Godly Over-training

Adductor tendon strain – out for about four to five weeks.”

As someone with a (healthy – Ed) addiction to running, that is not what I wanted to hear from the physio. Where is my endorphin kick going to come from now?

“You could always get a bike,” said a friend helpfully.

“Yeah, if my aim in life is to wear lycra, spend 5000 dollars on a piece of carbon fibre that is going to do the job that my legs do already, and then sit with fifteen others, blocking out the sidewalk outside a cafe whilst we sip lattes and talk about the lastest saddle we bought from wigglecom. Yeah, I’ll get a bike then.”

“Well, if you put it like that,” he said walking off, looking, sounding and acting mortally offended at what, to a runner, is an obvious fact.

So here I am dealing with the result of physical overtraining, ostensibly the result of not slowing down my pace in the weeks after a fairly gruelling half marathon.  As someone who just started running this year it’s a steep – and painful – learning curve.

Another helpful friend – more helpfully, reminded me that bodily training is some benefit, but training in godliness is of great value.

“Yeah, right,” I sneered in my non-endoprhined mood slump, “Chapter and verse?”

“Err, 1 Timothy4:7-8,” he said apologetically, “Rather train yourself for godliness, for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

“And you memorised that, did you?” (A PB in sneering is surely round the corner – Ed)

“iPhone App,” he said with a finality that indicated that he too was about to walk off.

Ok, ok, so he was right.  And it did raise some questions with me. Why is it impossible to overtrain in godliness?  Why will the state of your soul never be weakened by going harder and harder at building holy character? In other words, why is there no such thing as burnout in running the race towards the prize?

The answer is simple isn’t it? Look at the passage again.  Both physical and spiritual exercise hold out promise for this life.  And if this life is all there is, then the evidence is that bodily training might even get you further than spiritual training.  After all well sculpted bodies pull in success like a magnet. The beautiful, well-toned bodies are the ones we seek to emulate, the go-getters at the gym seem to have a corresponding financial, relational “go-gettingness” to them as well in so many ways.  And it you hit the peak of bodily training, then it’s sports teams, Olympic selections, accolades, praise and prize money.

On top of that, whoever really gets ahead in this age by being godly?  No-one, not if the standards of this age are the barometer anyway.  Overtraining yourself to be more pure when unholiness is more and more celebrated, sin is more accessible/anonyous/available?  Overtraining yourself to be more selfless when your spouse/parent/friend is more and more selfish?  Overtraining yourself to be more financially generous when everything seems to be more expensive, with more inbuilt obsolescence, more desirable to buy? Overtraining yourself to remain faithful day in, day out to Jesus, when so many around you give up, and – gasp, shock, horror!, actually feel better about life and more actualised now that they have  really  seen the light? Surely all that overtraining is a recipe for spiritual burnout? Why not slack off for a while and go with the flow.  Let the tired body and mind float a little. Maybe that is the way to go.

Except for that part at the end of the verse: “and also for the life to come.”  Imagine training in holiness and purity now that is stage one for the reality of the life to come: unimaginable holiness and purity coursing through your resurrected body.  Imagine training in selflessness now that is merely preparatory for an eternity reflecting the selfless love of the eternal Triune God.  Imagine training in generosity in such a way that when the full realisation of the riches of God’s grace to us in Jesus come to us we cry out “Yes, that’s what we’ve been longing for all along!” Imagine training in faithfulness to the point that you hear those glad words “Well done good and faithful servant. At times you thought you were overtraining whilst others fell away, but you were preparing yourself to enter into the joy of your master!”

I close with a runner’s prayer:

Dear Lord

I love running. Sometimes too much. Often I overtrain and I confess that it’s often easier to get up early on a cold, wet morning to run than to read your Word. Help me to train in godliness in this life with an eye to the age to come.  Keep me training in your promise that such training will be of great value in that age, when my achilles, adductors and ITBs so painful in this age – are renewed, and I not only run, but soar with resurrection life flooding my body. Amen.

6 Comments

  1. I take your point but burnout is way too common in Christian circles to let this pass. Adrenalin junkies can just as easily burnout in the constant and relentless pursuit of trying to please God, or “win souls” for Christ. I have seen far too many worn out and demoralised with a sense of failure. Yes we are meant to train in godliness, but often that means doing less not more. Jesus knew when to rest, when to take a break with the Father, just him and no one else. Folks know this and take their retreats but still they do not rest.

    So I hope your injury heals quickly, but in the meantime I hope you also find some rest. By the way, glad to have been sent the link to your blog and see where your thoughts are going these days.

    1. Hi Joanna

      I do see where you are coming from and knowing your godly wisdom, you re providing a good caution, however my point is probably hidden by my terminologies! I actaully think burnout for Christians is not the result of spiritual exercise, but fleshly effort aping spiritual effort. A lot of our burnout can be traced back to man-pleasing or man-fearing, and, funnily enough, is often accompanied by a lack of true godliness (hidden sins, attitudes that are wrong, elder-brother-syndrome.) It’s only when we actually burn out “doing the Lord’s work” that we often realise that we were doing our work and putting the Lord’s label on it.

      I do think there is a zeal that is “too zealous” – that flames others as well, and we have to be careful that the spirit does not give way to the flesh – broken frail creatures that we are.

      I appreciate having my Latvian-living sister in Christ touching base!

      1. I couldn’t agree more Steve and Fellow adductor. It is definitely a fleshly pursuit that leads to the burnout, but often following a genuine call to godliness and so my issue was more with the terminology, so thanks for clarifying your thoughts Steve. I look forward to seeing what God will do as he calls more of his church back to a real godliness and not a masquerade of it.

  2. Nice thought Joanna (and good post Steve).

    I think there’s a difference between our pursuit of holiness/Godliness and the works-based striving that we humans can often find a little too subtle. It’s not subtle…but we’re more than capable of running in the direction of works under the guise of pursuing holiness.

    And, yep, you can absolutely over-train in works (despite Paul telling the Galatians not to weary in doing good)…but I think Steve is right on when he says that we can not over-train in Godliness, for our training in Godliness brings correct alignment to our response to Jesus as well.

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