Journal entry 032411: Spiritual training

Sunday I rode the Mid-Cities route on my bicycle, about 26 miles round-trip. That was a long ride for me at this point in my life, the furthest I’ve ridden in the modern era. It was windy but not impossible, and I worked hard the entire ride pushing my legs and pushing the pace. It was fun.

When I got home I was surprised to notice my legs weren’t weary. I was tired from the bike saddle and my hands and arms tingled from the handlebars, but those were minor discomforts which went away after a few minutes. However, I could feel the effort in my chest - heart and lungs - for several hours, and it felt good. It felt like I had worked hard.

I told Cyndi, “It’s been years since I could run hard enough for my lungs and heart to feel the strain. My knees won’t let me run that fast now. That’s one big advantage to cycling - I can work much harder.”

It wasn’t the same as being short-winded, which happens every time I carry my backpack up into the Guadalupe Mountains; this was more like that good soreness you feel in your muscles after lifting weights. It feels like success, like victory, like value-added, like accomplishment. That was how I felt after the ride.

I’m sorry to be going on and on about a simple bike ride that for my cycling friends was nothing but a simple warm-up jaunt, but as I said,  it has been years since my knees would let me run fast enough to have that same effect in my lungs, and I realized how much I’ve missed it.

Later that Sunday evening, after the ride, as I sat in church, proud of the lingering effects, I wondered if hard exertion has more than physical value. Is there spiritual value in hard work? I know Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but He didn’t mean we’d have an easy go of it for all of life.

Paul wrote in Philippians 2:12 - “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (NAS)

“Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God.” (MSG)

“Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” (NLT)

“Work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation.” (AMP)

Clearly we aren’t supposed to sit down and become spiritual couch potatoes after receiving the free gift of grace. We are to take that free gift and start working.

Dallas Willard said in a Catalyst interview, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.” We don’t earn our relationship with God through hard work, but hard work has great value just the same.

There is a true statement that we often repeat: “There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Of course, it is absolutely correct. God loves us because He is God, God is love, and not because of our efforts. However, it is too tempting to use that statement as an excuse to sit down and do nothing, and that response ignores the real issue. God’s love for us is never in question, but our love for Him can be a shaky thing indeed. The purpose of spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, study, reading, worship, fasting, giving, silence, solitude, serving, etc.) is not to win God’s favor but to change our own hearts. As we work out our own salvation, like Apostle Paul says, we change our own heart and dreams and thoughts and desires, and we improve our own capability of loving God. Spiritual disciplines do not earn access to God, but open up our lives and make room for God.

Dallas Willard Said, “Think of it as training verses trying - trying harder seldom helps, but training makes you better.”

I must add this before drawing too many deep spiritual conclusions from a bike ride. I went out Tuesday afternoon to ride 17 miles and the wind was fierce. It was epically fierce. It was Patagonia fierce. There were moments when it was all I could to maintain 6 mph, legs spinning like crazy. I was so slow I would’ve fallen over if not for the gyroscopic effect of my legs going round and round and round. It was brutal.

Afterward, I didn’t feel any spiritual benefit from that ride at all. In fact, I felt more foolish than enlightened. Why didn’t I go to the gym and ride the stationary bike instead? I still have a lot to learn about training.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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