Fit to fight: Developing spiritual fitness during the season of Lent
Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson
March 10, 2020
Fighting is not traditionally associated with modern Christianity; however, it is commonly tied to fighting against social ills, political rivals, and stigma. Sadly, these are the challenges that are faced today along with inequity, lack of proper medical care for the persons struggling below and at the poverty line, injustice for the poor, and discrimination on various levels. These are fights that are necessary and warranted, and are often led by conscientious people whose hearts bleed for the underdog. Yet believers often shy away from such advocacy. It would be wonderful not to have to fight against the challenges that saturate our lives. Unfortunately, many find the sentiments of the words from Langston Hughes’ poem, “Mother to Son,” all too familiar—“life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”[i]
Somewhere in the spiritual ether of Christianity, fighting acquired a negative undertone. Perhaps the crusades decimated the idea of fighting with their bloodbaths in the early church.[ii] The Reformation was a time of great unrest and feuding. This left Christianity broken and divided on biblical issues. Perhaps the thought of losing personal possessions or being subjected to unimaginable and unwanted persecution has tempered the fight in the modern church. Perhaps the thought that things are not that bad has lulled the church into a sense of complacency. Complacency is one of the deadliest challenges to life in general, and is the mark of being indifferent to the mess that is pervasive in the world today. Complacency renders individuals unfit to fight. Unfit to fight spiritual warfare, unfit to fight personal struggles, unfit to be prayer warriors, and unfit to “put on the whole armor of God” as indicated in Ephesians 6:11. The writer continues, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 RSV). To overcome these forces, one has to be fit to fight, and that fitness starts within.
This is where the season of Lent becomes advantageous on this spiritual journey. It provides the opportunity to be more reflective. For those who have a formal spiritual discipline, it offers an occasion to tune into one’s spiritual self more closely and seek a closer connection with the Holy. For some, it is an opportunity to cleanse one’s life of the superficialities that have subtly become norms yet distracted from perhaps a more meaningful existence. Spiritual disciplines, when used to lean intentionally into a relationship with the Holy, not only strip away ostentations, but prepare the human spirit for further development. The word discipline used in Scripture, comes from the Greek word “paideuo” meaning to train, to chastise, to correct. We are familiar with discipline from the perspective of chastising and correcting. The word has a deeper nuance than to simply correct. The English vernacular narrowly utilizes discipline from the perspective of punishment for correcting bad behavior or correcting an error. For many, the very word discipline causes anxiety. It has been associated with strict corrective actions that cause many to refrain from a discipline. All too many congregations are limited in the perspective of a discipline. Unfortunately, this limitation has driven many towards the propensity of avoiding spiritual disciplines that have structure, regiments, and guidelines. This leaves individuals without the opportunity of experiencing the gift of discipline.
No one training for any event, whether it is a marathon, a spelling bee, or a competition would disregard the discipline that is required. For athletes training to be the best, discipline includes, but is not limited to, training regularly and religiously, having a healthy diet, and getting proper rest. This is the minimum discipline required to be at one’s best. To be fit to fight spiritually involves just as much discipline. Daily devotions, prayer, meditation, and a healthy diet are the staples for being fit to fight. The writer of Ephesians 6:12, according to the RSV, wrote, “we are not contending with flesh and blood, but against principalities…against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Many will attempt to direct their energy towards fighting or contending with flesh and blood. Nevertheless, the fight is spiritual. To be fit to fight spiritually involves spiritual disciplines that equip, edify, and encourage when the days are dark, and life becomes difficult. During the season of Lent, fasting and praying are spiritual practices that facilitate spiritual fitness.
To be fit to fight spiritually involves spiritual disciplines that equip, edify, and encourage when the days are dark, and life becomes difficult. During the season of Lent, fasting and praying are spiritual practices that facilitate spiritual fitness.
Spiritual practices and disciplines are healthy and necessary. Thomas Moore indicated “a spiritual life of some kind is absolutely necessary for psychological ‘health.’”[iii] Spiritual disciplines are essential in maintaining spiritual health. According to Moore, it is the thread that tethers the psyche. Being fit to fight can be challenging, even so, this challenge can be supported by a life that is saturated with spiritual disciplines. There is a caution, spiritual discipline is not designed to withdraw individuals from life, it seeks to enable one to live a well-meaning and balanced life. With a well-balanced life, one is fit to fight “the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson is pastor of Cornerstone Community Church, Endicott, N.Y.
[i] Langston Hughes, Selected Poems of Langston Hughes, (New York, NY Vintage Books, 1959, 1987), 187.
[ii] González, Justo L., The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 1984), 298.
[iii] Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 1992), xii.