I recently ran a half marathon. 13. 1 miles. It was sort of horrible. I've ran 5 half marathons in my lifetime, and 2 full marathons (that's 26.2 miles). Each race has been similar: most of the time I think, "Why did I ever think this was a good idea?", and then I cross the finish line and get pumped up that I accomplished such a great task. Then, by the time the next race rolls around, I forget how horrible it was and sign up again. It's sick. I may need help.
After this last race, I spent some time thinking about how there really are many similar concepts in the physical that can be applied to our spiritual "race" as well.
Here's a short list:
What you put in is more important than what you put out. I used to think that I could eat whatever I wanted because, hey, I was running a lot of miles. Well, I've come to learn that when it comes to fitness and health, specifically for weight loss, that physical exercise accounts for only 20% of the progress you'll see, while what you eat accounts for 80%. So, you need to be very careful and intentional about what you put into your body. In the same way, what you do for Christ can be tarnished by what you put into your mind and into your spirit in the forms of thoughts you dwell on, media you watch or listen to, or patterns of thinking you allow to influence you.
There are some days you just don't feel like it. Do it anyways. Getting up early to run or hit the gym is a great habit, but one that's very challenging. It's easy to stay in bed or justify skipping a work out. Too many skipped workouts lead to goals that veer off track, good habits that don't get formed, and bad habits that get reinforced. With your spiritual disciplines, there's always some benefit that comes from spending time in the Word, or in prayer, even if you don't feel like it. Take a cue from Nike: Just do it.
You need a plan. Walking into the gym and just doing whatever you feel like may have some benefit, but a well thought out plan will get you results in less time. Spiritually, if you just kind of meander through the Bible, reading wherever your finger lands, you'll get some benefit out of it, but you'll see more benefit if you have a plan of attack. Make a list of things you want to learn/study about. Get a Bible reading plan or attend a Bible study. Be intentional with your spiritual life. If your goal is spiritual growth, intentionality wins every time.
Slow and steady change is better than all of a sudden change. I'm the guy that will hit the gym and then check the mirror for the results. The reality is that you probably won't notice the results of one workout. What you WILL notice, though, is the results of workout after workout after workout after workout. Spiritually speaking, you may not feel like your changing or improving, but if you stay consistent in your pursuit of Christ and your intentional cultivating of the fruit of the Spirit in your life, you will be able to look back and see change taking place.
There are many correlations between physical and spiritual growth. Slow and stead wins the race and remember: Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right.
Listen to a talk I gave at Evangel on the subject of physical health.