, Aaron and Hun helped him. This gym walk is impossible to walk alone, we tire. We need Aarons and Huns to walk with us.
Yet many times pride, a desire to seem perfect stands in the way of us asking for help.
A few weeks ago I attended a discipleship class we have in prison. One of the inmates shared the story of how zebras will rarely walk alone; they are always in groups; same applies to giraffes and many other animals. These animals seem to have recognized the value of walking in herds. They know they live in a jungle with danger in every corner of their walk. They therefore need to watch out for each other. When one does not see the lurking danger, another is likely to. You can imagine the deaths they would have without this sound strategy.
As he shared this, I knew an important component of any faith gym is that I must never walk alone. And I truly have seen that over the last few weeks. I am blessed to have people who will cry to God when I feel all cried out. I celebrate them. For this race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.
As I read the book of Nehemiah last month, I knew God was calling me to take up machetes; to be armed for the work ahead. Yet, I failed to recognize this, that to hold machetes, I need muscles. And those muscles grow in the perseverance and faith zone.
Do I have it all figured out? I would be the first to say heck no. Do I know I need there is some work that needs to happen in me, yes. Yet I also know that faith is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
The kind of faith I need to believe, to take my eyes off my current circumstances, the kind of faith I need to know God is in control when everything in me screams otherwise, that kind of faith only the Holy Spirit can teach me. So I am back at the Feet of the Teacher. I know a season for stretching my faith muscle is upon me. I know my faith muscle needs to grow.
So to this walk in the gym. I know the other side will be pleasant, chic and fit and fly and all. But in the meantime I must put in the hours, I must work out. Yep, eeew and all but work out anyway. I have Help. He is on my side, building my character.
The dark threads are as needful in the Weaver’s skillful hand, as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.