“Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other” (Matthew 12:13).
IT IS TRUE SPIRITUALLY, AS WELL AS PHYSICALLY, THAT SIGNIFICANT GROWTH REQUIRES THE EXERTION OF EFFORT. It is inconsistent to say that we want to grow but do nothing about it. Passivity only breeds weakness and leads to stagnation.
Dallas Willard, in his provocative The Spirit of the Disciplines, quotes William Law’s statement that “God has made no promises of mercy to the slothful and negligent. His mercy is only offered to our frail and imperfect, but best endeavours, to practise all manner of righteousness” and also Henry Thoreau’s wry observation that “men will lie on their backs, talking about the fall of man, and never make an effort to get up.” A life that grows toward God is an active enterprise, not merely a passive status to be enjoyed. To be a Christian, one must “walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6).
Those who move forward are those who reach forward “to those things which are ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Paul urged Timothy, “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4:15). The gospel, the glad tidings of our salvation, must not simply be heard and appreciated; it must be responded to. Not only at first, but forever afterward, the gospel must be “obeyed” (Romans 1:5; Galatians 3:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17; etc.).
It is a pity that so many individuals have come to think of religion and spirituality as the mere giving of mental assent to correct doctrine, as if life in God had to do only with the thinking of the mind and nothing to do with the activity of the body. But the flesh is not inherently evil, and the enjoyment of grace by faith does not preclude the requirement of bodily obedience. Our bodies, in fact, can be a valuable ally in our spiritual growth. Trained by the effort involved in spiritual disciplines and godly habits, our bodies can aid and support us in our seeking of God. In Jesus’ own life, we see an obvious link between His inward strength and the habits of His outward activity. If He had to exert effort, should we expect to grow strong by merely passive means? Bodily, as well as mentally, we must seek God with diligence.
“The lazy man does not, will not, cannot pray, for prayer demands energy” (Edward McKendree Bounds).