Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Spiritual Muscles

Dallas Willard once said, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Soul Keeping, John Ortberg.

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Go ahead and read that quote one more time if you like.

To slow down takes muscles, muscles that unless exercised, become weak. Weak muscles cannot do what we want them to do. They limit us.

Our spiritual life requires strong muscles. Why? So that we can be restful, able to receive God’s grace and truth, attentive to His leading and obedient to live out who He wants us to be in this broken world.

Have you ever been around someone who has these kinds of spiritual muscles? When they talk, do you sense their strength? When they ask you questions, do you feel seen, heard and known? Is there something about them that seems unshakable? You could tell them anything and they would stay with you, solid, genuine, real but steady and calm. Does it seem like they are living from an unseen resource, a spring of life, something that sustains them and overflows to you? You know they care about you, but they don’t need anything from you. They’ve already received from God, something that has fed them and made them whole. What you’re seeing are spiritual muscles. They’ve been developed, trained and nourished by God.

I saw a bodybuilder in a coffee shop last week. It’s not an ordinary sight. I watched her barely reach the coffee cup to her mouth because of her massive bicep. I visibly saw evidence of hundreds of hours of private training. That doesn’t happen in one weekend, or one workout. It is the cumulation of many choices every day to make building those kind of muscles a priority. And it works. It shows.

So how does one, as Dallas Willard say, “ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives” and build spiritual muscles?

I believe it starts very simply with our calendars. If we are care-full with our scheduling, strategic with our planning and disciplined with our time, we won’t be always running to catch up and our muscles will strengthen. And just like the body-builder, this doesn’t happen in one workout or one weekend, it takes time, practice, and coaching.

If this is new for you, let me offer a few practical steps that I have found helpful in my on-going need for spiritual muscle development.

(I encourage you to prayerfully engage in something like this, but in a practical way. Don’t try to ‘spiritualize’ it and make it look like you’re reading your Bible 10 hours a day. A workout, is well balanced, and exercises all parts, equally, so that your overall health is improved. You may find that what you most need is sleep, or nature, or solitude rather than attending more church activities. So prayerfully work out your calendar together with the Lord but pay attention to the practical stuff because sometimes, that’s how God speaks.)

  1. Schedule two hours alone somewhere away from family, phone and work.

    The first hour allows you to drive somewhere, relax, get coffee, find a comfy spot, allow your mind to slow down a little and enter into a ‘retreat’ mode. Bring your calendar and paper or journal or whatever helps you think things through.

  2. Then, look at your calendar from the past month.

    What do you see? What do you notice? Is there intentional order to what you’re doing or can you ask yourself hard questions like: “Am I just responding to needs in order to fill my own needs?” “Is this what I really want to be spending my time on?” “Why am I doing what I’m doing?”

  3. Then look ahead at the next month, or the one that you’re in now.

    Put the essential things on the calendar: important celebrations, appointments, deadlines for projects, commitments, change the oil, regular life things that you would normally have to do during the month.

  4. Then, add in your spiritual workout exercises.

    It might be reading or listening to Scripture, journalling, reading good books, community and conversation with other Christians, solitude time away from people, time spent in nature, or creating art, or music or dance.

  5. Now, look at your calendar.

    You’ve got the essential responsibilities of your life and family scheduled in, you’ve added in some spiritual exercises and . . . how does it look? Full? Overwhelming? It’s okay. What you’ve done is in these two hours is beneficial. It’s one good workout and you will soon start to see results. Take a final sip of your coffee and gather your things and go home.

If you can do this on a regular basis and begin to take control of your calendar, making intentional, prayerful choices about how you spend your time, adding in spiritual exercises, you’ll begin to see your own spiritual muscles grow!

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (The Message)