More and more, I’m convinced that renewal and restoration in the church will not happen apart from individual Christians recommitting to more holistic forms of spiritual self-discipline and Christian practice. We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling, in utter dependence on the one who works in us both to will and to work according to his good purpose.
The beginning of a calendar year is marked by New Year’s resolutions. Most of these goals focus on physical improvement. We want to lose weight, put on muscle, get healthier, walk more, etc. So, we resolve to eat more of this and less of that, to work out at home or take advantage of a gym membership.
As Christians, we believe we should steward our bodies well, and yes, diet and exercise play a part in these resolutions. But more than our neighbors, we should consider “working out” holistically.
3 Parts to a Holistic Workout
I work with a guy fresh out of college who asked me recently about developing a routine of reading more often and about being more consistent in daily devotions. He’s an army guy, so he’s familiar with boot camp, and workouts, and “getting your reps in.”
To be a well-rounded individual, to be a person of depth and insight, I told him, we must pursue working out in three dimensions: body, soul, and mind.
We walk, we exercise, we go to the gym, we do push-ups and pull-ups because we want to take care of our physical bodies. Most people think in these terms when they hear “workout,” so let’s move on to another type of exercise.
We work out our minds by picking up books that are hard to read and persevering through them, by setting reading goals that stretch us. If you read for just 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening, you’ll get through multiple books a year, even big books that demand your attention and focus.
This is not unattainable. Tony Reinke writes:
“The average reader moves through a book at a pace of about 250 words per minute. So 420 minutes of reading per week translates into 105,000 words per week. This book is roughly 55,000 words. Assuming that you can read for one hour each day, and that you read at around 250 words per minute, you can complete more than one book per week, or about seventy books per year.”
The point of reading, or listening to audiobooks, or taking the Great Courses, or studying textbooks isn’t to consume an arbitrary number of books so you can brag to your friends. The point of such reading is the pursuit of wisdom.
So, ask yourself the question: Where do you need to stretch? We have available to us books of theology and sociology, books that have made a cultural impact, worlds of imagination. Alan Jacobs writes:
“Great books are great in part because of what they ask of their readers: they are not readily encountered, easily assessed.”
Maybe this is the year to work through several novels of Charles Dickens. Maybe this is the year you’ll make your way through Millard Erickson’s Systematic Theology. Maybe this is the year you’ll dip into the Church Fathers.
Read for pleasure. Read for wisdom. Read with friends and family members who can give you good recommendations, discuss big ideas, and help you stay intentional about working out your mind.
The third aspect of a holistic workout requires you to pay attention to your soul. Whether you call it “devotions” or a “quiet time,” the point is to set aside time to meditate on God’s Word and to pray. I go to the Psalms in 30 Days as a spiritual workout. It’s not that I expect a flash of insight every morning when I read God’s Word, just like I don’t expect one round of exercises to keep my body in shape. But I know that over time, I’m getting my reps in. I want to develop into the kind of person who can’t imagine beginning or ending the day without prayer and Bible study, someone with the ability to silence the noise and hear the Lord.
The way the Bible does its work on our hearts is often not through the lightning bolt but through the gentle and quiet rhythms of daily submission, of opening our lives before this open Book and asking God to change us. Change doesn’t always happen overnight. Growth doesn’t happen in an instant. Instead, it happens over time, as we eat and drink and exercise.
The same is true of Scripture reading. The same is true of prioritizing in-person church attendance. The workout of the soul requires not merely private Bible study, but corporate Christian practice, where we draw near to the God who meets with us and ministers to us. In church, we also learn to obey the “one another” commands of the New Testament and ask God to expand our hearts so that we love him and love our neighbors.
A Vision of the Future: Who Are You Becoming?
Ask yourself: what kind of person do you want to be in 10 years, in 20 years, in 30 years? If the Lord grants me another 20 or 30 years of life, I hope to be an older person in the room with wisdom to offer those younger than me. The only way I’ll achieve that is if I put time into reading, reflecting, listening, and thinking, into saturating myself in the Word of God and serving his people now.
The key word is consistency. Words have weight when they come from someone consistent.
In Philippians 2, Paul talks about the “proven character” of Timothy (Phil. 2:22, CSB). Consistency isn’t something you can conjure up in a day or two, a week or two, even a month or two. It takes time and energy and effort, but what a great character trait to have!
Why do we work out—body, mind, and soul? To be consistent, to be healthy and whole, to reflect the God we worship.
We rely on the consistency of God’s grace and mercy and his empowering Spirit. And we pray we become the type of people others can rely on for our consistency. We see God as faithful and constant, and we pray we become the type of people others see as faithful and constant.
A holistic workout isn’t about you. It’s about developing wisdom and a consistency that shows the world how dependable and reliable God is.
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