I have a goal: I want to be strong when I’m fifty. And I’m talking about muscles. Did you know that your muscles begin to deteriorate when you hit the big 5-0? I want a good head start so that I can keep my strength going as long as possible. So I workout. And I happen to really like it.

But lately I’ve been really busy. I mean, busier than my normal crazy-busy. So I altered my workout routine a little to fit my schedule. Usually, most of my workouts include weights. I’m not talking about body-builder weightlifting—it’s more like 8 to 15 pound dumbbells in circuit training. But with busyness comes stress, and I thought I’d do a little change-up. Most outdoor activity I don’t actually count as my workout, because it isn’t too intense. A bike ride with the kids, a walk with my husband, or bumping a volleyball with my girls are just regular life bonuses. Even if I take a run, it is usually under two miles and considered a warm-up to whatever the real workout is. Getting outside relieves stress. I needed some more sunshine and fresh air in my day.

So I busted out the Rollerblades my husband bought me when I was like 20 years old. Usually when this happens, every kid in the neighborhood gets excited, grabbing whatever Big Wheel, bike, or mode of transportation they can find, and follow me like I’m the Pied Piper. I wouldn’t call it much of a workout. But this time I took it up a notch and they weren’t as excited to hang. I thought I’d actually incorporate rollerblading into my workout routine. I go fast enough for the neighbors to think I’m weird, for about 40 minutes. It has been such a great change-up that I happily enjoy this workout 2-3 times a week.

And yet I had a sneaking suspicion. I’m not one to jump on the scale constantly, but after about three weeks of this I wondered what less-intense, fewer weight workouts read on the scale. Sure enough, I had lost a couple pounds. Usually, a girl would be happy with this news. But I knew why. It wasn’t because I had laid off the apple pie and cookies. It wasn’t because I’m burning crazy-mad calories rollerblading either. I probably lost muscle. It isn’t horrible, I know. But I hate to settle. After all, I have a goal.

This really got me thinking about how you may look ostensibly, and what’s really going on inside. It also got me thinking about how focused one needs to be to keep your muscles strong. You see the spiritual analogy here, I’m sure. The apostle Paul liked to use the comparison of racing to exhort us to determination and discipline:

Do you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not for uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

My personal goal for physical strength is about perseverance. Studies show that 70-year-olds who athletically train still have great muscles. Yes, there is still deterioration with age, but the aging muscles of the physically fit are still pretty impressive. This aids in their all-around physical health. But perseverance requires fight. And the unseen of muscle-tissue does speak in the overall way that one feels in everyday life. It affects performance and sustaining health. There is much unseen going on in our spiritual lives. What are our primary goals for spiritual growth?

Paul is warning the believer against presumption, and highlighting the discipline involved in growth. You may think that I am a little over the top or single-minded in my physical goal. But isn’t that how Paul is exhorting us to be in our spiritual lives as well? Earlier in this same letter he states that he’s determined to know nothing among them other than Jesus Christ and him crucified (2:2).

Do you strive for that singular goal? What will this mean for our own, self-interests when they are weighing us down for finishing the race? We can’t look to ourselves for this kind of hard work. The beauty of our faith is in God’s faithfulness. He is the one perfecting us for holiness. That is why our focus is singular. And Paul encourages us:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

No matter how hard I physically train, this body is still perishing. But the eternal weight of glory is awaiting me. God is glorified in all my weakness, for it is his strength that I am counting on. His strength never deteriorates. And I look forward to that new, imperishable body that I will be able to worship him in for eternity.

*Originally published on Septerber 12, 2012.