“Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:7-8
A favorite story my dad shared with me was about their family’s friendship with Hall of Fame shortstop, Alan Trammell. Alan and my uncle Steve were really good friends growing up, living just down the street from one another and played a lot of baseball together. As a baseball player growing up, my dad would tell me stories about how Alan used to just spend hours practicing and training to improve his skill set on the baseball field. Each day was an opportunity to train and get better, culminating in a 1984 World Series MVP against his hometown Padres and a Hall of Fame career. While it ended in Cooperstown, it started by training and practicing in his backyard.
As it is with baseball, becoming whole and holy starts with training. If you’ve ever worked out or been trained by someone, you know that training implies two very important things. Firstly, training is always customized. A personal trainer will usually ask for your goals, what you’re hoping to accomplish and work on. Alan being a shortstop probably didn’t train taking fly balls very often. Jesus’ statements are a call for us to be honest with where we are at! You can’t remove someone’s speck without getting rid of your log. Good hearts bring out good treasures. These statements are challenges for us to assess where we are really at. If I walk into a gym tomorrow and my goal is to bench press 400-pounds, I can tell you we aren’t starting there! We have to be honest with where we are at so that we can make progress. The danger here is in the danger of comparison. Sometimes we assume we should be further along than we are. However, Jesus would invite us into authenticity and freedom.
Secondly, training implies progress. Progress is not perfection. Progress is our metric for success. As we train, we improve. No one starts out training to bench press 400-pounds by immediately putting 400-pounds on the bar or stumbles into being a professional baseball player without training and practice. We strive to make progress. We want to become more like Jesus. As D.A. Carson says, “People do not drift towards holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.” It takes effort, patience, and practice.
So how do we train? We honestly assess where we are at and take our next best step. We each have one. Partnering with the Holy Spirit, we pray, seek, and ask God how we might train. Of course, for many of us, it starts with spiritual practices. For others, it starts with taking ownership of a foundational truth about who God created us to be. For others, it’s a step towards obedience. While it looks different for each of us, when we assess and take our next best step, we can train ourselves in godliness which is of great benefit!