24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
For anyone who has spent any amount of time in the church, the idea and topic of spiritual formation has most likely come up at one time or another. As is the case with many words and phrases in Western Christianity, some words and phrases have been emptied of their meaning because of the frivolous ways we’ve used them. Spiritual Formation may have become a buzz word in some circles, but it’s an important concept for all of those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ and who desire to continue to grow.
One thing that I’ve noticed in my own life and in our culture is that we really like “Color By Numbers” types of things. We like to have a script laid out before us, clear instructions that will give us a step by step approach towards completing the desired task. But rarely is the path of growth as linear, formulaic, and structured as we think it is.
If you’ve ever gone through any kind of training, you know that there comes a time when the muscles that you are trying to grow and train need to be tricked and challenged. While regular workouts with the same exercises can still be beneficial, in order to experience growth, changing things up becomes necessary to progress and not plateau.
The Apostle Paul understood the need to discipline the body in order to grow and be trained. There needs to be an order and a structure in what we are doing in our training and spiritual formation, but we may have found that we’ve done the same exercises for such a long time that we need to change things up in order to avoid the plateau of growth that can come when we continue to do the same thing over and over again.
As I get older and grow, I am seeing the benefit of growth not only on an individual basic, but on a communal basis. Like so much of life, we need to maintain some kind of balance. We may find ourselves emphasizing more individual growth rather than communal growth, or vice versa, but finding the balance can be a challenge. While the balance may wane and sway at times, we always need to be mindful of the multi-faceted aspect of growth that happens when we learn individually and corporately.
I sometimes wish that I could simply read a book that would give me all the steps that I need to be perfect in my growth, but that’s far too simplistic to think that it can be effective. While there are helpful methods and books that outline these methods, change is important in our growth and challenge will be part of that. Like the sign in my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”