I happened to watch some of the Winter Olympics the other day. I was fascinated by the biathlon as I watched these athletes cross-country ski various distances and then stop to do target shooting at dollar sized target at 50 meters (160 feet). Such a test of skill and physical endurance. I’ve never been a skier, but I have done some target shooting with rifles, shotguns and handguns. My eyesight, which has never been sharp, made hitting the bullseye next to impossible. I cannot imagine attempting to be accurate during strenuous physical activity as these biathletes were doing. Racing against each other with the pressure of shooting straight seems implausible to me.
Yet, one after another they did just that. How much practice went into this I wondered. Countless hours of skiing, weight training and target practice were undoubtedly accumulated to gain this level of proficiency. Obviously, not everyone has the skill and the persistence to make it to the Olympic Games. What sets these top-notch athletes apart from the others? In addition to their natural abilities, the dedication to hone their skills didn’t waver. I am sure that sacrifices had to be made if they were to reach their goal.
As a teacher/preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I am always looking for examples in the events of the world around us that shine light on biblical truth. The above-mentioned biathletes have accomplished this for me! As I said, I am not skier nor a marksman. Yet the results of these competitors’ tenacity in preparation can still inspire me as I apply that same principle to my life of faith.
The athlete’s I mentioned didn’t just wake up one day at their peak of physical abilities, it took much hard work and practice. St. Paul uses this same line of thinking to encourage us about our spiritual condition as well. In his first letter to his young apprentice Timothy, he wrote the following: Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV).
Notice that Paul does not discount physical training. He recognized, as we should too, the importance of maintaining our health through physical activity. We are not to ignore this in the pursuit of a deeper spiritual life.
Having said that, the Apostle does not apologize for what is of far greater importance. Deepening our spiritual lives provides benefits in the present as well as for the future. The plusses in this life might be; a greater sense of peace and purpose, or simply a deeper assurance that God does indeed have everything under control.
The question is, how do we train ourselves to be godly? Maybe first we ought to consider what it is to be godly. I define being godly as: practicing what I preach! I can espouse wisdom and good counsel in this venue, praising God for all His wonderous deeds both then and now. If, after having done this, I close my laptop and go about the rest of my day seeking to fulfill only my selfish desires, I am hardly being godly. To further hone my definition, I would add that my life is to be lived in such a way that points always to God and that my being transparent ought to give hard evidence that I am devoted to the Lord.
If living life in love and honestly wanting to be of service to all is my goal, how do I train for it? Going back to our athlete’s example, they didn’t suddenly wake up one day ready to compete in the Olympics. As I said, they put countless hours into their preparation. This same approach works in training in godliness too!
Like the athletes in their pursuits, I didn’t merely come to one morning with knowledge of the Scriptures. I spent (and spend) the time to read them. I sought out people with deeper understanding of God’s word and asked them to teach me. Probably the greatest lesson these devoted folks shared with me was this: God will reveal as much of Himself to me that I desire Him to. Much the same as prayer is, the reading/studying of God’s word is done to know Him more deeply. With this in mind, I do read/meditate/study the Scriptures every day expressly to deepen my relationship with Him.
Another training discipline I have embraced to become more godly is the memorization of passages and verses of the Bible. If, as I believe it is, the Scriptures contain the very essence of God, what better nourishment could I possibly ingest? God desires me to follow Him whole-heartedly and by His grace He has supplied me with the manual to do so! If my bible is sitting on the shelf collecting dust, I can assume my relationship with the Almighty is crusty as well.
The last point I will draw from the example of the Olympic athletes is this: making the time to do the training required for excellence. I am positive that they built their schedules around the activities they undertook. The training was the priority, and they made the appropriate time available to achieve their goal. The same mind-set should apply to our training in godliness. If I wait until it is convenient to do so, I most likely will never get to it. If I think I will put the time in after everything else is done, I am fooling myself. To train in godliness is to take on the responsibility of growing in the faith. No one can do it for me, I must make the commitment to do so.
Listening to the interviews of the Olympic athletes, I have yet to hear one say they regretted the hard work and sacrifice they put in to get to this stage of their career. Likewise, I have yet to hear anyone lament the time and effort they have made to grow in godliness. I take that as great encouragement and hope that you do to. Wherever you are on your faith journey, there is always more opportunity to grow in it. If you put the time in to do so, the rewards will be great. The bible doesn’t say we will get a Gold Medal for our efforts, but it does tell us that the faithful will receive a crown of righteousness!