Strength training is a billion-dollar industry in America. It seems everyone wants to get in shape and fitness facilities even try to duplicate what the military has done for hundreds of years by offering “boot camp” workouts. They promote high intensity, strength building, and endurance producing workouts that promise to make the fat disappear. The military, however, has a different motivation for building strength—combat readiness.
What about God, does He care about our strength and physical stamina? Paul tells us that we should discipline our body, but for a higher purpose than big biceps or toned abs. He says that he disciplined his body like Olympic athletes of his day because it kept him focused on being qualified to make God known to others (1 Corinthians 9:25-27). He also tells us that good workouts are profitable, but they are nothing in comparison to spiritual workouts that keep us focused on the promises we have in “the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Strength training, then, is never the end goal; rather, it is a tool that God uses to support our spiritual readiness.
Strength of the Heart
As we grow older a new truth becomes a painful reality–our strength can and will fail. The rucksack feels much heavier, the walks so much further, and the ability to concentrate so much harder. The Psalm writer Asaph knew this truth and said it this way, “my heart and my flesh may fail.” But he also knew a higher truth, that God is the “strength of our heart” (Psalm 73:26). Asaph understood that spiritual readiness is not an issue of physical strength, but heart strength built through an on-going relationship with God.
Another Psalmist, one of the sons of Korah, gave a great picture of what it looks like to have God as the strength of our heart. He describes people trudging through a barren landscape (think desert deployment) and coming to a low point in elevation. He encourages his tired listeners with these words, “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring” (Psalm 84:5-6).
The people have a checkpoint they need to make—Zion, the Holy City. It’s a place of family, friends, and most important, a way to find rest and peace with God. The problem is they need to go through a valley called “Baca” which literally means “weeping”. It certainly isn’t Disneyland and when the only word to describe it is “crying” you know it can’t be good. After a long march in a hot and dry environment, digging is the last thing anyone wants to do. But digging is the only way to stay alive because survival is impossible without water, and in a dry and barren environment, the only way to find water is to dig for it.
The act of digging stands as a metaphor for what the people need to do with their hearts. They need to dig deep and see how God is at work and will continue to work in them despite their circumstances. Their act of digging for water when they are tired and exhausted becomes an act of faith that the God who began a good work in them will complete that work (see Philippians 1:6).
The act of digging stands as a metaphor for what the people need to do with their hearts.
The valleys of life are not vacation destinations, but they can be profitable like a physical workout. God sometimes allows spiritual setbacks and emotional dry spells that force us to dig deep to find our true strength. One pastor said it this way, “we enjoy God on the mountain, but we get to know Him in the valley.” Knowing God in a real and profound way brings us more strength and stamina than we ever thought possible.
Are you in a valley right now? Let these words refresh your dry and tired hearts, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10-11).