How Do They Do That? The Secret of Muscular Men and Muscular Faith

My karate instructor likes to maintain his composure with his students – exercise self-control at all times – but I remember seeing him lose his patience once.

He was teaching a kickboxing class and we were nearing the end. He was leading us in pushups and we’d already done several sets when he modified them to make them even more challenging. Someone in the room remarked sarcastically, “Well, yeah, that’s easy for YOU to do.”

Kyoshi paused what he was doing, let a flash of anger cross his face and addressed the class. “Do you want to know WHY this is easy for me? Because I did a couple of hundred of these at home this morning and because I do this every day and because I work at it the same way you could if you wanted to devote the time. You could do this, too. It’s not easy for me because it’s easy for me. I work hard at this every day.”

Point taken. I am still amazed that a man who makes his living leading exercise classes spends a good portion of his time off working out but that’s what it takes.

I remember having a similar response in college when other students would remark that classes came easy for me because I “got all A’s”. Well, no one handed me those grades. I spent many week-ends studying when they were pursuing other interests. I worked hard at my studies.

It’s true that often the people who make something look the easiest – authors, athletes, actors and others – have put in hours and hours of hard work behind the scenes that no one ever sees and baffled observers often discount. How do they do that? How did they pull that off? They must be a different kind of human.

That’s what the disciples must have been thinking in Mark 9 when Jesus found them arguing with the teachers of the law about a disappointed father. He had brought his son, possessed by an evil spirit, to the disciples for healing but they had failed to deliver his son from the spirit that had overtaken him. Jesus utters a rare statement of exasperation “O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

Jesus proceeds to rebuke the spirit and it leaves the boy. Later, when the disciples ask why they couldn’t do what Jesus did, he doesn’t reply – “Because I’m God and you’re not.” What He says is “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

If you read back through the passage, though, you don’t see Jesus praying because I don’t think He was talking about praying in the moment. I think He was talking about the power of the Holy Spirit being released through a lifestyle of prayer, a habit of prayer, a depth of prayer the disciples hadn’t even yet begun to fathom.

It’s popular public rhetoric these days to lament the state of the American church but it’s true. Today’s church is too often characterized by powerless, lukewarm believers who hold “near beliefs” that they barely understand and rarely put into practice. Part of the problem is what my karate instructor encountered – everyone can see the goal but they don’t want to put in the work to reach it.

When I mention prayer to people they reassure me – oh, yes, I pray. Really? How many hours did you pray yesterday?

Hours? Well, I didn’t pray for hours.

Recently I sang the old hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” When was the last time you spent ONE hour in prayer?

Well, I haven’t spent an hour in prayer.

Are you beginning to see the problem? I’ve known this problem in my own life.

The early church was filled with the Holy Spirit and saw a great moving of the power of God. At the end of Acts 2, Luke writes that they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” DEVOTED themselves.

My karate instructor devotes himself to his work – spending hours alone building up his stamina and perfecting his technique. As a student, I devoted myself to my studies – spending hours alone reading, taking notes and striving to understand my work. Great musicians spend hours alone practicing. Authors study and write and rewrite. Actors research parts. Athletes train.

As followers of Christ, what marks our devotion to serving and following the greatest pursuit in the history of the universe? We are the generation that welcomed the long-awaited Messiah. We are the generation to whom hundreds of years of prophets looked for hope. We are the ones chosen to usher in the end of the age by knowing Christ, being filled with the Holy Spirit and passing on the good news of His coming and His coming again. How do we live out this calling – with devotion?

Jesus walked this earth as a man and spoke clearly to us that we could live as He lived. Part of the key to that is spending time alone with God in prayer. Not a dashed off prayer before sleep. Not a hurried grace before a meal. Not a moment before a meeting where we simply “login” with the Almighty. Devoted time in prayer.

Right now, you’re arguing back with me. You don’t have time for that. How will you fit in an hour of prayer? Let me ask you what I ask myself during those same arguments – did you spend an hour watching television yesterday? How many hours did you watch sports? Shop? Work in your yard? Clean your house? Read a book? Chat on the telephone? Surf the web? Read the paper, your junk mail and the Internet news?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Me, too. Now, how will you spend your time today? Are you ready to add some muscle to your faith? Drop and give God sixty – minutes, that is.

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    The Conversation

  1. Andrea says:

    Great post…..great analogy and example for all of us.
    Blessings and prayers, andrea

  2. I read this very passage in this morning’s Bible reading right after my writer’s devotion. Faith is such a long journey, but isn’t it comforting to know that no matter where we are on it, God is right there routing us along!!

  3. I love when God does that, Eileen. And we’re more likely to see it when we show up with Him. Faith is, indeed, a long journey so it’s good to have encouragers along the way.

  4. Fancy Nancy says:

    Nice blog: You are right. We have to work at stuff to make it look easy. Fancy Nancy Is Andrea a friend of your? RSVp

  5. Fancy Nancy says:

    I hear from Andrea as well. How did she connect with you? Fancy Nancy

  6. Thank you, Nancy. Andrea and I connected through blogs just as she found your blog through mine.

  7. Karen says:

    I think a lot of times, for me, it’s about the quality of prayer and not necessarily the quantity. I pray off and on all day long, but have a hard time just being still and drawing near to Him. Lots of surface prayers but not enough of the deep stuff. Thanks for the reminder.