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Spiritual Gymnastics -- Not As Easy as it Looks
Matt 7:13-14….. 13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
I love watching gymnastics during the summer Olympics. I watch in amazement as young girls jump, twist, flip and they do it all with ease! Or so it seems. All of the gymnastic events take strength, flexibility, rhythm and balance. Strength is needed to hold up body weight on just their hands, flexibility for many of the moves and positions, rhythm to make the routine look smooth, but balance ties it all together. Without balance sticking landings are not possible, without balance, handstands would look awkward, without balance you won’t perform gracefully.
But my favorite event is the balance beam. Here you have these young girls balancing themselves on a beam that is 10cm Wide x 1.2m High x 5m Long. Losing your balance on this device can be very unforgiving. It’s a great equalizer, “Michigan woman’s gymnastics coach Beverly Plocki said. “No other event requires the same mental focus. You stumble on the floor, it’s a minor deduction. The beam is the event of perfection. No room for error.”
Our Christian lives are very similar, we need strength, flexibility, rhythm and balance. Just as in gymnastics you can’t have one without the others. Ultimately, we try to balance our spiritual life with the ways of the world. Why? Because human nature says to take the easy way, the way of less resistance. We try to keep the narrow road in sight, but off to the side. Jesus is put into a box and then pulled out when we need Him. Every Sunday we step over to the narrow way when we are at church or when we are with other Christians, but when we are on our own we take a detour to the wider path because it’s easier. In the end, we find ourselves walking on the wide road of doing things our way, a road of tolerance and a road of complacency.
Obedience to God takes the attributes of strength, flexibility, rhythm and balance but, it is easier said than done. God never promised obedience would be easy, He never promised serving Him would be a breeze, and He surely didn’t guarantee to task you with something you are comfortable doing. God expects complete focus on our part, going out into the world without the world influencing our lives. So how do these attributes help keep your spiritual life balanced?
Strength: being strong, strong attribute, one regarded as embodying force or firmness. To be physically strong and fit is a fine goal, but there is a greater strength that is even more essential – a strength that can only be found in God. We can discover God’s power when we study the Bible verses about strength. The Apostle Paul says: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Godly strength trumps physical strength every time, but many of us buy into the lies that we are somehow not strong in the Lord. Those lies are straight from the Devil.
Satan has paved the highway to hell with fleshly temptations, worldly attractions, and moral compromises. Most people allow their passions and desires to dictate the course of their lives by choosing temporary, earthly pleasures over the self-sacrifice required in following Jesus. We give in to feelings that we can never experience God’s strength.
But, God’s word never once indicates that God wants his people to remain weak.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). Power, love and a sound mind requires wearing the complete armor of God spoken about in Ephesians 6:11-16. You need the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit and most of all the shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Following Christ requires giving up the fleshly desires by relying on God to give us the strength to face forward keeping Jesus in the center of our lives.
Flexibility: able to be bent, willing to yield. “You want me to do what? I’ve never done this before.” Many times the Lord calls people to the ministry only to hear this kind of response. Just like a gymnast we need to be flexible. But, how do we go about becoming more flexible? We need to stretch. Athletes stretch their muscles to warm them up, but they also gradually stretch them beyond comfort to become as limber as possible. So should we!
Abraham didn’t just have a simple belief in God, he had an unwavering faith. But, there is more to it than that. Not only did he have an unwavering faith, he acted on that faith. God told him to pack up the family and go to a place He would show him. Without hesitation, Abraham left not knowing where God was leading. Abraham stretched his faith in obedience.
If you look at the definition of flexibility above you will see the phrase “willing to yield”. Just what does willing to yield mean? First, let’s define yield: to submit, to surrender, are just a couple but probably the most pertinent definitions. Now define willing: eager, earnest, enthusiastic. Now let’s put the two together; willing to yield is eagerly, earnestly and enthusiastically submitting or surrendering. Now the question is to what or who are you yielding?
When you yield to something, it doesn’t take long to realize the tremendous control it has over you. Just think of how habits start. You tell yourself, “Oh, I can give up that habit whenever I like,” but it’s never that easy. We find it easy to sing, “He will break every fetter,” while at the same time living in slavery to your habits. Yielding yourself completely to Jesus is the only way to break the bonds! Surrendering yourself completely to Jesus will also stretch your faith, making you more spiritually flexible as well as giving you the strength necessary to do God’s bidding. Romans 6:16-18 says, “Do you not know if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey--either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.” Are you enslaved to righteousness?
Rhythm: measured movement with uniform or patterned recurrence. Strength and flexibility mean nothing to gymnastic routines if there is no rhythm. Without rhythm, all their movements won’t appear fluid and natural. This is why floor routines are performed with music. Rhythm ties every movement, tumble and leap together to give the appearance of a beautiful dance.
Rhythm is part of our lives. When I walk I typically start on my left foot. Years of marching band and marching in the military has conditioned me to do so. If you were to pay attention to your activities I’m sure you would find certain things you do are done the same way every day without even thinking about them. That rhythm gives you some stability and normalcy in your life. This is also true of our spirituality.
We were created for a loving relationship with our Creator that is renewed and strengthened by the rhythm of prayer. Prayer is our line of communication with our heavenly Father. But, it seems for most, prayer is a last resort or only an option when things get off on the wrong foot. Let’s face it, you keep an open line with family members to keep them informed of exciting happenings in your life, tragedies and even the mundane activities. God is our heavenly Father and we are His children, so why is it such a problem to keep the communication line open on a daily basis?
It takes a rhythm of prayer to stay in tune with the Lord! Daily praying,scheduled praying, praying at the same time everyday, it doesn’t matter what you call it -- just pray; communicate with God, praising Him and thanking Him in all things just as the Psalmist said! Don’t wait for times to get bad to take Jesus out of the box and call on Him! He wants to talk with us all of the time -- good or bad. Getting your prayer life in rhythm with God is the most important habit you could ever develop.
Balance: correct body alignment, equal distribution of weight. For the balance beam exercise strength, flexibility and rhythm are nothing without balance. Balance in this event is everything and requires full commitment! All of their tumbling, leaping and dance talents are combined into a graceful routine on a four inch-wide beam. Missing a step, under or over rotating in a back flip is not an option and can be very unforgiving. In a back flip they temporarily lose site of the beam, but they quickly bring their eyes to the beam as they complete the skill. In other words, they have to keep their eye on the landing point.
The path to heaven is just like the balance beam. Jesus tells us, 13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because[a] narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. The narrow gate will take you through hardships and difficult decisions. Human nature has a tendency to want to take the easy way. He says broad is the way -- plenty of room for everyone, you don’t have to keep your balance to walk on a wide path when there is plenty of wiggle room. It doesn’t take strength to sustain yourself on a wide path. Flexibility? The wide path has plenty of room to try and avoid trials, plenty of room to side-step obedience. That’s why there are few who find it.
Staying on the narrow path, on the other hand requires complete commitment to Jesus. It takes strength to ignore the world and it’s temptations. Trusting God is key in this attribute. Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptations has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.”
Staying on the narrow path takes flexibility, being willing to yield to God’s commands, being willing to get out of your comfort zone when He leads. God has a tendency to get one to serve in a capacity they have never served before. I once heard a preacher say, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. After all Peter was just a fisherman. He had no idea what he was getting into when Jesus commanded he follow Him.
Staying on the narrow path requires rhythm, staying in tune or in touch with God and His will. The only way to do this is stay in prayer. Pray and ask God to help you through the tough times, pray thanking Him for the good times. Pray praising Him for His greatness, pray asking Him for guidance in your decisions, even the easy one -- Just Pray! Make time in your schedule to talk to God on a daily basis. Try to do it at the same time each day so that it will eventually become natural, after all, prayer is habit forming!
And staying on the narrow path requires balance. Balance requires correct body alignment. In this case it would be correct soul alignment. The reason so few will find the narrow gate is they end up rejecting salvation. The only way to Paradise is to confess your sins, and believe in Jesus and ask Him to come into your heart. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life.” But that is only the beginning.
Gymnasts focus on the balance beam to keep aligned and to hit their marks when tumbling. Their rhythm gives them grace making the routine smooth. They use strength to ensure they can get the clearance they need for the difficult tumbling skills. They rely on flexibility to make them limber enough to complete the complicated positions while at the same time minimizing the risk of injury.
Once you have your balance and aligned your soul with God, you have to keep your focus on Jesus. Keep your eyes focused straight ahead on Jesus without looking back to your past. Fully rely on the strength God gives to you through the scriptures and prayer to stay on track and ignore the temptations around you. Have the courage to stretch your faith through obedience making you flexible and willing to get out of your comfort zone and accomplish God’s will in your life. And lastly, keep your communication lines open, pray to God daily and keep the rhythm of your life in tune to Him.