4 Things I Learned About Life from Strength Training

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Growing up, my mom used to say, “If I had a nickel for every time such-and-such happened, I’d be a millionaire.” Well, as they say, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I find myself using this expression about things that seem to happen over and over in my life. And if there’s one thing that would have made me made me a millionaire by now, it would have been getting a nickel every time someone asked me this question:

“Why do you physically train so hard?”  

I’ve always found this question a bit confusing. It seems to suggest that pushing myself physically is some strange activity that only weird people enjoy. But I always answer with the same, simple statement: “I’m training for life.” This is also my philosophy about training athletes for competition. We aren’t just training for a game or a battle; we are training for life.

You might be wondering what in the world squats, sprints, plyometrics, pull-ups, and hard, sweaty work have to do with training for life. I’m glad you asked. I’ve learned a lot of lessons about fulfilling my purpose here on earth through physical training. Here are the top four:

Lesson 1: We Are More Than Just Physical Beings

It’s important for us to understand that we aren’t just a configuration of bone, muscle, connective tissue, and brains. We’re much more than what we see in the mirror. We are body, soul, and spirit—tripartite beings, made in the image of the three-personal God, as we see in 1 Thessalonians 5:23: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

We constantly hear about the importance of diet and exercise and their health benefits for our bodies. Those are facts. But physical training affects the other dimensions of our being, and vice versa. Acupuncturist J. R. Worsely said, “If the body is sick the mind worries and the spirit grieves; if the mind is sick the body and the spirit will suffer from its confusion; if the spirit is sick there will be no will to care for the body or mind.” Conversely, improving health in each area improves health in the others.

Spiritual health affects soul and physical health. Physical health affects spiritual and soul health, and soul health affects the health of spirit and body. It is of absolute importance that we take care of each of these three dimensions of our being if we’re ever to find complete health.

Lesson 2: Train for the Event.

I’ve been training athletes and warriors for twenty years now. We train not just because it’s hard and we like sweat and pain. We train because we’re preparing for a competition or war. We’re preparing for an event. 

Jesus called us to an “event” in Matthew 28:18-20:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is the mission of every true follower of Christ. He wants us to go out, make disciples, and bring heaven to earth through signs, wonders, and miracles.

Being a follower of Jesus was never meant to be a spectator sport. We are called to get into the thick of it. Church is not just a place for people to get a spiritual shot in the arm or check off their “good deed’ box for the week. Yes, church is a place of healing and hope for sinners, the brokenhearted, and those struggling in life. But it’s also a training ground. It’s a place for us to learn how to follow Him, and then follow Him out into the world and teach, preach, witness, baptize, and change culture. Fulfilling this mission is not some disembodied spiritual activity. Our whole spirit, soul, and body must be trained to run the race to which we’ve been called. As Paul said:

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:24-27 NLT).

Lesson 3: Embrace the Strenuous Life

Here’s the bottom line: If you’re going to improve in anything in life, you must embrace some discomfort, pain, and strain. There is no way to improve at anything in life without getting pushed outside our comfort zones.

Endocrinologist Hans Selye spent a lot of time studying stress and its effects on humans. He found that too much stress is bad for us—but so is too little stress. Without some level of stress or strain, we cannot adapt and grow.

This principle applies not only to physical stress, but also to emotional, mental, and spiritual stress. As followers of Jesus, we must see resistance and difficulty as the catalyst for our growth and embrace the strenuous life. As James exhorted us, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (James 1:2-4 MSG).

Lesson 4: Be Willing to Fail

When I coached college athletes, I tested them every year at the end of off-season training to measure their physiological improvement and determine their level of preparation to play their respective sports. It was always exciting for the athletes to see the fruit of all their hard work.

The interesting thing about this final test was that the other coaches and I had to push the athletes to the point of failure. We tested each athlete’s strength by increasing their load until they couldn’t move it anymore and their muscles gave out. Only by pushing them to the point of failure could we discover their limits. Once we knew their limits, we could design a new program to bring them past that limit to an even higher level.

As we train for and engage in bringing heaven to earth, we must be willing to test our limits, accept failure, learn from it, and move on. This is the only way we can find out what we’re truly capable of and how to grow to an even higher level.

Men, we are followers of the one and only true God. We have been given a mission, and it is the most important job we have in this life. Are you training for life—body, soul, and spirit? Are you choosing the strenuous life? Our communities, families, churches, jobs, and governments need us. Let’s run the race.

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