Are there implications for Christian spiritual formation here?
I think yes.
The Christian tradition contains spiritual disciplines, or soul-training exercises that foster growth in Christ-like character and ongoing maturity in faith. These disciplines are wise practices that, if acted upon, open the possibility for change and transformation. They do not save. They do not put God in our debt. They do not elevate our standing with God. Dallas Willard said, helpfully, that God’s grace is not opposed to effort, but to earning. Earning is an attitude; effort is an action. I like to say that the spiritual disciplines are a response. God lovingly moved toward us in acts of creation, covenant and redemption. Once graciously perceived, we are drawn toward God. Prayer, study, worship, service, and the other disciplines are invitations to the act of abiding, or dwelling, with God and paying attention to God’s presence and activity in our lives.
I’m a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and not only because my middle name is Arnold. I like action movies. I’ve also read Arnold’s autobiography and have sought to learn more about his life and career. He has been a surprising source of wisdom and insight, particularly in respect to the principles he has identified as underpinning his success. Body building is a physical activity that has clear, identifiable connections between actions and results. The sport became a school for Arnold, teaching him about reality.
One of those lessons: the importance of reps. A vision or goal, informed by an understanding of causal dynamics, followed by a plan, accompanied by actions and the right means, leads to results. You can have a dream. You can have a sober assessment of where you stand in the present. To realize a dream, you need steps, or means. You have to perform actions, or take the steps. And if the vision is clear and the means are properly aligned, you’ll progress toward the vision.
Arnold’s body was not built in a day. It took time. Years. It took commitment. There were setbacks. Most great journeys have them. Our path is not always clear, straight, or easy. But it is possible to move from point A to point B.
In the Christian spiritual journey toward maturity the first step is developing a vision, a clear picture of God and of life with God. I have found it helpful to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, and develop a clear picture of Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” A study of the Trinity, which would broaden contemplation and include the Father and the Holy Spirit, would expand and sharpen our vision of God. But the Son is a wonderful place to begin.
As I’ve grasped the attributes of Jesus, including what he was like and the kinds of things he would do and say, I’ve looked more closely at how he lived, who he was around, and what his words and the things he did reveal to us about his thinking, attitude, and disposition of heart. After making discoveries, I’ve prayed, “God, I’d like that to be true of me.” I have asked God to teach me patterns of thought, feeling, and embodied action displayed in Jesus. In the same way a body builder learns about physical reality through training, so too does a Christian pilgrim learn about spiritual reality through the journey of spiritual formation and discipleship.
This has led me into practice of prayer, study, fellowship, worship, service, simplicity, and more. Christians believe we are not alone in this venture. The indwelling Spirit leads us into all truth. Our bodies are incorporated into Christ’s body; Christ lives in us (Galatians 2:20). We have received God’s rich blessing and have been given access to the Father in the heavenly places through Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-10). If you desire maturity in faith, ask God. Growth may not unfold as you envision or anticipate. But you will have entered the school of the kingdom, placing yourself in the hands of the Great Teacher. The work God begins in you will be brought to completion (Philippians 1:6). Give it time. Take it step by step.
Every rep taken is an act of faith. It is an offering. Enlivened and infused by God’s grace, our actions draw us nearer to God and the prospect of a more godly life.