I have three teenage sons who between them play every sport from football and basketball to tennis and baseball. Over the course of a year we have maybe a month when we are not attending games, on our way to a tournament, or hoofing the family SUV to a gym, court or field.
The games are glorious. The practices are murder.
“Two-a-days” in the summer heat. The weight room. Running stadiums. Endless drills. But they want to play, so they put in their workout hours, hurting themselves in order to perform at a higher level. Ironically, for all their devotion to sport, they rarely show as much dedication to their academic studies.
Why? Because there are types of training that are harder than what you do to your body. Earth science is more demanding than making a jump shot. Geometry is far more difficult than hitting a forehand. Critical thinking and AP history are more of a challenge than running a wheel route out of the offensive backfield.
This is why education is compulsory. My boys go to school against their will. And cry or protest as they might, clinging to their covers in the morning, complaining about the crushing load of homework and those tyrannical teachers – I know it is good for them. They can’t grow into mature, responsible adults unless they go to school.
The same is true for us. In this country we willingly spend more than $20 billion a year on gym memberships (though more than half of these memberships are never utilized), and if “fitness” is expanded to include the “health market,” that number expands to $350 billion. We make this herculean effort to stay toned and ripped, but we avoid at almost any cost, the working out of our faith, spirits, and inner selves.
Thus, spiritual growth must be compelled – our education is forced upon us. Through failure, injustice, loss, and hardship; a broken body or a broken heart; the unfairness of life: When we experience these things, it is an opportunity to quit playing games, enter the classroom, and do the hard work of the soul and spirit. It is an opportunity, difficult as it is, to grow up.
Granted, we can resist this education. We can sit in the back of class, throw spit wads, try to cheat off the work of others, defy what would teach us, and act like the doltish jock who only lives for the thrill of the game. We will find ourselves stuck in that same class – failing – and never mature in the process.
The Apostle Paul said it this way: “Workouts are useful.” And he was right. Physical training is good. Yet he adds this caveat: “But a disciplined life in God is far more useful, making you fit both today and forever.” So, work out your faith. It’s more important than any improvements you might make to your body, and the results will last substantially longer than your commitment to the local gym.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.