Train yourself in godliness.
I Timothy 4:7
Last weekend my son Rhett did something that is quite amazing to me: he ran an ultra-marathon! That is not just the normal marathon of 26 miles and 385 yards, but its ‘ultra’, stretching it out to a little over 31 miles, or 50 kilometers!
I have delighted in watching Rhett run since he was a little guy in white underwear running around the house to the theme song from the movie “Chariots of Fire”. I know something of the hard training Rhett has done through the years from first running around the house, then the school track, and now mile after mile on back roads and highways. Most recently Rhett trained in early morning darkness running through Texas ice storms and snow. The heading on Rhett’s twitter page says, “love running”. But I know that it comes only with lots of hard training!
I am writing this on the eve of the Lenten season, not just to brag about my son, but also to be reminded of the importance of training. Anything worth doing requires training. We start small, with perhaps first a jog around the block, then a block and a half, two blocks, but we keep at it. Or maybe its five minutes a day talking to God, and then maybe ten, or maybe memorizing one verse of Scripture, then maybe more. But we keep at it, today, tomorrow, and then next week.
In today’s brief Scripture text Paul coaches Timothy, his spiritual son, telling him, “Train yourself in godliness”. Paul has frequently counseled Timothy telling him to persevere and stay with it. There are no shortcuts to godly character, no quick and easy methods. If we want to be mature in Christ we have to go into training.
The ancient Greco-Roman culture in which Paul and Timothy lived placed a very high value on physical fitness and exercise. Just look at their ancient statues of the human body and you see their physical ideal. So Paul reminds Timothy that the same sweat and dogged determination that go into physical training needs to be put into our training for godly living.
The Greek word translated as “train yourself”, is the Greek word gymnazo. It’s the word from which we get “gymnasium”; the place where athletes, or aspiring athletes, go to work out and train. So Paul tells Timothy to be in training for godliness. Be serious about it. Be committed. There is no inspiring video that can do it for you, not even a wonderful weekend retreat that can take the place of training.
One of the great spiritual mentors and teachers of our generation, the late Dallas Willard, observed: “The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude”.
As we approach Ash Wednesday and enter into the Christian season of Lent I find Willard’s words helpful. The spiritual practices or disciplines of the Lenten season are opposed to any attitude of earning. The added time we will give to prayer, ministry to the broken, Scripture reading, meditation, etc. will not earn for us one iota of the unmerited, undeserved grace of God. But persistent, determined practice of the spiritual disciplines will help us live in that grace, and train us to be godly.
The Apostle Paul exemplified this kind of diligent training for godliness in his life: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (I Corinthians 15:10).
Long before Christians ever formally celebrated Christ’s birth or Christmas, they observed Lent as a time for spiritual training. Although the length of the Lenten season has changed across the centuries, it has always been a time for reflection on Scripture, prayer, repentance, and deeds of mercy.
I hope that as a part of your Lenten observance you will daily follow our Lenten devotional: “Living into God’s Grand Story: Daily Reflections on the Exodus”. If you do not have a hard copy of this devotional you will be able to find it each day Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday on the Water from Rock website, www.www.waterfromrock.org. There you will find a Scripture text, reflections on that text, and application questions for you to ponder. We offer this with the prayer that it will help you daily train in godliness.
Grace and peace,
photo by I like’s photostream