It started in February when we finally received the building permit for the church property. We immediately dove in with everyone's feet to put insulation between the first floor joists. At first I was really sore, then sore, then a good tired, until finally the muscles were strong enough to do the job without screaming. At which time we finished the insulation job and moved to nailing 5/8" drywall on the ceiling of the lower level. Again - really sore, sore, good tired, strong. At which time we moved to nailing spacers to the ceiling. Then screwing another layer of drywall. (Did you know you use different muscles to nail drywall than to use a screw gun?) Then taping and mudding the drywall. Then ripping up the third level floor. Then digging footers. Well, you get the idea. I think it's a conspiracy by my church family to keep me so sore I can't preach very long. Sorry, doesn't work.
On Sundays you can spot the people who worked at the property the day before. They are the ones stretching their arms and shoulders to get kinks out, who stand slowly with a groan, who have blisters on their hands. And who have BIG smiles of satisfaction on their faces. They are experiencing this truth: we grow strong through consistent use of our muscles. Those who don't use their muscles do not get stronger, experience the soreness or enjoy the benefits.
Another interesting phenomenon - when I first started a task new to me, I struggled and fumbled and was really slow. As I did it over and over and over, it eventually became almost second nature. (Notice I said "almost." I'm talked about working with my hands here...) It's what sports trainers call "muscle memory." When we become familiar enough with a task, we don't have to think about it - our muscles automatically respond in a certain way. Remember the times you've driven home and don't remember doing so?
"Okay, Herb, are you going somewhere with this or just trying to impress us?" I hear from across the country. Hang with me.
Joseph, you know, the guy with the multi-hued "dad loves me best" coat. The one sold by his brothers, a slave to Potiphar, put in charge of the whole estate. That guy. Doing his job with distinction when his boss' wife tried to seduce him. Over and over, until she grabbed his clothes, an attempt to force him into her embrace. Do you remember his IMMEDIATE response? He RAN, leaving her holding his outer cloak. He didn't think about it, discuss it with her, gather research, take a public opinion poll or consider his options. He RAN because his spiritual muscle memory kicked in. The one he had exercised by resisting all kinds of lesser temptations over many years. The one that gave him the strength to resist when he needed it most.
Where are the Josephs today? Those who will blatantly resist no matter the cost, even if no one else will do so? We live in a world where the resistance muscle has gotten flabby. Frankly, it's easier to give in than to resist just as it is easier to stay in the recliner than go to the gym. But the result is deadly. God had plans to make Joseph co-ruler of the world, but he would have missed it if his resistance muscle had not been developed. Oh, it would have been pleasure for a short time, but he would have missed what really mattered.
Look at this scripture...
"Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." Hebrews 5:13-14 (NIV)
It is by CONSTANT USE Christ followers get strong. THERE ARE NO SPIRITUAL STEROIDS. Sorry.
So what do we do? I have learned that only by using the soul muscle to resist temptation does it become strong, causing us to more automatically resist and immediately turn away. But the more we give into temptation, allowing that muscle to lie dormant at best, to deteriorate at worst, the weaker, more vulnerable and accepting of sin we become. And each time it is easier to give in and stuff the guilt. "Dangerous ground, that is," says Master Yoda.
Beyond resisting temptation, you can build the resistance muscle by deliberately denying yourself things that are okay. You know, give up TV, the newspaper, talk radio, or a computer game for a week. The best way of denial is fasting for a period of time, either all food or certain foods. It forces us to use the resistance muscle and turn to God.
You can spot the people who use their resistance muscle. They are the ones who experience the most robust joy and most durable freedom, who are often sore from the battles, who have the deepest wisdom. All that comes from the highs and lows of living for Christ by the power of Christ to resist temptation. Those are the people who are real, who admit their weaknesses, celebrate their strengths, who reach down to help the fallen rather than criticize and judge. And who never give up. Perfect? Not hardly. But focused and growing as they help others do the same.
"That's hard work," you say. Well... OF COURSE. But worth every effort.
So, ladies and gents, get your soul off the spiritual recliner and start resisting, exercising, strengthening and stretching. You have no idea how good it will feel.
"No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." 1 Cor 10:13 (NIV)