No Pain, No Gain

I was talking with my son, Mark, who teaches in the exercise science field. In exercise science, there is an important principle called overload. It basically means that for a system in the body to improve it has to be challenged to do more than it is capable of.

Muscles get stronger, for example, when they are regularly challenged to work at a level above what they are normally accustomed to, forcing them to adapt and grow.

This principle is where the phrase “No Pain, No Gain” comes from. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got. Going beyond the ordinary makes the improved levels “the new ordinary.”

This principle applies in the spiritual realm, too. Consider what James says, in James 1:2-4

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

“The testing of faith produces steadfastness.” That sounds like spiritual overload. The practice of relying on your faith when you experience struggles (that you apparently cannot deal with) strengthens your faith so that you can deal with bigger problems in the future.

This may be part of an answer to the question of why God allows bad things happen to good people. Those bad things can help build a stronger faith.

Another concept from exercise science, reversibility, looks at the opposite phenomenon, using less strength than you are capable of. This is typically called “Use it or lose it.”

If you begin using a muscle system less than you normally have used it, then its abilities will decline. Your muscles will atrophy.

What about the spiritual realm? Maybe we are paying more attention, now, or that we are bombarded with more news and information today, or there really has been a change, but it sure seems like things are getting worse.

If there really is a moral decline in society, then one contributing factor might be that on average we don’t struggle as much as we used to; our “moral muscles” may be atrophying.

Our country is fairly affluent, all our needs (and then some) are readily satisfied by most, and in the face of a life of relative ease, there may be a tendency to rely less on our faith in our daily life. I have certainly been guilty of this.

The Bible teaches us to actively work against this atrophy in our faith. We need to delight ourselves in the law and meditate on it day and night. (Psalms 1:2).

We need to not neglect to meet together to encourage one another. (Hebrews 1:14).

We need to avoid friendship with the world so as to make an enemy of God (James 4:4) but to sharpen one another as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

And, of course, whether we are cheerful or suffering or sick, we pray and sings songs of praise out of grateful hearts (James 5:13).

In sum, we all need to regularly work out. Use our faith to avoid atrophy and stretch our faith for growth.