Exercising Faith

I want to start today with some facts about exercising. It is something that we all recognise we should do. Without exercise our lives become unhealthy; we may become overweight (which is a contributor to developing almost every predominant type of bodily disease affecting the population today), and our muscles actually start to waste away from disuse (and this in turn can lead to chronic pain in the body as it loses the ability to effectively support itself). But exercises isn’t just fending off the bad things for our bodies, it also helps increase endorphins and therefore improve our mental health; it increases our strength so that we are able to lift and carry more; it increases our endurance so that we can participate in things longer and with less physical toll. Sure, exercise brings its own risks of injury, and sure, diseases will come whether you exercise or not, but in the vast majority of cases most people will tell you from experience that the benefits outweigh the risks. We all likely agree on paper that we should do exercise.

That doesn’t mean exercising is easy. Once you get through the initial challenge of deciding to try exercise, we face numerous other barriers! Choosing which type of exercise to start with, experiencing the soreness after the first few sessions, finding the right outfit, acquiring the right equipment, signing up to the gym, finding the time in your week. The pathway of beginning to exercise is riddled with challenges and many many excuses to quit. And as you push through the first few challenges more come! Work demands increase, or an illness hits, the exercise isn’t what you expected, or a new book or game comes out and distracts you. Or you just don’t see the benefits of the exercise AND have to now fight through the soreness of the muscles on top of it all. It regularly feels like you’re starting over and over and over again. Doubts start to creep in. It becomes easy to ask, is it worth it?

I wonder if this pattern is starting to sound familiar? Maybe you can relate to this journey with exercise, or maybe its familiar with other skills you’ve developed in your life – like a musician learning to play an instrument, or an athlete learning a particular skill, or vocational study? Or, dare I ask, your faith in God?

I would like to venture that there are some key principles that help people stay committed to their training, that might give some insight into our faith journey as well:

  • Make a Start

The biggest barrier to making any habit or lifestyle change is making the time available for it. This is true for exercise, learning an instrument, or even dating. Critically, the amount of time you put into something will directly correlate to how much you get out of it.

Now I don’t know a single person whose days aren’t already filled to the brim. In order to add something into your life regularly, it requires first a commitment, and then an actual change or shuffle of your schedule. The key here is that this can’t be a temporary shuffle, it has to be sustainable if it’s going to last over a few weeks. Because you’re not likely to see results until months of commitment and practice.

  • Everyone is different

When beginning training of any type it is worth taking a moment to consider the best place to start. For example, there are many, many different types of exercise and different roles or focuses within them. Consider Pilates, football, dancing, basketball, cricket, soccer, swimming, tennis, weight lifting, high jump etc. Similarly, but more significantly, there are many, many different levels of engagement – a novice trains very differently to a professional, whether in exercise or in music.

Though there is merit to trying out different types of training to see what you enjoy and what fits into your schedule, its critical to carefully consider the level you start at. Every new type of exercise puts your body under new pressures (even if you’re already skilled at a different type). 

  • Persistence

Persistence is key. Patience and continuing anyway is the only way things get done. Sure, you’re likely to be sore, discouraged, frustrated, angry, or tired. You may even quit. But when you’re rested, when you’ve recovered your commitment: Persist. Run the race you’ve set out to complete.

I would like to pause and note a wonderful thing about training; every time you fail, it is easier to start again. Your muscles have already been strengthened by your previous efforts; you already have the foundational knowledge required for your study; your body has developed the muscle memory to play the right notes on your instrument. Starting right now is the hardest it will ever be.

  • It becomes habit

Eventually, as you persist, you’ll start to notice changes. You may notice your mood lift, or your body shape refine, or you’ll have more energy throughout the day. To borrow a different analogy – the song you’ve been practicing will come together for a full run. Or the study you’ve been doing will finally be easy to explain. And there, in that moment you will start to believe this is possible. That it is worth it. And from then on, you are exercising with confidence and expectation (also known as faith and hope) due to the fuel of prior success.

From here things start to become automatic, you’ve achieved a habit! Without thinking, these skills you’ve developed start to show themselves in other situations – you may run up the stairs at work, or offer to carry something heavy for someone else, or just be less tired at the end of the day. This is where the training you do actually starts to impact your life.

  • Grow

But this isn’t the end! In training there is always more you can do. If you continue at the same level forever, your growth will plateau and turn into maintenance instead. Now that is all well and good if you’ve achieved your goal, but if you aspire to more, then you need to keep going and progress your exercises to the next level; lift heavier weights, run longer distances, increase your skill.

I hope this process above is familiar to you, whether you’ve committed to exercise through sport, music or study. Hopefully you’ve seen the success of it before, or maybe you can relate to the challenges and recognise where you’ve given up in the past. On considering the process again how does it correlate to your journey with God?

Like any skill and like most things of worth, our faith too takes training and effort. The training of faith comes as we choose God, and His ways, time and again.  James reminds us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4).

Similar to the principles above, everyone’s growth in their journey of faith happens differently. You should start with what arises as you prayerfully consider what the Spirit is leading you to do. But as you persist, you will start to notice things changing, habits forming and your day to day life impacted. In our faith too there is always more that we can do, and should aspire to do, as led by the Spirit. If you stay in your spiritual comfort zone you cannot expect to keep growing. And in growing, more and more of the kingdom of God will be opened to you.

In your journey you will likely face the same challenges as above; we will most likely become discouraged at points. But I encourage you to hold onto your faith! For as you persist, and as you start to learn to see the results, you will grow.

By Sarah Skinner