Regular physical exercise has long been an important part of my life. But only in recent times have I seen the similarities between caring for my body and caring for my spirit.
As I have gotten older, I have noticed physical changes occurring in myself and others, some of which are disturbing. I have read and observed that the elderly - not that I'm there yet - have a much higher incidence of falling, They often seem to have balance issues and are somewhat stiff and rigid.
I think there are similar issues with the life of the spirit.
I don't want to become stiff and unbalanced, prone to falling a lot, so I began incorporating more stretching and exercises designed to strengthen the muscles of the core of my body.
Recently, I came across a book, The Core Issue, which brought the matter of core strength to focus on spiritual life. There are some strong correlations between the physical principles and the spiritual ones. Without attention to our physical core, for example, no matter how much we build our peripheral muscles, such as biceps and quads, we will be subject to problems. It's like building a house without a foundation.
The same principle is true for our spiritual lives. We can do all sorts of things - good things - things that "good Christians do," and in a storm, still crash. It happens with appalling frequency. We think we are doing wonderfully, and those around us might agree. But in truth, we have no foundation and are weak where we most need strength.
The principle is pretty straightforward and easy to understand. The problem is what to do to remedy the situation. How do we strengthen our spiritual core?
Here are some suggestions.
The primary measure of our strength, the foundation of our faith, is not in our actions, but in our relationships. Specifically, in our relationship with God through Jesus. I have read of uncounted "Christians" who have walked away from their faith, often with great bitterness. I have known some of them personally, and perhaps you have as well.
I have puzzled over how one could walk away from something that defined who they were, from a true relationship with a loving God. I have concluded that it's very difficult to truly walk away from a genuinely intimate and loving relationship, from knowing one who deeply and demonstrably loves us. However, it's a simple matter to leave a set of theological assertions, loyalty to a human organization, or a somewhat superficial interpersonal relationship. It's easy to leave something to which we were never deeply attached in the first place.
So the question, then, becomes, how do we enhance our relationship with God?
If we consider the people in our lives, the first thing we do in building a relationship is, obviously, to spend time together, doing things and talking. Sharing life. Someone might say, "Yes, but I like the people in my life. I'm not sure I like God. I don't even know him."
True, except that when we began a relationship with someone, we didn't begin by liking the person in the way we would later in the relationship. We didn't much know the person, initially. And it was by contact, spending time, that the liking developed along with the knowing. God is a little different, but the principle holds. God's a little hard to see, and sometimes not very talkative. Nevertheless, time together brings knowing.
So, how do we spend time with one we cannot see? One who seems not very talkative? Two ways, actually.
First, we can talk to God. When we do, he will sometimes surprise us and talk back. The New Testament says to "pray without ceasing," which I take to mean having an attitude of prayer, not spending our life with our eyes closed and hands folded. Too dangerous to drive that way. But most of us don't pray much at all, and when we do, it's often mechanical and perfunctory. Why would that be?
My most recent theory is that most of us don't think God likes us much. And why would we want to talk with someone who just tolerates us, and doesn't enjoy our coming? Does that ring your bell? Perhaps not, but if it does, you might consider whether you are projecting your own opinion of yourself onto God. Are you thinking, "No, God doesn't care much for me. After all, I know myself best, and there's not much to like."
The fact is, God delights in his people, together and individually, and delights in hearing from us.
So, a habit of prayer is a first step to building a strong relationship and through it a strong spiritual core.
A second practice, related to the first, is regular Bible reading. It's well established that most Christians do not read their Bibles. They see no interest or relevance. That speaks poorly of the churches, who don't teach God's word or effectively disciple their people.
Reading - not studying - the story of the Bible and letting the Spirit of God speak to us is critical for growth. Where else will we gain reliable knowledge of the true and living God?
I keep a "reader-friendly" Bible at the table where I have breakfast, and I read some on most days as I eat. My favorite Bible for devotional reading is "The Books of the Bible," which is in a format that encourages reading and not dissecting.
Read, pray,and let the Spirit of God work in you. And you will be amazed at the difference in your core strength over time.
Don't have the self-discipline? Take note of Galatians 5:22, the "fruit of the Spirit." Notice that one aspect of the work of the Spirit in us is ... that's right ... self control. Let the Holy Spirit have his way in you, and you will develop the fruit of that work, which is nothing more than the character of Jesus. In other words, you will build core strength, and become more like Jesus.
What a deal!