TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. – Romans 12:12 (RSV)
With apologies to my friends who are retailers who appreciate every hard-earned dollar made during this busy Christmas gift-buying season, I make this reluctant confession: I simply don’t like shopping.
As a fat man, clothes shopping is the absolute worst; I would rather climb a small mountain than rummage the Big & Tall racks and try on prospective pants and shirts. A few years back, I resolved to make the inevitable need to buy clothes for work a much less unpleasant experience.
I started watching what I ate, worked out twice a week with a personal trainer, and set an ambitious goal of losing 150 pounds. I absolutely committed myself to the mission to leave the Big & Tall racks behind forever.
Within a few short months, with dozens of friends following my progress on social media and encouraging me daily, I dropped 85 pounds. In time, I found myself delighting in exploring the men’s department, searching for clothes in smaller sizes, and admiring my progress in the mirror. I even used an animation program to create an imaginary Me at my goal weight.
Then I got lazy.
I started sleeping in and skipped meetings with my trainer. I rediscovered the sensual pleasures of lasagna and pizza. I subscribed to a streaming video service and reacquainted myself with the joys of putting my feet up after work and vegging in front of the TV.
Slowly but surely, the pounds I had lost started creeping back, and soon I faced the prospect of retiring the smaller-size clothes I had bought and buying larger replacements. Last week, I ventured out to buy a new suit for a friend’s funeral. I stopped at the men’s store and found myself struggling to locate a jacket and slacks that fit. I found something passable, yes, but the final product was far from ideal.
The disheartening experience was a wake-up call. I simply had to recommit myself to my nutrition and fitness program. Not only was I struggling to find clothes that fit and looked decent on me; by ignoring my health and fitness, I was flirting with health problems and possibly death.
The journey back into trying to eat right and exercise has not been easy. I find myself tempted daily with unhealthful food choices, and I struggle with the discipline of making time to exercise. I know getting back at least to where I was two years ago – thinner, fitter, healthier – is going to be tough, and I know I will be weak at times, overeat and nap on the sofa when I should be walking. But I also know I must be persistent.
Starting this fitness quest again parallels for me the ongoing journey I continue daily as I try to be a faithful follow of Jesus Christ. Because I am an imperfect human living in a broken world, I often make poor spiritual and moral choices. I love God and cherish my personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but admittedly I get slack in my spiritual disciplines.
I am not always faithful in studying my Bible as much as I should. I fall short of going to the Lord in prayer to praise Him in the good times as well as asking for His help in the tough times. I sometimes skip church services to pursue other diversions, when I know that I am happiest in worship and serving at my church.
I take some solace in knowing that I am not alone in my slackness. In his letter to the church at Philippi, even the faithful Apostle Paul confessed that he had a long way to go and plenty of room for improvement as a Christ follower. After writing in Philippians 3:10 that he wanted to “know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead,” Paul acknowledged that he fell way short of perfection.
“No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing,” Paul wrote. “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NLT)
Paul had demonstrated that he was “all in” in sharing the story of Jesus Christ, but he knew he was all-too-human. He knew his own imperfection, and he knew he had to continue working on his faith. He had to “press on” toward the goal of the ultimate perfection that comes only when we leave this broken world and are united with our Father in heaven.
One take-home message of that passage in Philippians – as well as in our theme verse in Romans – is persistence. Following Christ takes constant effort toward the higher goal of loving, knowing and serving the Lord.
Like a fat boy (like me) trying to get healthier, we have to be careful of our choices, constantly making decisions that are pleasing to God and rejecting those unhealthy moral and spiritual choices that inevitably come our way. We must exercise the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship, and sacrificial service that grow the muscle of our faith. Over time, we will see the spiritual dead weight of our complacency start to slip away, and we will slowly become stronger, more spiritually fit followers of Christ.
Admittedly, it takes hard work and constancy to be a faithful Christ follower. Personally, I know that, like the Apostle Paul, I still have a long way yet to go to reach that goal. I just have to focus on the prize, dig down deep, and persist at all costs.