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December 5, 2015

The Necessity of Spiritual Exercise


One of the ways I like to get out and exercise is hiking. Its something I've enjoyed for many years, but as much as I appreciate God's beauty, I know its a lot of work hiking up some of those mountains. It doesn't always feel so good. Willard talks about how spiritual training and exercise were an expected practice in Paul's day. In our day however, "we tend to think of ascetic practices as oddities." I mentioned this yesterday, but I continue to be concerned at how much Christians compare themselves to others. Real Christlike selfless living disturbs us because it upsets our illusion of spiritual maturity. Its hard to be around someone who is actively practicing spiritual disciplines so we label them as odd or unusual instead of looking to learn from their spiritual practices.

Willard makes a great observation asking "Where have we gotten this idea about doing what feels good?" This is probably the real reason why we avoid spiritual disciplines - because they don't feel good. They stretch our spiritual muscles, challenge our thinking, and lay the unflattering reality of our souls bear before the Holy Spirit's examination and correction. Willard goes on to challenge the church today saying "Isn't the most generally applied standard of success for a religious service whether or not people feel good in it after it?" He states that the preeminence of this "feel good" mentality in our world makes it impossible for us to imagine how Paul and others of his day lived such disciplined lives. I confess, I know this all too well. The struggle to deny self and live a disciplined life rather than doing what I want is my constant companion. I like those services where I feel good, but I know I also need to be convicted and challenged along the way. Spiritual exercise is necessary if we ever want to grow and learn and become more like Christ.