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Small Steps

Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8 (NLT)


I just returned from running the stands at our local university athletic field with some friends. A group of forty-something former athletes and ex-military types, we regularly run, lift, and hike together, encouraging one another in faith, in fitness, and in life. After our morning stair run, I was reflecting on my own fitness journey, and how so many aspects of that journey have, in many ways, also mirrored my faith journey.




A few years ago, I found myself carrying more than a few extra pounds. Moreover, some old, lingering injuries had recently become worse and had become somewhat limiting. I finally decided I wanted to overcome some bad habits and reintroduce fitness and discipline. Feeling motivated and mentally strong, I began to hit it hard, jogging and lifting weights with the same intensity I had many years ago as a young Marine. I had some big goals and I was going to accomplish them.


It didn't take long for reality to hit, however. It didn't take long before I re-injured my back and found myself even weaker and more limited than when I started! It took months to slowly rehab. My efforts to get in shape actually resulted in me gaining even more weight, and getting even more out of shape! Eventually, I decided I was going to try again. Yet again, I hit it hard. Yet again, I hurt myself. Yet again, I wound up in worse shape than I started.


I decided that I would need to discipline myself to not work so hard! That may sound counter-intuitive, but my big goals and hard work were actually what was keeping me from success.

This cycle continued for a few years until I eventually realized that I would need to take a different approach. I decided that I would need to discipline myself to not work so hard! That may sound counter-intuitive, but my big goals and hard work were actually what was keeping me from success. What was needed was a lifestyle change that consisted of consistent, small steps. I didn't need to lose 25 lbs, or run a marathon, or bench press some impressive amount. Rather, I needed to become a person with habits that were moving me in the right direction. Consistent, small steps.


I began doing light calisthenics in the morning. When my old back injury would begin to act up, I would listen to it, backing off rather than pushing through. I would walk in the evenings and take time to stretch afterwards. I eventually reached out to a physical therapist who helped me to rehab issues with my back, knee, and shoulder. Reaching out for help was a game changer for me. There were things I was doing wrong which the PT was able to correct. I slowly, consistently began to get stronger. I lost a few pounds. I felt better.


When my shoulder injury began to reappear for awhile, they encouraged me to take it easy, but to keep showing up! That is such a key part of this...showing up. Small, consistent steps.

Success begets success, and I was eventually able to slowly ramp up intensity, still being careful, still listening to my body. I developed a friendship with a group of good Christian men who workout together and support one another. The camaraderie of the group helped maintain the motivation and keep up with the consistency. They began to push me. When my shoulder injury began to reappear for awhile, they encouraged me to take it easy, but to keep showing up! That is such a key part of this...showing up. Small, consistent steps.


Interestingly, the "big" goals I initially started with, the big goals that were keeping me from success, have long since been surpassed. It didn't happen with big action, but with small, consistent steps, and a gradual increase that allowed me to accomplish more than I initially started out to do. It happened with fellowship and encouragement. It started with the discipline to work hard, but it also included the discipline to rest, and the discipline to not push. The big goals became much less relevant, instead I worked towards becoming the man that I wanted to be.


Spiritual Fitness


As I reflected after our bleacher runs this morning, I considered just how much overlap there has been between my fitness journey and my spiritual walk. There have been some big efforts and some big setbacks. Starts and well, maybe not "stops" but certainly slowdowns. Ultimately, what Jesus calls us to is a way of life that consists of small, consistent steps of abiding in Him daily, allowing Him to accomplish great things through us, in His timing.


In my role discipling and mentoring young men, I often encounter similar things. Its admirable to want to "do great things for the Kingdom." I get excited when I hear young men express a desire to grow in the grace and favor of the Lord and to press into their relationship with the Lord in big ways. I typically challenge them to small things, however. It's a great goal to read the Bible all the way through. I would rather see someone develop the habit of daily, disciplined Bible engagement, regardless of how much "reading" they accomplish. Meditating on the Word, memorizing portions and allowing the Word of God to become a habitat in which we abide, rather than a task to accomplish.


What is your prayer life like now? What is your Bible engagement like now? Tell me about opportunities to share your faith now. Where are you serving now?

I often encounter young men who feel that they are "called to missions" or "called to ministry." That is wonderful, and I always get excited when I hear that, but I have to ask the hard questions about the small, consistent steps that are needed to become the person God is calling them to be. What is your prayer life like now? What is your Bible engagement like now? Tell me about opportunities to share your faith now. Where are you serving now?


Sometimes, people seem embarrassed to ask for help or guidance. When I first reached out to the physical therapist, it helped me see how empowering and enabling "guides" in life can be. Already working in professional ministry, the success of that experience catalyzed other successes as I reached out to an older minister who mentored me through a few challenges I was experiencing in life and ministry. I realized that such relationships are common among successful people and are a part of God's design for our life.


The support of a group of like-minded men has been a crucial part of this journey for me. I didn't want to run bleachers this morning. Allow me to reiterate, I really, really didn't want to run bleachers this morning (lol)! But the thing is, I told the guys I would be there. I knew they would be there. So I drug myself out of bed, and I showed up. The best part is that we had a blast! Showing up is usually the hardest part.


This is equally true in our spiritual walk. We are intended to walk in fellowship with one another, encouraging one another in our walk with the Lord. Strengthening, encouraging, and challenging one another, but also enjoying one another's company and the unique contributions to the Kingdom that each person offers! The Kingdom of God is a unique tapestry with many threads that at times complement and at other time contrast with one another, but they all work together to create a cohesive whole. We are not walking in the fullness of what God has for us and intends for us unless we are doing it in community.


Small, consistent steps: Go for a walk. Spend time in prayer. Get into your Bible at least daily, with an eye towards quality of time rather than quantity of content. Find activities that you enjoy with people that you enjoy. Go to church. Find a good podcast that points your eyes to Jesus. Go to the gym, but don't work too hard! Ask for help, advice, guidance. Share your own faith journey with others, both the successes and "failures." Participate in community, which requires grace and forgiveness. Throw a ball. Rather than accomplishing the task, become the person. Show up. Small, consistent steps.


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