Sunday, February 7, 2016

Spiritual exercise. . .

Listening to the TV I discovered that January is the top month for the sale of exercise equipment, gym memberships, and weight loss programs.  Perhaps we looked in the mirror after Christmas feasting and decided that our New Year's resolutions needed to be self-improvement.  In any case, Americans have taken this to heart.  Some manufacturers are posting big sales with specially discounted equipment and many gyms and athletic clubs are offering bargain rates to sign up the flabby who want to be fit and trim. I must confess to wanting to be fit and trim but heartily unsure I want to expend that much money or effort to get there.  Guess I will have to suffice with walking and ordinary exercise and some judicious surveying of the food choices in the fridge and on the table.

It is kind of amusing, however, that as much as we want to get in physical shape, we seem to desire less the spiritual kind of programs to put us back in the pink.  Worship attendance, which slowly built up during Advent to bulge at Christmas Eve, will generally see predictable declines until they rebound in Lent and in time for Easter.  Therein lies the problem.  Statistics tell us that regular church attendance, which was once a euphemism for weekly attendance, has come to a new normal of a couple of times a month.  We are robust in our ideals but pale in the follow through.  Surveys show that 80 percent of people who join the gym in January quit by June; 4 percent don’t make it past January, and 14 percent more drop out by the end of February. So perhaps we are merely manifesting the same lethargy toward religious exercises as we do toward physical fitness.

My point is simple.  How do we expect to have a vibrant and sturdy faith to meet the challenges of this mortal life and to remain steadfast amid temptation when we only attend worship sporadically and starve our faith of Word and Sacrament?  Grow up.  Get up on Sunday morning (even when you don't feel it) and get yourself into a solid, orthodox, Word and Sacrament congregation.  Open the dusty Bible and start reading (you don't have to begin at the beginning -- spend time in the Psalms to start things out).  Get a prayer book or use the hymnal and its daily offices and force yourself (self-discipline is not a vice but a virtue).  Get into the habit.  It is no different from good eating or exercise.  But you need not purchase a spiritual gym membership or invest is expensive prayer books.  The Scriptures and the hymnal provide you with all the resources you need to start out.  Failing that, why not at least give Portals of Prayer a shot (if you are LCMS or if you are not, go to and order a subscription).

It is amazing to me how many of us think that the road back to spiritual health begins with spiritual isolation, separation from the Lord's Word and House, and a diet devoid of the true spiritual food of Christ's flesh and blood!  If it is already February and you have not availed yourself of the worship of God's House or a daily devotional routine, Lent is almost here and it is the time to start up again (or even for the first time).  It is time for Christian habits to match Christian rhetoric!  Go to church!  It all starts there. . .

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