The sinful nature of man works against the things of God (Galatians 5:17). The Holy Spirit guides our mind to thoughts that agree with the Truth of God. Out of these thoughts, emotions develop. When our thoughts are in line with the Word of God, then we delight in the ways of God. He rewards us by giving us the desires of our heart because those desires are in line with the Word of God. But we don’t naturally align ourselves with what the Spirit directs us to. This is why the Apostle Paul spoke so much about discipline. And remember the Holy Spirit is the spirit of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). He gives us the power we need to discipline ourselves. I want to share with you 7 principles to make you a stronger Christian. If you follow these principles, you will grow stronger and be able to continue this growth over the span of your lifetime. These are based out of Paul’s words about himself:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV)
1. Keep your eye on the prize
If you think about New Year’s Resolutions, most people fail within a very short amount of time. They take their eyes off the goal and start to focus on the work and the work doesn’t seem worth it. Of course not, everyone wants to look ‘ripped’ but not everyone wants to get into the gym and do the work. Spiritual work is not something our natural self wants to do. Who wants to work on being more patient, more loving, more Christlike. We all want to be that person, but to get there is really hard work that ain’t so fun. But let me help you understand the prize of becoming a stronger Christian.
The Bible says that as we mature, we are no longer tossed about emotionally like a tugboat in a hurricane (Ephesians 4:11-16). Most of us never get off the emotional roller-coaster. Our emotions are up and down, all-around, loopty-loop. We are happy, sad, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, vengeful. Whatever the storm around us, we are tossed around by the wind and the waves. But with maturity comes stability. The Bible says we become like a tree planted by the water (Psalm 1:1-3). No matter what comes our way, we just keep standing. Not only that but we keep producing fruit for others. We become that stable influence that people need when they are being tossed about. We become better spouses, better parents, better friends, better lovers, stronger Christians. Can you see yourself like this? What would it be like to have emotional stability not allowing every wind of this world shake you to pieces?
How about this prize? When we begin to live according to God’s principles, God promises to bless us in every possible way. He says He will bless us in the country, in the city, the fruit of our hand, our battle against those trying to destroy us, the fruit of our womb, in all seasons at all times (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). I am talking you will be experiencing God’s supernatural favor in every area of your life. This is the prize.
2. Get a Coach
The Apostle Paul is comparing the Christian walk to an athletic event. I used to play football and then for a time, I was a football coach. The coach is teaching the players about the opponent, the correct response to defeat the opponent. A coach is also there to point out when you do something wrong or when you are being lazy. I remember a coaches getting in my face telling me when I was being lazy or not thinking. If we are going to be stronger Christians, we must get a coach.
For the disciples, Jesus was their coach. He taught them, inspired them, motivated them, and rebuked them. In our day and time, many people see their pastor as their coach. A pastor can certainly fulfill many of the duties of a spiritual coach, but a pastor doesn’t really know what is going on in your life. He stands on stage and preaches on Biblical principles of faith in Christ and urges you to live by them, but he knows nothing of the details of your situations. He doesn’t know the nuances of your dilemmas nor the unique temptations presented to you by the enemy. Pastors are great. I am one. But a coach is someone who knows you and that you give freedom to speak into your life. With the knowledge of the details of your life and your world, a coach will teach, inspire, motivate, and get in your face (in love) when you need it. To become a stronger Christian, we must get a coach (James 5:16).
3. Get some Training Partners
During my football career, there were times when I would go into the weight room on my own. When I did this, I worked out, but it was easy for me to stop when the pain increased. But when I had workout partners, these guys would push me until I could go no further. My workout partners moved me and spurred me on to do more reps, more weight, more sprints. They made me a better football player. These are not coaches. These are guys on your team. They are all working toward the same goal, the same prize. When we would come out of the locker room, we would each reach up and hit the words painted on the locker room wall that said, “All or Nothing.” We spurred one another to go further, play harder, to win more.
The Bible says that we should never give up meeting together so that we might spur one another on (Hebrews 10:25). This is what church is all about. We have fallen into the trap of thinking that we only need knowledge. A teacher gives knowledge, but coaches and training partners spur us on in our discipline to go further. The purpose of church is feed off one another’s zeal, to encourage one another in failure to not give up, to push one another further to do the things of God. It is energy amassing within us as we look into one another’s eyes like warriors going into battle. We love one another and we will fight for one another. To become a stronger Christian, we must get some training partners.
4. Go to practice
I had a great group of guys that I trained with, but most of the guys who were pushing each other to their limit in the locker room were also hanging out together at the clubs, the dorm, backyard barbecues. They were friends too. We also had guys who would hang out socially, but they were strangely absent when it was time to workout. Many times they didn’t even show up to practice. They wanted to have fun with the guys, but they didn’t like to work. These guys could not be counted on. They did not contribute to the team like they should have. They should have been going to practice.
Having training partners is great, but only if you actually go to practice. If you have training partners, but never workout together, they are just friends. Principle #4 piggy-backs on #3, but I wanted to emphasize the necessity of gathering together to work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12). If you have training partners, but never go to practice, you just have a social group. But if you go always workout on your own, you will never get as far. We need training partners and we need to be in church. Church is practice for the real battles. We learn the game plan, we are inspired to fight to the end, and we are built up by our fellow warriors.
Let me add something real quick too. Watching church on television is like working out on your own. I am not saying it is bad to watch church, but we all need to be in church, active, and growing. If you want to be a stronger Christian, go to practice.
5. Go into strict training
There were always those guys goofing off. As soon as the coach turned his head, they would start messing around, trying to make one another laugh, flirting with the female trainers, tripping each other, and being idiots. I remember when I was at Tech, the thing to do was for one person to sneak up behind someone and get on all fours. Then another person would casually walk up and push the other backward so they would unexpectedly tumble over the guys behind them. Then everyone would laugh. Once, the coach turned his head and saw it. We were tortured for the rest of the day running up and down the bleachers, stomping in the vomit of the guys before us. When you go to practice, don’t goof off, but consider it strict training.
Let me ask you this. When you sit down to read your Bible, are you reading out of habit or are you really trying to get the Word deep into your spirit? When you go to church, are you fully engaged in worship or just singing the words? In every church, there are those full-engaged and those goofing off. Going to practice doesn’t do you any good if you are not mentally and physically present. The same is true for church. If you go because it is your habit, but you are not getting anything out of it, you are not in strict training. If you read the Bible, but don’t remember what you just read, you are not in strict training.
Strict training is not simply being fully engaged, but it is engaged in a specific plan. Whether you are lifting weights or playing football or playing shuffleboard, there is a strategy. When I am speaking of strict training, you need to be fully aware of where you are struggling. If you are struggling with patience, then focus your training on patience. If you are struggling with forgiveness, then focus there. Find Scriptures about the area where you struggle. Read them. Memorize them. Ponder them. Meditate. Talk about them with your training partners. Ask your coach about them. Then implement them and take note of how well you did. Journal each night for example and take note of how you did that day in that specific area. Throughout life, you will find yourself struggling with different areas and when you see this in yourself, focus there. If you want to be a stronger Christians, go into strict training.
6. Be a Team Player
Christianity, by God’s design, is a team sport. We are all working together to accomplish a goal. When I was playing, we had some divas. They were out for their own stats and for their own glory. The team winning was a much lower priority. These guys caused more losses than wins. In their selfish ambition, they would try to do too much which would leave holes in the defense and the other team would make a big play. I had a very wise linebacker coach in college. His name was Coach Young (no relation). He was a calm cowboy. He had coached with Bum Phillips and adopted his philosophy. He would always tell us to just do our job. Don’t try to be a hero because that will get you out of position and it will hurt the team. He was right.
One of the ways we get stronger as a Christian is by helping the team win. If you are reading this and don’t have any intention on helping others grow, then you will cause more damage than good. You will become selfish and do the right things but for the wrong motives. There is nothing worse. There is nothing more dangerous than a team member who doesn’t care about the team. Get involved in your church and remember that just as you need a coach, you can be a coach. When you gather for with your training partners for strict training, don’t let them encourage you while you remain silent. Get active in their success (1 Thessalonians 5:11). If you want to be a stronger Christian, be a team player.
7. Ask God for help
My training partners were also believers. Before each game, in fact, often before each practice, we would pray and ask God to help us in our efforts. We recognized that we needed more than what was in us to succeed. The same is true in our spiritual journey. Remember, our ability to discipline ourselves to follow Christ is unnatural. We must be transformed supernaturally to do what we need to do. The Bible says that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-3). We can make efforts to do this. We can read the Bible and go to church, but ultimately, our heart must be changed. Our nature must be changed. The heart of stone must be transformed into a heart of flesh. We need a new spirit within us (Ezekiel 11:14-21). Only God can do this in us. If we want to be a stronger Christian, we need to develop these disciplines, but we must as for God’s help.
8. Have a Short Memory
One thing my coach would always remind us was that each play was a new game. If we were worried about how badly we messed up on the previous play, it would keep us from reacting as we needed to on the next play. He would always tell us that great performers have short memories. When you begin to work on your spiritual disciplines, you are going to have some bad plays. You are going to miss church, forget to read your Bible one day, lose your temper, get drunk, whatever. But remember God has promised that His mercy is new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). This means that each day, God is giving you a new start. If you messed up yesterday, let it go. If you don’t go to church for three months, stop beating yourself up about it and just get your butt up this next week. If your Bible has three inches of dust on it, who cares? Dust it off and start reading. If you want to be a strong Christian, you must have a short memory.
As always, live blessed and be a blessing!