Next month, I will have the honor of being one of four speakers at my church’s annual Women’s Retreat, and I cannot wait! The foundational verse for the weekend is:
“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind’” (Luke 10:27, NLT).
Can you guess which noun I’ll be speaking on?
Yes, “strength” is my assigned topic, and I am over the moon about it! One of my passions is showing Christian women the importance of combining their faith with fitness and helping them view and honor their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, so I am praying that God will bless my time with them and use me as an instrument of motivation, inspiration, and encouragement.
I am also praying against any attacks of the enemy. Have you ever been sitting in church and felt like the pastor was preaching directly to you, and not about how good and precious and holy you are, but about how your actions aren’t aligning with the Word or pleasing the Lord? I know I have, and believe me, it feels something like this:
I’m not one to typically empathize with a bulldog, but I know just what he feels like: guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, convicted, and perhaps even a little bit condemned.
Now don’t get me wrong – I am a fan of conviction! Welsh minister Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it this way:
“There is something essentially wrong with a man who calls himself a Christian and who can listen to a truly evangelistic sermon without coming under conviction again, without feeling something of his own unworthiness, and rejoicing when he hears the Gospel remedy being presented.”
Conviction is a blessing. It makes us conscious of sins that have long been glossed over or clumsily justified and reminds us of the battle between flesh and spirit raging within us. Like a shepherd’s staff, it urges us back into the green pastures of our holy and forgiving heavenly Father. It lifts our eyes of off our own self-righteousness, that poisonous “I’m-acting-better-than-X-and-Y” mentality, and focuses them on the blazing white purity of Jesus Christ, for whom total surrender and blood-bought reconciliation is required. It isn’t enough to do good works and show up to church on Sunday. (As I heard once preacher say recently, “a Sunday-morning Christian is no Christian at all.”) We must abide daily in Christ, clinging to Him as branches to a vine, trusting Him to produce in us the fruits of the Spirit necessary for a rich and victorious life!
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” –John 15:5, NLT
But, as the pug’s face attests, there is often a fine line between conviction and condemnation. Each time we hear a penetrating song or sermon or are given a powerful piece of advice from a friend, our adversary, Satan, does everything in his power to transform the blessing of conviction into a curse of condemnation. He wants us to become so enmeshed in the throes of guilt and regret that we feel too filthy and unworthy to reach out to God for forgiveness and direction. Furthermore, Satan wants us to feel offended by the person from whom we’re receiving life-changing truth so that, through anger and bitterness, we will forget all about the sense of conviction that was intended to grow and sanctify us.
I’m sure the pug and I are not alone in our “pitiful pew” experiences. Every one of us struggles with sin and has likely felt nervous and uncomfortable when certain close-to-home topics arise in church, or even in well-intentioned heart-to-hearts with friends and family members. I believe it’s important, for both speakers and listeners, to pray up before they speak or listen.
As a speaker for the upcoming retreat, I am praying that I will deliver my message of faith-driven fitness with love, gentleness, and compassion, that it will be received in the spirit with which it is given, and that it won’t be twisted by lying devils and therefore dismissed and discarded. And when my turn is over and I sit down to listen to the next speaker in line, I will pray to have an open heart regarding the truths God is speaking through His servant. And I will pray for the strength and boldness to deflect any fiery dart of doubt, cynicism, shame, and offense that may come whizzing my way.
Talking about what we eat and drink, our self-image hang-ups, our unhealthy obsessions, our lingering excuses, and how all of it impacts our relationship with God and affects the things we do for him, won’t be a walk in the park, I’m sure. I honestly can’t think of a single woman in my life who hasn’t struggled with one or more of the above topics at one point or another. As such, I feel strongly that just like marriage and adultery, wisdom and foolishness, contentment and greed, and dozens of other sermon-worthy subjects, fitness and nutrition need to be addressed behind the pulpit. If we don’t receive knowledge, inspiration, encouragement, and yes, conviction, from godly writers, preachers, teachers, and trainers, then we will be forced to obtain it from the world, which, needless to say, is a lousy alternative.
God’s way is perfect. All the LORD’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. –Psalm 18:30, NLT
I encourage you to search your heart for any offenses it might be harboring, any resentment still lurking since you heard or read something that struck you as condemning, unfair, or unloving. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you rightly judge the message and receive it as it was intended. Go to your Bible and compare the sermon, conversation, etc. with what God’s Word says is true. Pray that the Father will reveal to you any area in your life, be it family, finances, or fitness-related, that needs to be restored, reversed, or removed. Remember, that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” So, dear reader, soldier on with confidence, trusting and following your Commanding Officer and fighting the good fight of faith, knowing that every trial, tribulation, and lesson is ultimately for your good and His glory!
“ … when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” –James 1:2-4, NLT
 Galatians 5:17