Matney: You will be happy and sad
Lift weights and lose weight — for many people, that is their New Year’s resolution. They plan to exercise, lose weight and become more physically fit. That is a commendable goal indeed. And, the Scriptures agree but exhort us to an even higher goal and level of exercise.
First Corinthians 4:7-8 reads, “Exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Godliness, or being rightly related to God and our fellow man, is the goal.
The Greek word used in this scripture and translated as “exercise,” comes from gymnázō. Can you think of another English word from gymnázō? That’s right, “gymnasium!” Gymnazo conveys the idea of acquiring proficiency through regular exercise and training.
In the new year ahead of us, we have the opportunity to grow strong and godly in God’s gymnasium. The Message Bible renders the Corinthians passage as: “Exercise daily in God — no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.”
Think of yourself as an athlete in training. The Bible uses this comparison. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26: “In a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize. Run in such a way as to get the prize. 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. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”
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Referencing athletics, God is encouraging intentional, goal-oriented training in spiritual disciplines such as Bible study, prayer, church attendance and serving others. Other godly disciplines are learning to communicate better, listen better, speak encouragement rather than criticism, mentor young people, forgive and ask for forgiveness. None of these are easy, and neither is physical exercise, but both result in rich rewards.
As our father, personal trainer and life coach, God has loving purposes, plans, and priorities, for our lives. We should give ourselves wholeheartedly to his training. Paul exhorted Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:15: “Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks.”
But sadly, many people go through life without purpose and passion, except for maybe their own comfort. They drift aimlessly and passively through life. They miss out on many opportunities.
An ancient fable tells of three merchants crossing a desert at night. They were passing over a dry creek bed when a voice from the blackness commanded them to halt and to stoop down, pick up pebbles from the creek bed, and put them into their pockets. After obeying the strange command, they were told to leave that place and not to stop till morning. The mysterious voice then told them that in the morning they would be both happy and sad.
Shaken and confused, they traveled all night. When morning came, the men anxiously looked into their pockets, and rather than finding the pebbles as they expected, there were precious jewels. They were, indeed, happy and sad. They were happy they had stuffed a few jewels into their pockets but sad they had not picked up many more handfuls of gravel.
This legend expresses how many of us might feel at the end of the year, or at the end of life. We may be happy with the opportunities we grabbed but feel sadness when we realize we could have accomplished so much more. When we stand before God at the end of this year and the end of this life, will we be happy or sad? We have a new year ahead of us to make a difference.
My favorite verse for productive living is Ephesians 5:15-17 in the Amplified Bible. It reads, “Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people), Making the very most of the time (buying up each opportunity), because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be vague, thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.”
So, what does God want to accomplish in you and through you this year? What godly objectives and lasting success does God want for you? Will this year be full of both spiritual and tangible milestones and accomplishments, or regrets and misguided efforts?
Wisdom for the new year can start by placing your faith in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 11:2 prophesied concerning Jesus, the Messiah: “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and reverence for the LORD.”
Talk about precious jewels! We can trade our pitiful pebbles of wisdom for the same spirit that was on Jesus. He will ignite our life with passion and purpose, and wisdom and guidance for the new year ahead and the eternity beyond. Friends, let’s start the new year right by calling on his name and exercising ourselves toward godliness.
Dan Matney is the pastor at New Life Assembly of God in Avon. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.