Apparently I’ve been exercising all wrong. According to my teenage son, who fancies himself an expert on fitness, there are three phases of strength training one ought to do in order to maximize the benefits. Silly me, I’d just been following the number of reps and sets suggested in my program, gradually increasing the amount of weight for each exercise. But my son set me straight. One ought to rotate strength, hypertrophy, and endurance workouts for the best results. With a strength workout, you add as much weight as possible, enough that you can only lift 2-6 reps for each set. Hypertrophy is the “normal” workout, where you do 8-12 reps with a challenging but doable amount of weight. And endurance is a slightly less challenging weight so you can do 15-20 reps per set. All three of these work together for the best results.
Armed with this knowledge, I set out to start my rotation of “strength” workouts, adding extra weight. I was a bit afraid of this one, admittedly, but the results surprised me. What I thought would be difficult or even impossible really wasn’t all that hard. In some cases, I added nearly double the weight I normally used just to get to an acceptably challenging level. And while I could feel the burn during the workout, I wasn’t overly sore the next day. So why wasn’t I adding more weight to my normal exercising routine? Rather than progressing, I’d been stagnating, but I could handle more weight than I thought I could.
This revelation made me wonder where else in my life I was stagnating. As humans, our natural tendency is usually to stick with the path of least resistance. But that doesn’t result in growth and can often lead to discontentment when we feel like we’re stuck in a rut. This is especially true of spiritual growth. Think of the writer of Hebrews, admonishing his readers that they need milk and not solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14). They weren’t flexing their “spiritual muscles,” and were content to remain at the entry level of knowledge, needing to be reminded again and again of the basic principles of faith.
So what about you? What might this look like in your life today, if you were to flex your spiritual muscles? Pray that God would grant you discernment to determine what area of your life could use “more weight.” Perhaps God is leading you to be more generous in your giving. Let’s be honest—most of us could easily give more money. Many congregations struggle to meet budget goals because so few members actually tithe. But even if you already tithe, my guess is that you could give more. Americans are among the wealthiest people in the world and most of us could cut back in other areas and give a whole lot more than we’re giving. Think beyond your church too! If you tithe to your church, consider adding an additional monthly financial commitment to a Gospel organization, a missionary, or a humanitarian effort.
And what about time? Everyone is so busy in our society, but how much of that is really necessary? Examine your life and see if God is encouraging you to cut back on some activities to make room for others. Or maybe you just need better time management to be more effective in your daily tasks so you can allow time for volunteering elsewhere. (The book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam is an excellent book if you’re struggling to manage your time. She makes the great point that you shouldn’t say you don’t have time for any particular activity—because you do—but that not everything is a priority to fit into your schedule. It’s a very freeing way to think of time management.)
Then again, perhaps you need a little more variety in your devotional life. Again, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut, reading a quick devotion here and there without much depth to it. But more than likely, you could stretch yourself. Find a good Bible study to work through in addition to your devotional reading. Listen to a radio program or podcast throughout your day. KFUO.org has a lot of great options for regular programs. Some are short, 15-minute segments based on the daily lectionary, while others are longer and more in depth, working through books of the Bible. They even broadcast daily chapel services from the LCMS International Center. Add some variety to your daily devotions so you’re getting some “solid spiritual food,” as our reading from Hebrews encourages.
So go ahead. Flex those muscles. Yes, it might burn a bit at the beginning, but my guess is that you could add more weight than you think. After all, God is your strength. No actual weight lifting required.