I’m in Good Shape…Right?
About three years ago, I set out on a journey to lose some weight and get healthier. At the time, my main motivation was that my wife was headed off to a 90 day “bootcamp” for a weight-loss television show. She would be returning in 90 days after having worked out every single day of that time to continue her journey for 9 more months.
My motivation was to start working out and eat a little better for her. I really didn’t think I was in too bad of shape, but SHE needed to know that I was with her. Because I knew that she was going to be doing a pretty extreme type of working out, CrossFit, I decided that’s what I needed to do. So, I met up with the owners of the local CrossFit box and started the intro class. I very quickly realized that was that I was completely out of shape. Not only that, but I was at least 50 pounds overweight. I had no idea how bad it was, that is, until I started the first workout. Five minutes in and I was gasping for air and nauseous. It was so embarrassing for this “jock”, who had prided himself on being an athlete, being strong, and seeming younger than I was, for so many years. Then I was faced with the reality that I was just your average “out of shape, middle aged man”. It wasn't the reality that I wanted to face.
I feel this is a reality that many of us find ourselves facing in our relationship with Christ. We just keep moving along, living our lives like “normal”, all the while slipping down a subtle, but slippery slope. We have a tendency to remember back to a time when our relationship with Christ was strong and make the assumption that we’re are still in that place even though we are fully aware that we are, in reality, fooling ourselves.
James 1:22-24 says, "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was."
This is exactly what can happen to us. It doesn’t happen overnight. I didn’t just wake up one morning unhealthy with an extra 50 pounds. It happened subtly over a period of time— a much longer period than I realized. We keep saying things like “I’ll take care of it at some point, I have time,” until it’s literally been years since you made your spiritual growth a priority. We’ve all found ourselves in this condition at some point in our walk with God.
So, what now? Well, for me, the first step was becoming vulnerable. I said earlier that I was embarrassed about how out of shape I was in those early workouts. My pride was a huge problem for me. My first class was set for 6:00 AM. I woke up, ate breakfast, got in my car and headed that way. The garage doors were open to the warehouse where the CrossFit gym was and I could see what was going on inside. There were guys working out with shirts off, who were younger than me, in much better shape than me, and were climbing ropes and throwing heavy weights around. All of those things added up to me, or more accurately, my pride, saying, “Not a chance!” If I try this class, not only will I know that I can’t do any of this, all of these other people will also know. So, I did what any red-blooded, prideful male would do, I got in my car and went home. There is no way I’m putting myself “out there” in front of these people. I made every excuse possible, but it just kept coming back to one thing— I didn’t want anyone else to know how bad it was.
Isn’t this how it works? When we find ourselves in a place we didn’t expect to be, facing the reality that our relationship with Christ is not where it once was, maybe it's non-existent, or maybe we’ve even allowed sin of some kind to creep into our lives, the last thing we think we need is anyone else finding out just how bad it is. It didn’t take me long to realize, that was exactly what I needed. I needed to be vulnerable I needed for a group of people to see me exactly where I was. All of my weaknesses, all of my failures, and all of my blindspots. All of the things that I could not fix myself. All of the things that keep us from sticking to something and seeing it through. That is exactly the reason I needed to be connected to a group of people— a group of people who cared about me sticking to it and getting healthy. I needed a group who would allow me to be vulnerable without ridicule, who would encourage me, coach me by pointing out my blindspots, and keep me accountable.
It’s exactly what we need in our spiritual walk. We need to be connected to a group of believers who we can be vulnerable with, who will encourage us, share scripture with us, pray with us, and keep us accountable— this is where true growth can happen. What I realized is that there were things that were holding me back that I was never going to see myself. God uses others to help us strip away the things that are weighing us down.
In the story of Lazarus, we see that after Jesus had raised him from the dead and he walked out of the tomb, he was still wrapped in grave clothes. He couldn’t see because his face was still covered. He couldn’t remove the cover from his face because his hands and feet were still tied.
“Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.’” John 11:43-44
Jesus strategically had the people around Lazarus to cut away the graveclothes to free him from what was holding him back. This is a great picture of what we need in our lives in order to become more like Christ together— we need a group of people to help strip away what’s restricting us.
This is the role of Small Groups. I can tell you that today, because of a group of people who I allowed into my life, I was able to lose those 50 pounds and I’m now in the best physical shape of my life at 47 yrs old. However, I’m still growing in my relationship with Christ. Even as a pastor, I have learned that I NEED a small group who I can be vulnerable with. People who can see the “grave clothes” in my life that are restricting me— the things that I will never see myself. When I am connected to a Small Group, that's where relationship and true spiritual growth can happen.