Spiritual Discipline: Gain through Pain

Hebrews 12:  11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

The human body is a wonderful and complex thing.  One of the areas that intrigues me is physical training.  How is it that bringing your body to a point of exhaustion, making your muscles ache, is a beneficial thing?  It seems counterintuitive.  Wouldn’t it seem better to rest your body?

As athletes, we know there is a time for rest, but to improve our conditioning and performance we have to train and we have to push our bodies.  To grow our muscles, we need to in fact stress them.  When we lift weights we apply a load of stress greater than what our muscles had previously adapted to.  In fact, the additional tension causes local muscle damage. But the body, then releases inflammatory molecules and immune system cells that activate satellite cells to jump into action to build greater muscle.

Particularly for mid or distance runners you often hear of VO2 which is the body’s ability to use oxygen.  VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise and is a combination of how much oxygen-rich blood your heart can pump, and the efficiency of the muscles in extracting and utilizing that oxygen.  When we train at V02 max (i.e. we stress our bodies), we increase the amount of oxygen our bodies can use.  Simplistically, the more oxygen we can use, the faster and longer we can run.

If you are a serious athlete you can relate to those “pain sessions”!   Perhaps it was a brutal session in the weight room where your quads felt like they were burning in an incinerator or maybe your core was screaming “tap out, tap out”.  Maybe it was that hill workout – multiple repeats, each getting worse than the last.  You’re stooped over, desperately trying to keep your pre-workout meal down.  You are disciplining your body and “no discipline seems pleasant at the time”.

This leads to today’s scripture from Hebrews 12:11: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”  In fact, take the time to read Hebrews 12: 1-12 and you will see the author allude to both running (vs 1) and muscle building (vs 12).  As I read this I wondered why we as Christian athletes so easily accept the necessity of physical training and disciplining our bodies, but when it comes to spiritual discipline we are quick to whine, complain and question God.  While I can’t say I ever enjoyed hearing my alarm clock go off in the dark in late March in Canada for my first track interval workout of the year, there was this strange gratification that came in the pain because I understood what results would come from it.  When I recognized this, I tried to likewise apply this to my spiritual life.  By no means have I mastered this concept, as God has frequently heard my whines, I can however say that God has enabled me to more often appreciate the disciplining he brings me through hardship.  The next time you face spiritual disciplining, awake the athlete inside of you and embrace it, understanding that your personal trainer is fashioning you for battle!

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