Training That Sustains Us
That’s why he urged them to watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation! The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. In other words, the passion is there, but you need more than passion. You need training.
It’s a bit like the difference between my passion for basketball and soccer. I like watching and playing both sports. I am passionate about both. But the difference in my skill in these sports is remarkable. I can play basketball fairly well, but I’m pretty awful at soccer. Why? Well, I have trained in basketball since I was in elementary school, while I’ve never trained in soccer. I’ve only played pickup games, which I love doing, but mostly I am a liability to my team!
Why? Because my spirit is willing (I love playing soccer!), but my flesh is weak (I’m not very good at it!).
In the same way, passion was not enough for the disciples to remain faithful in trial. They desperately wanted to come through for Jesus, I’m sure. They genuinely thought that they could, too. They assumed their passion would carry them, but it wasn’t enough. They needed training. They needed to learn to watch and pray, so that when temptation comes they will have the capability to actually do what they so desperately want to do.
We need the same thing if we’re going to follow Jesus as disciples. That’s what “spiritual disciplines” are all about, training us so that we can be poised and ready for the trials and temptations that come our way as we join Jesus in his work.
I have to remind myself of this every once in awhile. My passion is not enough to sustain me, I need to submit to a regimen of training so that my flesh isn’t weak on the day of temptation. This is why we begin each weekday at 3DM worshiping, praying and reading Scripture together. It’s why we gather on Sunday nights to celebrate what God is doing in our midst. It’s why I spend time in prayer and reflection. It’s why we share what we are thankful for around the breakfast table as a family.
As we engage in these simple exercises, these predictable patterns, we find that God’s grace inhabits those spaces and he begins to transform us. We become spiritually “strong” not by trying really hard, but by indirect effort. That’s how we train as disciples … doing little, seemingly insignificant things that allow us to do the things we cannot do by direct effort.