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Spiritual Calisthenics

Have you ever tried to do something that flat-out humiliates you? Something you have absolutely no idea how to do and is so far beyond your abilities? Don’t stop because thats a perfect metaphor for the spiritual life.

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV84

In fact, that’s exactly how I feel–that hopelessness and embarrassment–about calisthenics skills. Most other physical pursuits I’ve tried have seemed attainable if only I’d put more effort in. I’d either already mastered the movements, or at least have been familiar enough with appropriate foundational movement patterns that I was able to do it in a small number of tries. Basketball, soccer, weightlifting, and marathon running are simply not that difficult. They are all composed of very basic movement patterns that literally everyone uses every day of their lives. The coordination takes only a modest amount of training and practice to become proficient. You just add weight or try to move faster.

Body weight calisthenics skills are something else altogether. Instead of standing on your feet and legs-your strongest body parts-you stand on your hands and arms-much less strong. Instead of using your legs to perform explosive movements with your arms, you use your arms to perform explosive pull-ups and muscle ups. Your anterior core (abs) become no less important than your posterior core and shoulders for stabilizing body movements and isometrics. And almost none of the skills-planche, levers, handstands, crosses, etc.-have equivalent movement patterns commonly used in everyday life. It is embarrassing trying to learn skills that your body has literally never had to perform.

If we are honest, this is exactly what the life of the Spirit is like. In our everyday lives-especially in the US-our survival depends on our ability to be materialistic and self seeking. We have no need or practical experience with (so-called) esoteric spiritual practices that place a sense of the transcendent over our sense of self. We have no practical or useful experience prioritizing our ability to anticipate spiritual movements. We literally have no understanding of how to perform miracles or communicate in the unseen world using unlearned languages. It is exceedingly difficult for us to fight demons because we have been told from birth that they don’t exist. Therefore we live under curses and demonic possession unaware. We do not expect healing because we believe healing only happens in stories. Like in a handstand, our world is turned upside down.

Unfortunately, while you don’t need a handstand to face reality, you do need faith. If you want to live in God’s world, you must have faith in Him and know what pleases Him. You must learn to recognize his activity and learn to join what He is doing.

What can we do when our experience is wholly inadequate to reality? Well, we have some tips from the physical challenges posed by calisthenics skills. Notice that there is some level of baseline strength that one must have in order to turn your world on its head. You cannot attempt a handstand if you cannot do a push-up. And there are disciplines that start from where one is to progress them to the more advanced activities. You may not be able to perform a front lever raise today, but a number of exercises performed consistently over time can help you bridge the gap.

While there is much about our spiritual lives that is beyond our ability to control, there are basic disciplines we should pursue in obedience while our spiritual strength grows. Do you pray? Do you read and meditate on Scripture? Do you cultivate a heart of worship? You cannot expect to perform miracles or even be other-centered if you don’t consistently engage these basics first! Work on the basics and make room, by faith, for God to move in your life.

Build your spiritual core.

Published in discipleship personal development