“What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:9 (ESV)
What does Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, want us to practice? He wants us to practice prayer. But why “practice”?
When Track Practice Hurts
My son came home from track practice one day, early in the season before his first meet, utterly exhausted. Despite tons of homework and a looming summer program application deadline, all he could do was lie down on the couch, his long limbs dangling in every direction. Even after a high-carb snack, he could barely move his body to his room.
I went upstairs to see how I could help. He told me he wanted to submit his summer application that night, but he explained, “My muscles get so sore at the beginning of the season. I’ll take a shower, then I’ll start.”
I could see how painful it was for him to even stand up.
It was time to use my professorship in exercise physiology to teach this man-child some God-given science about how our muscles are brilliantly designed to respond to conditioning in order to deliver peak performance when you want it. And by “conditioning,” I mean “regular, consistent usage.”
Now, I knew my son hadn’t practiced on his own between the end of cross-country season the previous fall and the beginning of track that spring. So, gently I suggested:
“You know, your muscles will have an easier time if you keep running, even a little bit, between seasons.”
“Yeah, I know.”
When Prayer Practice Hurts
This reminded me of my relationship with God. In my early adulthood, I only checked in with God on Sundays at church, and maybe I’d pray desperately for help during some crisis. I didn’t bother putting in any prayer time in between. I didn’t “practice” prayer. I didn’t see the need.
Then when I did pray, I always ended up feeling more bewildered by my plight – or worse, ignored.
My soul would sprawl out on a couch of confusion. So sore.
Much later, after many years of turning away from God completely, I finally heard his call and turned to him again. His call was so strong and clear and specific that my soul ran to him – I’m talking about a full-on sprint!
When Prayer Practice Works
I became hungry to study his Word every day.
I begged the Holy Spirit to fill me each day.
My soul devoured the “high-carb snacks” of focusing on Jesus multiple times a day.
I finally “practiced” praying, spending consistent big chunks and frequent little bits of time communicating with God. I started feeling less bewildered and more… like God was paying attention to me.
And “even a little bit” each day made a massive difference.
I felt God’s peace settle in.
Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:9 to pattern our prayer life so it looks like the prayer life that he modeled, even when he was in prison. Paul urges us to practice because he knew something about our souls that is similar to what I know about muscle physiology:
When we use our muscles consistently, they respond by growing bigger and stronger. Then they’re ready for the next time we use them. They react efficiently when we ask them to perform at higher and higher levels. They don’t feel as sore. In fact, they feel good being used.
When we pray and spend time with God consistently, his peace arrives within us. His peace grows bigger and stronger. His peace is right there the next time we ask for it. It’s right there in tougher and tougher seasons. Our soul doesn’t feel “so sore” or out-of-practice. In fact, our soul feels good knowing that God’s peace is a prayer away.
A prayer that we’re used to entering into.
And just as a track athlete’s well-conditioned muscles will perform better during a demanding competition, if we practice prayer during the times that are not too terribly demanding, our soul will be “well-conditioned” to receive God’s peace when we enter into a hard season.
Well-conditioned Muscles are Always Ready
The great thing about well-conditioned muscles is that they’re always ready to burst into action, even when you suddenly have to run harder or faster than usual. That’s because you’ve put in the time to build up the muscle fibers.
The muscle fibers get used to being used.
And they’re always ready to be used.
And a Well-conditioned Soul… ahhh…
Similarly, a well-conditioned soul is always ready to pray, converse with God, and ask for and receive his peace – even in a harder or faster season than usual. You’ve put in the time to build up “God muscles.”
Your “God muscles” get used to being used.
They’re always ready to ask for and receive his peace.
And with a well-conditioned soul, his peace arrives more quickly, even during crisis.
Your “God muscles” are able to run at peak performance – with peace – no matter the season.
- When have you felt the “soreness” in your soul that may have felt like the muscle soreness from new, intense exercise?
- What can you do to “keep running, even a little bit” with God each day, to keep your “God muscles” conditioned?
- From whom might you learn more about God – that is, who might be your prayer role model (hint: perhaps Paul) –
so that your very heart will truly want to spend time with him?
- When might you begin practicing consistent prayer…
so you can finally, at any time, and without “soreness,” receive his peace?
Want to get into a routine of doing “even a little bit” of conditioning – for your body’s muscles AND your “God muscles” – each day in a fun, creative way? If you exercise for just eight minutes each day, and then pray for just two minutes afterwards, hmmm, let’s do the math: You could condition your body’s muscles AND your “God muscles” in just ten minutes each day!
Then you’re body AND your soul will be ready to sprint if and when they have to – with peace!
Check out my GraceBod Kit, a gift from me to you, where you’ll be able to do a ready-made “Just8 Minute” workout to fun music, with creative and safe movement. Plus, a story-based devotional – that’s not published anywhere else – is in the Kit, too. (Plus other gifts as well… I hope you love pleasant surprises!)