"Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NRSV)
This past Sunday, I noted Paul's symbolic use of physical training as a metaphor for how our relationship with God deepens through spiritual practice. In the same way an athlete trains daily (and sometimes multiple times a day), we, too, must train our spirits so that we will have the spiritual strength, resolve, and reserve we need to live faithfully.
Most athletes possess some genetically predisposed advantages that increase the chance of their success in a sport. While this is true, it is also true that they must further develop their natural gifts to perform at their highest level of execution on the day of competition. Without training, their innate abilities may not be enough to win the day, no matter how hard they try. Training almost always beats trying!
Most of us "try" to live faithfully in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Some of us have discovered the benefits of training for the life of discipleship. We have learned that the more we spend time developing holy habits, the more instinctively we respond in faithfulness to life's challenges. Through daily spiritual practices, we have learned that this focused time with God is the best preparation for facing the micro and macro challenges that are a part of everyday life.
An athlete runs drills designed to help her/his body automatically respond to situations in the heat of competition that flow from muscle memory. Likewise, the time we spend directing our attention toward God and listening to his gentle guidance helps us respond to every situation of our lives with a sense of faithfulness borne of our deep connection with God. We don't have to "try" to faithfully respond because we've "trained" to live faithfully.
Paul advises Timothy to train for godliness. Training for faithfulness is not just for the benefit of deepening our relationship with God; it impacts every other relationship we have in the most positive ways. When we practice intentionally directing our attention toward God, it improves our awareness of how God is interacting with us, through us, and through others, creating a more meaningful and fulfilling pattern of relationships that will lead to the abundant life for which we are made. We are reorienting our affections towards others, reflecting how God designed us to be in relationship with others. It prepares us for the life that is to come while enhancing the experience we have now. It makes life easier and better!