I stepped on the scales peering at the number in frustration. I had gained five pounds between Christmas and New Years. How? I ate too much and exercised too little.
We all know that in order to maintain weight, we have to discipline ourselves. I can’t let my body have everything it wants to eat. And sometimes I have to make my body do things it doesn’t want to do. My body hates the treadmill. Yet, after 48 years of living I’ve learned that the way I can remain at about 145 pounds is to eat right and burn roughly 500 calories via a three mile run or some other equivalent exercise.
I was slipping out of shape toward the end of last year. So, when I dragged myself onto the treadmill shortly before the New Year my body was screaming at me, begging me to stop running after about six minutes. During the summer I ran at least three to five miles a day and threw in a couple of seven mile runs each week. Running outside is less boring and therefore less difficult for me. But here I was struggling with one mile on the treadmill.
The only way any of us can veto the wishes of our body is through discipline. We’re composed of parts–thinking, feeling, body, spirit, and soul. If the body is in pain we feel it and our feelings lead to certain thoughts all of which can diminish our spirit.
Spirit is will. It is the power inside all of us. It is the essence of who we are. Long after the body has rotted in the ground, our spirit will live. It is our executive center. It was created to be the CEO of the self, controlling the thinking part, the feelings, the body, and our various social interactions. It’s humbling for us to drag our body onto a treadmill with the will to do something only to find that our body has other ideas. And when we give in to our body and skulk off the treadmill too soon, our spirit is deflated, having given up its own glorious position to mere flesh.
Sometimes our spirit expects too much. In my case, I could have ran the three miles. I simply allowed my body to take charge. But what if I’d wanted to run 15 miles? Regardless of how much I might have wanted to churn out the miles, my body was not and is not, conditioned for more than three or four miles presently. The spirit might be willing but the flesh is weak, and sometimes the flesh simply isn’t prepared.
Eating the wrong stuff and sitting on the couch isn’t the only thing my parts–my members, want to do. My thinking likes to chew on delectable thoughts of my own glory. My eyes like to rest on expensive cars, beautiful women, expensive real estate. My tongue is always dancing around clamoring for attention with biting sarcasm. Sometimes it (my tongue) just likes to pop off angrily about things that don’t matter. It is even known to grovel in expressions of contempt and hatred, manipulation, exaggeration, and all the rest.
As an adopted son of God who has been set free from the dominion of sin, imagine how I feel when with the mind I agree with God and want to do or say or think the right thing, but find my spirit diminished, deflated, skulking away from life’s treadmill while my mere parts fight over who will reign as my executive center.
Being set free from sin only means that Jesus has broken the chains. He doesn’t drag us out of the cell. He gives us His Spirit to aid our spirit in reclaiming our relinquished humanity, but anyone who thinks this is an easy process probably has never stepped foot on a treadmill or said no to a slice of pizza. That is to say, there is no such thing as an undisciplined disciple. If we follow Jesus then we suffer with Him in order that we may be glorified with Him. And the context of those words (Romans 8) echo the Abba Father, a prayer Jesus moaned while suffering–not physically, but alone in the garden as the Enemy tried with all his might to convince Jesus to allow his flesh to take over the executive center of his self. Jesus’ thinking part, his feeling part, his body, the social context–it was all fighting against his spirit, his will, but he stayed on the treadmill.
How? He was prepared. He’d been disciplining himself his entire life. Forty days in the wilderness was just the beginning of a public life that required Him to constantly bolster his spirit as CEO over his flesh. And we are called to suffer with Him. Unfortunately we tend to read that as a response to Christian persecution. However that wasn’t Paul’s point in Romans 8. His point was that Jesus didn’t do it all. Jesus did his part. He died for us, became the second Adam, did for us what the law couldn’t do for us, clearing the path for us to follow him as disciples who are called to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit.
We can’t flop down on the couch of life and suppose the Spirit is going to whip our floppy selves into spiritual shape. That’s not the way it works contrary to what the majority seem to think (based on religious words and “church” action–or inaction). If I want to run 15 miles or 25 miles in the spring, then I have to start with 3 or 4 miles today. If I want to tame my tongue, my thoughts, my eyes and ears, my body in various social situations, then that takes little acts of discipline, allowing my spirit (led by His Spirit) to build strength through discipline.
If my body likes to take charge in certain social situations then maybe I need to fast so that I learn to say no to my body. Building upon that discipline my spirit will develop the necessary muscle. If my thoughts prove to be a chaotic force with an apparent life of their own, then maybe I need to memorize scripture, learning to be still and stay with one thought for a long time, saying no to all the other thoughts that try to barge in. Then perhaps when I need to control my thoughts, I will have developed the discipline to do so.
To reign in life, as Paul put it, is to allow the spirit–the will, to be the king. We are made in God’s image. We develop his likeness when we, like Jesus, suffer the pain of crucifying the flesh so that it becomes dead to us, no longer having dominion over our spirit.
If you want to follow Jesus, pull out the hammer of hard work and the nails that create extended pain. It will not be easy. You and I have been deformed by the world, individual and structural evil. The difference between being set free and living in freedom in Christ is discipleship, or discipline.
Beware of the passive, sweet sounding rhetoric being belched out of too many pulpits which leaves the impression that all you need to do is sign a membership card, give 10 percent of your income, and join a church ministry.
That may be boring but I don’t think boredom counts as suffering. Get on the treadmill and stay on a little longer each day. The only way to eventually do what seems impossible is to push yourself up to the limit of what is possible. And then go a little further each day. It will hurt and your parts will not like it, but your spirit will enjoy the Christ-promised conditions of love, joy, and peace in Him.