If you have watched any of the winter Olympics, you can’t help but marvel at the countless hours of training that the athletes have had to put in for years in order to come to a place where they can perform with such remarkable skill and grace. Beyond the extraordinary conditioning of their muscles is the training their brains have undergone. Through years of endless repetition, pathways have been so deeply established in their brains that when it comes time to compete, they can essentially turn off all conscious thought and simply let their muscle memory take over.
We admire what discipline and commitment has made possible for these athletes. We are less inclined to appreciate what is possible through what are called “spiritual disciplines.” For centuries, people of faith have “practiced” disciplines of meditation, prayer, fasting, Bible study, fellowship, singing and shared worship that have quite literally shaped the pathways of their brains so that their mental energy flows more readily in life-giving directions. They have trained their minds to react to stressful situations not with “fight” or “flight” responses but instead in ways that express faith, hope and love. Through daily routines of spiritual practices they train their minds to pay attention to their blessings rather than to obsess over what could be interpreted as the shortcomings of their lives. By daily attention to the word of the Lord they have learned to respond to others with mercy rather than judgment.
What such people accomplish through their spiritual disciplines doesn’t get them on television admired by millions of fans, but surely the path their training has allowed them to travel is far more important in the ultimate scheme of things. When the great athlete ages, and their days of competing at that extraordinary level comes to an end, hopefully they can transfer the things they have learned about discipline and focus to the realm of the spirit.
What might it mean for you to think of yourself as a spiritual athlete who can’t expect to reach what you’re capable of without a commitment to training on your part?
Lord God, help us to run the race with perseverance that is set before us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.