Using physical training, I want to look at spiritual training to identify cross-over insights.
Probably the first question is "What am I doing here?" Most of us do not give serious thought to such questions, and when we do we often do not think through the consequences of what we think we believe. For example, in physical training we need to decide what our goal is. Am I trying to "look good"? Do I want to be physically healthy? Am I older and just want to be able to walk up and down the steps without losing my breath? Am I an athlete trying to reach the next level of excellence. Am I concerned with strength, endurance, speed, power---or just beauty? [we will come back later to the issue of 'team' in sports and faith/spirituality]
While it may seem silly to ask such questions, we assume it is obvious, at times we make choices which do not match up with our real goals. For example, in only the rarest of cases can someone be both an endurance athlete (running long distances) and extremely strong (lifting heavy things). One can get stronger and increase endurance, but no one can reach her/his maximum potential at both at the same time. The amount of running done diminishes one's muscle mass needed to become "big and strong." And anyone who has ever seen a marathon knows that there are no two hundred fifty pound Kenyans streaking across the finish line. Even if we "know" that, we may still measure ourselves against the criteria (why can I not lift three hundred pounds and also run six miles in under forty minutes?)
People are all born with natural inclinations and an upper limit on what they can achieve. The world's fastest men were born with the potential to be fast. They would have been faster than most people even without training. Their hard work makes them elite, but be clear, some folks are born slow and even with extensive training can only become "less slow"! Now our genetics do not mean we should give up hope for progress. It does mean, however, that we must measure success based on our own growth and not by comparison to others.
So it is important to decide what I am trying to do physically and then make sure my choices match up with my goals (if I am trying to run a 25 minute 5k then I need to be running regularly). Whatever the goal, one needs to create a baseline measure and find out the distance between "where I am" and "where I want to be." And always, keep in mind, it has to be realistic. A fifty year old man cannot look at a twenty-eight year old Kenyan and say, next year I want to beat him in the St. Jude's Marathon (well he can say it, but it isn't going to happen). However, he can say I want to finish!
Spiritually, we all have predispositions as well. Some of us have challenges that others do not. Some of us were born with a natural propensity for certain things. When it comes to God, we are not all created equal (even if we all have equal value in His sight). Assessing our goal (what is it you are trying to become) and our current progress (where am I now) are important in that. And our goal must be set in dialogue with "the call." That is a vital part of all this. Just like a doctor can tell us "you need to lose weight and get your numbers (blood pressure or blood work) in line" or our daily life demands require that we get stronger to lug around a baby or carry groceries, so God calls us to more, or the church needs more, or the community requires more from us.
Now spirituality is both an activity in which we engage and a gift received. I do not want to imply it is all on us. But, in the end, we have no control over what gift God chooses to bestow on us. It is, after all, a grace. However, we have control over what we choose to do with the gifts already give. That effort is what the spiritual disciplines is all about.
Tomorrow we will look at some different approaches to training body and soul. Today it is enough to ask the question, "what do I think God wants me to be? what do others need me to be? what do I desire to become?"