Summary: Just like physical training, faith training involes building strength and endurance.
Sam was a great bird dog. If he pointed to a clump of bushes, there surely was a bird in there. He was much more than just a bird dog. Often we'd share together lazy lunches in an abandoned apple orchard, and the snooze that followed. Late one afternoon, Sam and I became separated. Neither of us was familiar with the area. I called and whistled. No sign of Sam. I had to get back to town for an important appointment. But how could I leave Sam? If he finally came back and I wasn't there, would I lose him for good? Then I remembered a trick an old dog trainer had passed on. I unbuttoned my jacket, and laid it on the ground under the branches of a small bush. I worried all night. But when I returned the next morning there was Sam curled up with his nose under the sleeve of my jacket. He looked up and wagged his tail. His eyes seemed to say, “Where've you been friend? I've been waiting for you all night. But I knew you'd come back." Later I wondered. When I get lost, do I have the trust to look for some part of God's word and curl up in it? To wait patiently, knowing that my Friend will find me if I just have faith in him?
1Tim 4:7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance 10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
The Christian life is not so much about trying than it is training. Often we fail in the Christian disciplines because we do not understand this point. We set a goal for ourselves and then try hard to reach them but so often fail. If I were to set a goal for myself to run a marathon tomorrow it would not matter how hard I try – I would not finish it. Why? Not because of a lack of effort but because of a lack of exercise. To run with perseverance the race God has marked out for us requires faith training.
Paul uses the example of physical exercise to illustrate a great spiritual truth. The Greeks put much importance on bodily exercise, because athletic events were of great importance to them. What is most important here, and the lesson that we must learn, is that Christians should put as much effort into the exercise of godliness as these athletes did into the exercise of their bodies. How does a Christian exercise for godliness? This can be seen by studying the athlete.
1. Building Strength –
The athlete builds his muscles through tension. This is done by stressing and straining the muscle until it grows. The Christian exercises his faith. This is done by constantly putting his faith in God. This is done by trusting God for the things that we need...and relying upon Him completely. Doing this strengthens our faith, just as the athlete builds his muscles.
What is faith? When John Paton was translating the Bible for a South Seas island tribe, he discovered that they had no word for trust or faith. One day a native who had been running hard came into the missionary's house, flopped himself in a large chair and said, "It's good to rest my whole weight on this chair." "That's it," said Paton. "I'll translate faith as 'resting one's whole weight on God.'"
Philip Yancey defines faith as: "Believing in advance in something that will only seem logical when seen in reverse."
When I was in University I learned the importance of exercising your faith. After failing miserably at first I decided to begin working out my faith. I and several other students started a small group with a local pastor and called it the heretic’s club and every week we would think up the hardest question we possibly could about the Bible. At first we tiptoed as if we were on thin ice not wanting to break through. Eventually we found that the Bible could take care of itself and there were answers for our questions. I and a few others got involved in an evangelistic program called the 10 Myths of Christianity. We would publicly debate the existence of God and the claims of Christ. Many times I went back to my dorm room confused and found myself debating in my sleep.
In what areas are you exercising your faith? How is it being stretched? When was the last time your faith was really tested?