The last few weeks I’ve been sharing excerpts from each chapter of The Walk. The final chapter examines the final words of Jesus from the cross, and how we find evidence in his words that Jesus practiced all five of the spiritual disciplines we’ve been studying in the book. I’ve intentionally not drawn an excerpt from that chapter; I’m hoping you’ll read the entire chapter. Instead, today’s conclusion to this series of posts is taken from the postscript in the book, which summarizes the challenge I give in its final pages …
Most of us know we should exercise, but the Centers for Disease Control says that only 23 percent of Americans exercise as they should. I spent years getting out of shape by eating poorly and seldom exercising. I knew I should exercise and eat better, but knowing and doing are two different things. It finally caught up with me, a fact I realized when I couldn’t keep up with my wife and daughter on a moderately strenuous walk.
It’s funny, the exercises that got me back in shape weren’t difficult or complicated. I began with seven minutes a day of exercises I learned in elementary school, eventually adding brisk walks, and finally upping the quantity of exercise to the amount the CDC says Americans should get each week. Today I feel better, have greater strength and endurance than I had in my twenties, and I can keep up with my wife and daughter wherever they want to walk.
I wrote The Walk recognizing that most Christians struggle to pursue the simple spiritual exercises needed to have a healthy spiritual life; the kind of things that lead us to a fulfilling and fruitful walk with Christ.
Because we’re a bit out of shape, we can’t keep up when Jesus calls us to follow. We can’t or don’t do the things he would have us do, often failing to even realize he’s asking. Instead of the peace that passes all understanding we only know anxiety and stress. And in our weakened state, it’s easy to succumb to temptation or to fall away from our faith altogether.
St. Paul notes, “Train yourself for a holy life! While physical training has some value, training in holy living is useful for everything. It has promise for this life now and the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8). Paul regularly used the analogy of physical training to describe the Christian life.
As with physical exercise, the spiritual exercises are not rocket science. They are simple practices that anyone can do. I’ve focused on five essential practices here on the blog and in the book, and looked at how we pursue them. As with physical exercise, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of things you could do to train spiritually, but these are five essentials taught or modeled through the Bible. Once again they are,
- Worship (including prayer),
- Study (listening for God including reading Scripture),
- Serve (acts of kindness),
- Give (generosity toward God and others),
- Share (witnessing to your faith).
Worship, Study, Serve, Give and Share. With each, I challenge you to a simple, achievable, measurable, and specific goal using your fingers to remember. Measurable goals increase the likelihood that we’ll pursue the exercises. Paul notes, “This is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight” (1 Corinthians 9:26). Here are the goals I encourage you to set for pursuing these practices on your own and with others through your church:
- Pray five times a day and worship weekly.
- Read five verses of the Bible daily and study the Bible in a small group.
- Practice five acts of intentional kindness a week and serve with others.
- Extend five acts of generosity toward others each month, and give generously to God through the church.
- Let others know you are a Christian and invite five people to church each year.
The important thing is not the specific numbers. In most cases, these are simply beginning points, like my seven-minute workout. You may need to start with lower goals, or you may already be surpassing some of these. Ultimately, I hope you exceed all of these challenge goals. The point is not the numbers, the point is spiritual maturity, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, loving your neighbor as you love yourself, and walking with Jesus wherever he leads. The challenge goals and the five practices are a means to that end.