It was 9 a.m. on a Monday morning and I was running strong on my second cup of coffee, all while being very aware of my sore muscles. We had played ultimate frisbee the day before and I hadn’t run that much since high school. A co-worker stopped by to catch up, and while we were laughing about something, a good but painful burn shot down from my rib cage to the arches of my feet.
When you exercise muscles you haven’t used for a while, suddenly an everyday action, like a laugh, feels different. Outside you may look the same, but inside something feels different. And when you keep pushing those muscles or using them, eventually you do transform over time on the outside.
While considering how muscles in our body produce internal and external changes with intentional training, God reminded me of how that picture translates to spiritual growth. If we’re trying to become Christ-like, it’s not instant. It’s a life long work out. Just like muscles, we feel different inward and over time that starts to show in our outward actions.
And what exactly do spiritual muscles look like? I imagine when we start training them and developing them, they start to look like what Paul describes them in Galatians. If we think and talk about “fruit” of the spirit, what about translating that into “muscles” of the spirit?
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5: 22-25
Fruit has a growing period. So do muscles.
Growing anything takes time. That’s the nature of the word itself. Farmers nurture their crops every day in hopes of a future harvest. The small stuff they do can almost seem like it’s making little progress to the eye, but then one day you look out passing the field and the harvest is there. The corn is high or the peaches are ripe.
The same goes with muscles. If you decide to work out with the intention of running a 5k in a few months, joining a league, or just to feel more in shape, the transformation is not a quick one. Those muscles don’t instantly transform after one workout. It takes persistent and intentional work to reach your goal. Just as the farmer patiently grows, you have to steadily build up strength.
Fruit Nourishes. Muscles Strengthen.
We all know fruit has more health benefits than a pack of Skittles ever will. You get antioxidants, vitamins, and all those other nutrients. The same view stands with your muscles. When you’re training them regularly, you start to feel the strength you didn’t have before.
Suddenly you walk a little different, run a little faster, or find playing that game a little easier. In the beginning, you don’t look different to the eye, but you do feel different. With time, you may even start to look different on the outside.
That’s the thing with transformation. Whether we’re talking about growing fruit or exercising, both start with internal change that’s not as easy to see, but over time the change becomes external in a way anyone can see.
Fruit benefits people. Muscles help the team.
Just like having fruit available for people can contribute positively to their health, building your muscles can be of benefit not just for you but for your community. What Paul’s writing about when he discusses the fruits of the Spirit has the potential to have a ripple effect on anyone around you.
Patiently bringing about those characteristics in your life isn’t something to do just because it “looks” good and Christ-like. It’s actually a tactic we can use to conquer life hand in hand with Jesus while impacting others, all at the same time.
Just like we spend time trying to get better at our jobs, our hobbies, or our interests, the same can be said for developing your muscles of the spirit. God wants to partner with us in that training so we can build up strength and start flexing them in our daily life. You too can have: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Those are tools that Jesus has given us to live life and thrive. They give us new attitudes in tough situations, encouragement to persevere in hard seasons, or lead to victorious seasons where we break out of the cycles that trapped us in the past.
God gave us the muscles, but it takes intentional training on our part to form them and flex them. If we follow along with his coaching and step into our calling to use them, we can also step more into the potential and calling Jesus has put in each of us. After all, how good is any athlete who never finds a coach and trains?
God wants us to partner with him and hit the “gym” to fully lay hold of the victory he has for us and his team. Relish the workout and feel the burn!