Over the past four years, I have taken an ever-increasing interest in fitness as a hobby. Perhaps the thing that has most captured my attention is how God has designed the human body. Throughout Scripture we see spiritual truths mirrored in nature. Perhaps one of my favorite physical principles that applies to spiritual growth is that of “Progressive Overload”.
In its most basic physical sense, Progressive Overload is simply “moving more weight next time.” There are two ways to think about this
1. On Monday, I lift 50 pounds 6 times. That is the most I can do. The next week I can lift 55 pounds 6 times. I got stronger. Yay!
2. On Monday, I lift 50 pounds 6 times. That is the most I can do. The next week I can lift 50 pounds 7 times. I got stronger. Yay!
In scenario 1, I lifted more weight for the same number of attempts. In scenario 2, I lifted the same weight for more number of attempts.
Here’s a quick overview of what is going on in your body:
When your muscle is pushed to near its limit, there are tiny micro-tears in your muscle fibers. Your body does not like that. So, it repairs those muscle fibers to be a little stronger, that is, to resist tearing the next time you see that weight and/or number of attempts. Bottom line is, for your muscles to get stronger, they must get slightly (on a micro scale) torn. Lift too much weight and you might tear the muscle resulting in injury. Lift not enough weight and your muscles don’t micro-tear and don’t get stronger.
(Side note, when explaining this to my boys one of them asked, “Is that why we call people who are really strong ‘ripped’? Because they are always tearing their muscles.”)
Spiritually, I think this is the exact concept James had in mind in James chapter 1 when he said, “the testing of your faith produces endurance.” Jesus, John, Paul, and Peter all tell us to expect trials and persecution (Matthew 10:25; 2 Timothy 3:10-13; John 15:20; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 4:12). Sometimes, we are forced to carry a heavy load for a time. But in carrying that heavy load, our faith is strengthened so that the next time we experience that load, our faith is better prepared to endure and overcome. Other times, there are perhaps smaller burdens that we carry, but we carry them more often. These also strengthen our faith, as we are better prepared to carry that weight over time.
The death of a loved one is a heavy burden. One that is not carried often, but requires great strength.
Raising a preschooler is often more a burden of daily carrying lighter loads, but they seemingly never stop.
Both are exhausting. Both make you stronger.
But wait! There is a catch to Progressive Overload! You must provide your muscles the necessary time and nourishment to repair itself. If you do not rest your muscles and feed them properly, they will not get stronger. They will remain micro-torn and you will barely be able to lift what you lifted last time. You might actually feel weaker! There is a saying in the fitness world:
“Muscles are torn in the gym, fed in the kitchen, and built in bed.” So it is with our faith. We must find nourishment! We must find rest!
Your faith will be strengthened not in the absence of trials, but in the presence of rest and nourishment following those trials.
It is no coincidence that Jesus is The Bread of Life and gives Living Water. It was not by accident that God commanded a day of rest for His people. Trials are guaranteed, so we must keep on a steady diet of the Word of God to nourish our spirit. We must pray continually to keep us from becoming spiritually thirsty. We must find the time to rest, not filling every minute of every day with busyness, activities, and distractions.
The Body of Christ exists for this exact purpose. Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:11-13, “And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
A believer who is not fully engaged with the Body of Christ will not grow in faith the way God intended. A believer who is not feasting on God’s Word will run out of spiritual energy. A believer who is not drinking deeply in communion with the Father through prayer will eventually become dry, withered, and fruitless.
So how do you grow in faith?
Trials: These will come. You don’t need to look for them.
Make sure you are suffering because of your Christian witness, not as a result of your own foolishness and sin (1 Peter 4:12-16)
Nourishment: How does our church help you be nourished?
Sunday morning preaching (sermons available online)
Sunday Connect Groups
Wednesday Equipping Classes
Weekly Women’s Bible Study and MOPS
Weekly off-site men’s groups
Weekly published prayer guide
Church Library with a “Pastors’ Picks Table” and many other solid resources
Rest: You must choose to rest. It doesn’t just happen!
Parents, take advantage of our church’s Parents Night Out and Mom’s Morning Out days.
Consider making one day of the week “set apart”. A Sabbath Rest does not have to legalistic. We have freedom in Christ, but we should not use our freedom as an excuse for sin (Galatians 5:13). Here is a great sermon series by Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Check out The Fourth Commandment and his thoughts. The book is also available in the Church Library.
Get into hiking. One of the greatest ways to reconnect with God is to simply walk around His creation. Pocahontas State Park is right around the corner from the church and has enough trails to keep you busy for a long time.
Take a vacation regularly. This is so obvious that many secular companies are now requiring their employees to use up their personal leave time. Doesn’t have to be expensive. Doesn’t have to be travel. It just has to be restful!
If you engage with the church, are nourished by the Word, and resting in Christ, you will find faith stronger by the week. You will look back on previous trials and chuckle at how heavy they seemed at the time.
Go. Eat. Rest. Repeat.