Much is being said these days about how important regular physical exercise is for maintaining good health. According to statistics quoted in a recent Reader’s Digest article, it increases our life expectancy on the average of four years. But much greater benefits come from maintaining another kind of exercise program. Paul urged Timothy, “Train yourself in 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” (1 Timothy 4:7–8). As I read this passage, it struck me that godly life, like being in a good state of physical conditioning, doesn’t just happen. It comes from a persistent submission to an appropriate training regimen. But, I wondered, just what kid of a training program is best suited for achieving and maintaining a godly life? The answer seems to come from Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me … and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29).
Obviously, anyone who had submitted himself to Jesus as his trainer and learned from him would be a godly person. But it is significant that Jesus’ training program teaches a person no longer to be weary and heavy laden but, instead to enjoy inner rest and peace. In fact, according to these words, only to the extent that one enjoys inner peace and rest has he learned godly living from Jesus. Inability to find peace and rest in some situation in life means that we still need to learn from him.
We recall from the Twenty-third Psalm that the first thing the Lord does in shepherding his sheep is to make them lie down and rest. Only after their souls are thus restored does he lead them into the paths of righteousness or godliness. So the basic effort I must make in heeding Paul’s injunction, “Train yourselves in godliness,” is to rest in the Lord, and to let Christ’s peace rule in my heart (cf. Psalm 37:7; Colossians 3:15). It would seem, I know, that “train yourself in godliness” would mean listing many things I ought to strive to do: setting priorities, rekindling my resolve to live up to them, and so on. But that would only result in making me more like Martha, who was “anxious and troubled about many things,” when I need to learn to be like Mary and choose the “one thing needful,” which is to sit at Jesus’ feet so that I can learn from him.
How, then, do I carry on this exercise regimen in everyday life? Sometimes I find myself becoming tense as I think about the many demands upon my time. But my basic exercise (!) is to rest on the promise, “As your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25), or “The Lord will guide you continually” (Isaiah 58:11), or “You show me the path of life” (Psalm 16:11). Life from day to day brings many circumstances to which my first response is to tense up and become anxious, or angry, or jealous, or feel sorry for myself. Learning to rest in the Lord in all these circumstances surely means a most varied spiritual training program, although the one objective is to let the peace of Christ rule in the heart. Only as we have the rest that Christ promised will we be in a position to turn our attention away from ourselves to see how we might help others in their needs. This soul rest is also the best protection against uttering those sharp words which hurt others and create such problems. Soul rest also means contentment and, therefore, the exclusion of jealousy and covetousness, which can lead us into so many sins and foolish decisions. So resting in the Lord is training in godliness.
One vital aspect of this training program is knowing Scripture well enough so that the Holy Spirit can point to the particular promise that we need to believe in order to enjoy peace in a given situation. Paul said his Christian life is possible because of the faithfulness of the Son of God who loved him and gave himself up for him (Galatians 2:20). But we cannot live in such dependence on Christ unless we can quickly locate just some specific promise which Christ has made to us in his love and which is exactly what we need for the particular problem that threatens to rob us of our rest and joy in him. So we need to read the Bible through and through, memorize certain verses, and join ourselves in fellowship with Christians who will share with us how promises from Scripture have recently helped them. To the extent that we know God’s promises and rely on them in faith, we will train ourselves in godliness.
Daniel P. Fuller