I’m a runner, but in recent years, following the advice of “experts”, I’ve disciplined myself to include weight-training in my exercise program. I’ll admit, most days I don’t like it. I’d prefer running outside to lifting weights in a hot gym any day, but I can feel the positive results it brings when I discipline myself to do it. Developing and maintaining muscles, especially at my age, doesn’t happen simply by running. (And, BTW, that’s not my arm in the picture. Mine is much bigger 🙂 )
God has ways of developing our spiritual muscles. As with any muscle-building, it’s often a difficult journey to get the desired results. Sure, God builds us through prayer, Bible study and His presence in our life, but my faith building has not always been that pleasant of an experience.
As I’ve observed, God seems to use:
Tests – “After these things God tested Abraham” (Genesis 22:1). In the past couple years, I’ve received numerous job opportunities. I believe God often gives us tremendous latitude in our career choices, preferring to concentrate His will more on who we are rather than what we do, but I think some of these opportunities may have been tests to see if I would follow my will or God’s will. Each of them caught my attention, but later, after wrestling through them with God, my discernment was they were not where God would best use me at the time.
I’ve often been guilty of doing things my way, only to regret them later. I’ve been tested many times and, when I surrender what I want to His will, I’ve eventually passed the test. It hasn’t always come immediately. I’m slow to obey sometimes, but when I’ve eventually yielded to Him, things turn out best. In those times, I always learn something about myself and my character as it relates to God.
Temptations – The Bible is clear that God does not tempt us (James 1:13), but God uses temptation to teach us about ourselves, about God, and that our dependence is to be on Him. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Even Jesus was tempted. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1) How much more you and me?
Temptations are all around us everyday. God strengthens our trust and obedience in Him as we learn to handle them in a God-honoring way. Thankfully, He always provides the strength in Christ to overcome temptations. “and God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Trials – I’ve said many times, we are either in a trial, just coming out of a trial, or will soon be in a trial. I’m sure I heard someone else say that years ago, but I don’t remember who said it first. It certainly has proven true in my life. If it’s not our personal trial, it will be someone close to us. Some trials are bigger than others, but all are used of God for some divine purpose. “These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:7)
Learning to allow suffering to draw us closer to Christ, rather than further away takes faith and discipline. We learn to rest in His care, even when the circumstances around us scream at us to turn to worry and fear. During trials we remind ourselves of who we are in Christ and the future He has planned for us. We allow trials to produce in us the hope found only in knowing Christ personally. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)
Do you want your faith to grow? Do you want to trust God more? Are you ready to have a hope that surpasses the darkness the world can bring? It may not always be a pleasant experience, there is some “weight-training” involved at times, but it will always be worth it.
How is God developing your spiritual muscles these days?
I’m not saying my list is exclusive. How else does God develop us spiritually?