Yesterday I returned to the Gym. My daughter's volleyball season has ended, and she wants to get stronger before she starts track next spring, so we have committed to going every afternoon to our local YMCA. She had never lifted weights before, so I was careful not to overdo it the first day. We did a few basic machine weights for the upper body and then 30 minutes of cardio. As I was walking on the treadmill, my arms aching from a few months of inactivity, I asked myself the same question I always asked myself when I returned to the gym after a long break. Why did I stop coming in the first place?
Some Christians ask the same question when returning to regular devotional time: Why did I stop consistently reading and praying daily? It is essential to ask this question: what makes us quit doing something we know we need and that we see has significant benefits in our lives?
Here is why I have struggled with exercise and devotion through the years. The first is not saying no. It was said that if you say yes to everything, you are saying yes to nothing. We live in a world of unprecedented opportunities. Almost any hobby is accessible through the internet. There are chances to volunteer at schools, recreation departments, churches, and throughout your community. However, it is easy to let these lesser commitments crowd out what should be a greater commitment.
Another reason we quit is that we have unrealistic expectations. I encourage people to plan their Bible reading for the next year each December. I offer them several reading plans that take them through the Bible in a year or a plan that helps them commit to daily reading of both Old and New Testament Scriptures. Some have tried the M’Chenye plan, which takes you through the Old Testament once and the New Testament twice a year. Several people have complained that they can’t read four daily chapters. The reason is it takes too much time. Yet how much time do you spend surfing social media or watching television? We must be careful with our commitments and how we spend our free time. The hard answer may be that our devotional time is not a priority.
Another problem is that we have unrealistic expectations in our return to consistent daily devotional times. In returning to the gym, there have been times when I did a full circuit of weights with cardio and then played basketball for an hour afterward. The next morning, I could not move. What this looks like in our devotional life is that we start out with a great goal: read 4-5 chapters in the Bible a day, pray for an hour, and read 25 pages of Bavinck. Yet usually, you can’t sustain that for a week. You get behind. You then have to double up. You rush through it, motivated more to get it done than to spend quality time with the Lord. Less is more if it means you can maintain the routine and commitment for months and years.
A final reason that I think we give up is that we are embarrassed by our inability. I hate going to the gym. I am a big guy, so I stand out already. The machines only sometimes fit me, and the treadmills often make strange noises as I walk on them. Honestly, sometimes my not wanting to be around strangers keeps me from going to the gym. You have seen some gym commercials where everyone is twenty years old and in perfect shape. It makes it hard for an out-of-shape 51-year-old to walk through the door. It can be just as intimidating to come before the Lord. We approach a God who is holy and perfect, and we are not. This can sometimes be intimidating, especially when dealing with sin in our own life. It is easy to turn away from time with the Lord. How do you combat this? It starts with keeping the Gospel before you. You never come before the Lord in your own goodness or strength. Only by the work of Christ can you come and fellowship with the Lord. That being said, regular confession time should be a part of your prayers. As you praise God for all His perfections, you must confess your sinfulness before Him in the light of His holiness and remind yourself of His love in Jesus for you.
I plan to go to the Gym this afternoon. Already the day is pressuring me to skip because there is so much to be done. I am sore from yesterday. Those in-shape people will be there again today. But I know I need it. More important is the need to be with the Lord daily in His Word and Prayer. If you have quit, get back to it. If you are being faithful, be watchful for those things that will cause you to stop.