I try to do my morning workouts before my brain catches up with my body and convinces it not to. As I’m slowly getting warmed up, following along with the instructor on the t.v., my stiff and relaxed muscles are starting to fill a little bit of fire and heat building. I love the workout program I use, it’s called Barr3. It’s an online subscription to a national studio brand that makes it easy to use in the comfort of your own home. My favorite part about the workout is it not only builds muscle but stretches and lengthens them through different repetitions and variations of the workout. For example, the squat. You’ll perform normal range squats for a certain amount of repetitions, then small range (they call it the one-inch), and the last step is the hold (my LEAST favorite part) for what feels like forever. My mind wants to tell me to get up and get out of that weak spot. As my brain was turning on and talking me out of holding the integrity of the move, the instructor explained the important of pushing our muscles towards failure. I almost did a double take/listen. That’s the only time I’ve heard in my life when failure is okay. To push your muscles to failure helps prevent plateaus. If you don’t push yourself, you’ll never get to the next level in your physical fitness training. You have to break past what your muscles are accustomed to in order to go farther and increase your strength and endurance. I believe this is true for the a believer. If we don’t challenge ourselves on a regular basis in faith, we will become stiff and stagnant in that level of spirituality, and we will not go deeper.
Christians are guilty of this within the church. Instead of challenging our congregants, we feed their egos. We pat them on the back, sending them off to feel good about themselves without presenting the hard parts of God’s Truth in love. And we wonder why the Church is shrinking? No one wants to go to the gym, pay for a trainer, and walk out without feeling like they’ve actually done something. Even a stretching session we could all benefit from! There’s nothing wrong with positive affirmations or encouragement, but we all need to improve in our holiness, learn who God is, his character, and how we should then live. I’ve heard Christianity isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. I would further that Christianity quickly plateaus when we live in the safety net of comfortability, and we only seek what’s manageable and agreeable. I’ll never learn to care for the poor if I’m always judging them from my middle-class American suburban window. I’ll never understand the foreigner if all my friends are white. I’ll never grow empathy and understanding for homosexuals when I continue to label their lifestyle but forgo conversations with one. I will quickly lose respect from the marginalized when I ignore their pleas for help and hurry past them on the way to church. My heart will never grow in love when I choose to only love those who love me back and everyone else is just an afterthought or an annoyance. We all want to flex our spiritual muscles when we haven’t even exercised them. We all want to flaunt our volunteerism or our philanthropy, but when the homeless woman interrupts our walk to the metro on the way home from work, or our neighbor walks over to have a conversation right before dinner. The excuses pile up and our selfishness gets in the way. We all prioritize the emptiness of accolades on Instagram or in our circle of friends but we sure as hell fight the process of self-analyzation, facing the monsters inside all of us that are holding us back from dying and sprouting new life. We must tear these muscles that are small, weak, and stiffened from overuse in the common areas of our lives. We must push through the weight of unfamiliar, what’s harder and different, in order to build up an endurance and perseverance that’ll outlast yesterday’s weakness and last year’s strengths. New life comes with a sacrifice, and the old habits must die. Ask any athlete! To gain victory we have to push harder, go longer, eat smarter, rest deeper, and attempt and fail at new practices in order to overcome the plateau of today.
I know a lot of times the reason I avoid trying something new is the fear of failure. I don’t want to admit it to anyone I didn’t make it. You name it, a fast, verse memorization, leading a bible study, or writing a book, stepping out in faith to something new, or talking to someone about Jesus. I don’t want people to know I did it and failed. I don’t want to see myself fail out of pride. One of the phrases in Mark Batterson’s book Chase the Lion that I’ve been chewing over is that the cure for failure isn’t success, “The cure for the failure is failure in small enough doses that we build up an immunity to it.” He prefaced this sentence that God’s perfect love casts out fear, and God will love us no matter what happens. God uses failure in our lives to draw us closer to Him, and He helps us face our fears, pick up the pieces, and move on to pursue what He created us to do. We don’t have to worry about what other people think. We will fail, we’re broken humans in a fallen world, but we have God to strengthen us and extend grace when we find ourselves at the point of failure. With that failure we can appreciate that we pushed through a plateau of spiritual mediocrity, and we’re becoming more and more like Christ to continue in the good work he has called us to.