Exercising is something people love, hate or do because they think it will give them a benefit. If you’ve ever tried to get in shape, you know it doesn’t happen overnight. Depending on your fitness level, it can take weeks, months or even years. I’ve made the mistake of overdoing a workout after taking a break and paid the price in sore muscles. I’ve learned to start slowly and build up. I’m riding my bike again and not embarrassed to tell you I have to walk up some of the hills near my home.
Thinking about physical exercise made me think of our spiritual muscles. How I wish the parallel didn’t exist. For some reason, I can be patient with myself when it comes to building up my muscles and fitness level, but I can get frustrated when my spiritual fitness seems to take too long. I want to be more loving, patient, kind, giving and compassionate – now. I’d also like to keep my mouth shut more often. But sometimes I feel I’m taking a step back or treading water. I do sometimes feel like I’m moving forward, but never fast enough.
I’ve been telling myself I’ll get to the point when I can ride up one, then two of the hills I have to walk now – perhaps I should remember the same thing when it comes to spiritual growth and transformation. It takes hard work in the form of practicing the spiritual disciplines (the same as if we were learning a language), focusing on Christ and continual trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus. And of course, patience.
One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery. We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.
Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.
What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.
Since we moved, I’ve been doing a lot of baking – sourdough baking in particular. And no, I didn’t start because of the virus or the stay at home restrictions. I began a sourdough starter last year and made English muffins, crackers and bread sticks. It was fun and felt good to create what I considered culinary works of art. Lately I’ve branched out into pancakes, pizza dough and bread. I’ve even used it in banana bread and chocolate cake!
You may be wondering what this has to do with God. No, I’m not going to tell you about a trinity of yeasts in sourdough. But a sourdough starter is alive, and all life comes from him. When I’m tending my starter, I enjoy seeing it bubble with renewed life after being fed.
The life of God is the life force of the universe, even in sourdough starters. His life force is what raised Jesus back to life from his grave and it’s what gives us new life in him right now. It’s also our hope for eternal life with him, his resurrection that is also our resurrection. When he died, we died and when he rose, we rose. His life is in us. When I feed and use my starter, I praise him for his life and his love that causes him to want to share it with us.
I was happy to learn that some of you signed up for the Trusting God retreat with Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes. I hope you were able either to listen live or to have accessed the recorded event. I also hope you enjoyed it and benefited from the teaching and interaction.
One lesson really helped me and has stuck in my mind since I heard it from Jan. She told the story of how she mentioned to Dallas Willard that she had been struggling with a pipe and felt the problem was insurmountable. He told her it was never just her and the pipe – Jesus was with her and she was never alone. Then Jan asked attendees to share their problem, phrasing it as “It’s not just me and _______.”
It’s not just me and this computer. It’s not just me and this flat tire. It’s not just me and this tree root. It’s not just me and this person I’m arguing with. What a great way to look at trials and frustrating situations. It’s never just me alone with whatever is going on in my life. God is always with me, always on my side and when I ask, he helps me figure it out – or gives me peace about it.
Learning to trust God is a daily, ongoing process. If you’d like to share something you learned from the retreat or needed to be reminded of, we can help each other along the path to greater trust.