How is your spiritual fitness?  Are you exercising all your spiritual muscles?  For many years I used to run for exercise without doing much upper body weight training. Then I started developing a pain in my shoulder.  At times it became debilitating.  With some input from a physio, I realised I needed to exercise my upper body too.  The Christian walk is like that, we can focus on one area of our spiritual health and ignore others areas. We need to develop a balanced approach to the Christian life that involves exercising all our spiritual muscles.  So why not take a spiritual fitness check to help identify where you need to develop your spiritual muscles?

Spiritual Fitness in the Bible

New Testament writers like Paul often used the picture of physical exercise to illustrate the importance of developing character and becoming spiritually strong and fit.   A great example is in the book of Hebrews Chapter 12.


No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:11-13)


The word for training in this passage, is about physical exercise in the ancient gymnasiums. Similarly, the word discipline in the passage suggests more than just correction and punishment. It has an educational implication in the same way that we speak of educational and athletic disciplines that train our mind, our bodies and our character.

In the ancient world of the Greeks and the Romans, physical exercise was an important part of training young people. Such exercise was not just to become physically strong.  It was part of a rounded education of music, literature and philosophy for the training of a person’s character so they could be good virtuous citizens of the ancient cities of the Greco-Roman empires.

The writer of Hebrews is using this well-known picture of physical training and education to convey a spiritual truth. We all need a rounded set of spiritual practices/rhythms and disciplines to build strength of character.  These exercises prepare us to be be the people God has called us to be. They prepare us to be effective citizens of his heavenly kingdom and ambassadors of his kingdom on earth.

How do we get spiritually fit?

Regular daily and weekly rhythms of spiritual exercises help train our hearts, thinking and emotions to be the people God calls us to be and to do the things he calls us to do.   These include a range of disciplines in the word of God and prayer, and also relational and missional disciplines.

Word based spiritual exercises include our own devotional reading, listening to the preaching of the word, and participating in studies around God’s word in Life Groups.   As the Apostle Paul tells us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Note the word training.  It is the same concept of a physical, mental or educational discipline we read about in Hebrews 12.

Regular rhythms of prayer are also important spiritual exercises that strengthen us to face life’s challenges and struggles.  In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus implored his disciples “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  (Mark 14:37-38).  Waiting no God in prayer connects us to God and his strength so that we can run and not be weary, walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:29-31).

In addition to the personal and corporate disciplines of prayer and the word, there are also relational and missional disciplines of fellowship, Sabbath rest and outreach. Since the times of the early church, all of these have constituted regular disciplines or rhythms of personal growth and church life (Acts 3:42-43).

A Spiritual Health Check

Over Dec 2020 to Feb 2021 we conducted a spiritual health check with our congregations that invited you to assess the quality and regularity of your spiritual rhythms or exercises over the previous three months.  Questions were asked about six basic spiritual rhythms: 
  1. Generosity/Service;
  2. Word of God;
  3. Sabbath Rest;
  4. Prayer/Praise/Worship;
  5. Fellowship/Discipleship; and
  6. Outreach.

We also asked questions around spiritual exercises in three relational dimensions: 
  1. Personal life (relationship with God);
  2. Inter-personal relationships; and
  3. Corporate church life together

Overall Health Check Results. Responses were then collated and an aggregate score created which measured spiritual health in each area on a scale from one to ten.  A score of one would represent a low level of spiritual health in terms of regularity and quality.  A score of ten would represent a high level of spiritual health.  Individual results were anonymous, but we have created a summary of results across all our sites.

Type of Spiritual Rhythm    Average Score
Generosity/Service8.6
Word of God8.3
Sabbath Rest7.7
Praise/Worship7.5
Fellowship/Discipleship7.1
Outreach6.2
Grand Total7.6

Strengthening Our Outreach Muscles. As a church we appear to be doing well in the areas of service, the word, prayer and Sabbath rest.  Well done church!  However, one of our weaker areas seems to be outreach.  When we drill down a bit we found this was particularly in the area of church and community outreach rather than individual evangelism (see outreach in the community column in the table below).  This may reflect the lack of opportunities for combined outreach activities during the lockdown periods.  We have therefore encouraged people to connect more with our community and global outreach ministries this last few months.

Relational Dimension
--------------------------------------------------
Spiritual Rhythm    Personal    Community    Inter-personal    Grand Total    
Generosity & Service8.88.18.5
Word of God8.48.18.3
Sabbath Rest7.58.07.7
Prayer, Praise & Worship7.77.47.5
Fellowship & Discipleship7.56.87.1
Outreach5.17.46.2
Grand Total8.17.3 7.47.6


Strengthening our Relationships. We also appear to be not doing less so well in the area of fellowship and discipleship.  Drilling down a bit this seems to be in the area of interpersonal relationships (see tables above).  Certainly, we are aware that people have found it difficult to connect with others personally face-to-face over this time, and it is clear that loneliness and isolation have been issues we need to address as a community.  This would be a good area to discuss as a Life Group.  How can we strengthen our personal relationship during these challenging times?  How can we ensure we are connecting with those who may be on the margins?

Taking a Spiritual Health Check Today.  If you haven’t done the spiritual fitness or health check or you would like to do it again please click HERE.  It will take about 15-20 minutes to complete. You will be emailed your results personally with some suggestions on how you can strengthen your spiritual muscles in different areas. Your personal results are completely anonymous, and it is your choice if you would like to share them with anyone.  We only collect the overall results.  However, if you wish, you could take time to share and discuss your personal results together as a Life Group.

Conclusion
I hope the health check will provide you with some personal insights on your own spiritual health and give you some guidance on how you could grow spiritually in this season of your life.   Spiritual rhythms or disciplines do not earn us favour with God, but they open our hearts and minds to the blessings that God has already feely given.  They are profoundly important ways of maintaining our spiritual health and vitality when practiced out of love for God and others rather than guilt or fear.   They do not replace our faith in God which is the foundation of our Christian walk; but they do provide a practical way to add goodness, Godly character or virtue to our faith.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love…  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble,  and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
(2 Peter 1:5-7; 10-11)

Life Group Discussion Activities and Questions
1. What comes to your mind when you think of spiritual disciplines or training?  
2. Read Hebrews 12 together.  How do the reflections in this study help you better understand the concept of spiritual disciplines and training? 
3. How can we ensure that spiritual practices add to our faith rather than become a substitute for faith?
4. What are some of the most effective ways you have you found of strengthening your spiritual muscles?
5. Discuss the church wide spiritual health check results. How can we strengthen areas of community outreach as a church? How can we strengthen interpersonal relationships at this time? 
6. Do the spiritual health check individually and then invite people to share their personal results if they wish. What are some of your strength areas?  What are some of the areas you need to strengthen?
7. Pray for each other.

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