Points to Ponder/Mastering the Muscles of Faith
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
It’s been interesting watching our two girls come into the world and then gradually learn about that world. I recall our oldest, Elizabeth, laying in her crib and holding her hand up in the air. She was looking at it as if she had discovered there was this interesting attachment she could control. Joanna, our youngest, is now 9 months old. When she was learning to crawl, she seemed to be having transmission trouble; she could only go in reverse and park. It frustrated her to keep trying to go toward something, only to discover she had moved two steps back. Then she’d sit up in “park” and whine in frustration, as if to say, “Why isn’t this working?”
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You want to go forward in your comprehension of God’s word and in His will for your life. Then, every time you hit the floor and go toward a goal, you find yourself two steps behind where you were. Several times a day, Joanna would go down on all fours and attempt to move forward. One knee was on the floor and pushing forward. But that other leg just would not cooperate. The left one was pushing forward, but the right leg would not come up and take the next step. It would lift up and slightly out, but it just would not press her body ahead. She looked like a car stuck in the snow, rocking back and forth. She just couldn’t get those legs to push her out of the rut.
Spiritual growth has moments like that, rocking back and forth in the same spot, unable to firmly grasp what we long to know. Unable to push forward out of the rut of conventional wisdom, “the farther ahead you go, the behinder you get.”
When you watch a child learn how to master her body, you see how the progress is gradual. First she discovers she has these parts: legs, arms, and hands. She discovers that she can make them move and grab - and knock things over. What a delight to discover gravity and the interesting sounds the breakables make - at her command. Cool! Power!!!
The crawling motion was the interesting thing these past two months or more. Once she learned how to signal those muscles way down there in her legs, she was beginning to figure out the connection; that going forward happens when certain signals are sent to the legs. I don’t know how a baby thinks this through, but she only knows if she’s doing it right by watching the direction in which she goes. Catch that. A crawl eventually will become a walk as she notices the results she gets from working those legs. There is a connection between using what we know and arriving where we want to go.
I meet people in churches who fail to see the spiritual connection. They practice their religion but they don’t master the muscles of their faith. They’re getting older, but not more mature. They know a lot, but they’re not wise. They say they believe, but their faith is not challenged or exercised in even the most basic ways. They believe in Christ, but they don’t walk with Him. They barely crawl because they just haven’t mastered the muscles that will propel them forward.
It takes exercise, practice, and falling down a lot, to learn how to walk. The way you master crawling and then walking is to look forward to where you need to be. You keep working the muscles of faith, noticing the progress and keeping your eyes on Him. A few pointers occur to me as I ponder the matter of mastering the muscles of faith.
First, don’t be so cocky and confident in your faith that you think you’re not vulnerable to failure. Remember Peter’s words before the rooster crowed? “I would never deny You, Lord. I’ll die with You!” (I Corinthians 10:12 NIV)
So, if you think you are standing, be careful that you don’t fall!
Second, guard your soul from receiving destructive influences. What does your reading, T.V., and radio “diet” pour into your mind?
“Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” (Psalm 119:37 NIV)
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8 NIV)
Thirdly, exercise and test what you know.
“...Work our your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12b-13 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews, referring to the growth process of a child, points out that those who are growing are those who can take in “solid food” (the deepest knowledge of the faith). Such things are for the mature, those “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14 NIV)
Are you making the connection between the results you’re getting and the spiritual muscles you are using? Have you matured since this time last year or are you just a year older? Don’t rock back and forth in that rut - work those muscles of faith until they’re strong enough to propel you forward. Take risks. Fall down more - it builds character.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.