I’ve discovered the secret to holiness!
Sort-of. It’s found in two techniques runners have: training segments, and the specificity of training.
Training segments are blocks in your calendar where you’re focusing on a particular thing. Right now I’m in my base building period (getting my strength, speed and aerobic capacity up) before the 16-18 weeks training segment of my marathon, in which I’ll be specifically focusing on the marathon.
Specificity is the rule of training for your event. If you want to run a marathon, running lots of 5k’s simply won’t do. The marathon places specific demands on your body, so you need to train your body to handle those specific demands. Likewise, it is no use only running along the promenade if you are wanting to race a fell run.
This is helpful in the spiritual life, too. Training to help fight anger will not help you become more generous. I think Paul has this in mind when he writes about “training” for a holy life and where he writes “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5). We need to make a concentrated effort to not sin. I know some people would say that the more we fall in love with God the less we will want to commit any of these sins and that this is a natural process. I see their point, but I can’t ignore the phrase “put to death.” Consider the implications if Paul had used the phrase “let the following die off…”
This is easier said than done, because sin is so prevalent in our lives. If I was likely to only commit one sin, I could easily have the time and mindfulness to watch for and combat that sin. But read this passage about what sins look like. And another, where Jesus speaks about what comes out of the heart. Personally, I am likely to commit any of these. Cripes. In the day-to-day busyness of life, how can I concentrate on killing all of my evil desires as soon as they crop up? If I started doing that, I would have no time for actually living my day-to-day life. Which means I’m gonna keep on sinning. True, the bible says we won’t be perfect in this life, but if I don’t do something about I won’t move away from those sins and into the spirit-filled life God wants me to live. More cripes.
So we have a dilemma. How do we train for holiness if doing so would not allow us time to actually live life in the real world? Is it possible to mass kill all of our sins at once? What is the median between fostering growth away from all of our sins and merely hoping for growth?
Remember the training segments and the rule of specificity? I try to bring these together, and aim to focus on a particular sin for a particular period of time, dedicating time to gain insights about how that sin affects me and my life.
Trivial example: When I realised I no longer fitted into my kilt something had to be done. The first thing I did was observe myself for 30 days. This made me notice I had a terrible habit of putting 2 or 3 sugars in my coffee and that I had sometimes 4 cups of coffee a day, that I was only doing this at work because the coffee was terrible and because I needed the energy. I was then able to tackle the sugar problem, which was also a sleep and diet problem, head on. The specificity of training for sugar reduction in coffee enables me now to have a better general awareness of my sugar intake (which admittedly does not necessarily translate into reduction). I doubt I would have changed my habit if I hadn’t taken the time to look at myself in this way.
Non-trivial example: A few years ago, I took 30 days to work through anger. I got angry a heck of a lot during those 30 days. But I learnt a lot about what gets my goat, how I respond, what helps me calm down, the difference between frustrations and anger, how to control my emotions when angry so that I don’t act out or stew (equally dangerous things), as well as the ability to recall scripture when angry. Do I still get angry? Of course. But I’m much better at processing it in a healthy way. The specificity of this training segment allowed me to practice techniques for those unexpected times when I’ll get angry. It enables me to put to death my anger quicker than when I would have been able before. I could have plodded for decades and not realised any of this.
Why 30 days? I think because having a timescale means it’s achievable but forces you to focus on the issue and not meander through life not thinking about it. Yet it is long enough to build a new habit. As I write, I’m about to embark on another 30 day focus on a particular sin. I won’t be rid of it by the end, but I believe the chains of it to be loosened and my ability to resist stronger.
I encourage you to try the challenge. 30 days. It’s not long. But those 30 days will (probably) pay dividends in 30 years.
If you’re tempted (this is a good temptation to have) but don’t know where to start:
- Pick an issue that keeps coming back in your life. This shouldn’t be too hard. It’s the one/s you say “not again…” to yourself afterward.
- Find a devotional book that focuses on that issue. There are many online and on bible apps which take you through passages of scripture focusing on that issue.
- Pray about it. Ask God for forgiveness, and that He would enable you to trust in that forgiveness, and that he would give insights and help you combat it.
- Books can be helpful. Often they give scientific and psychological explanations on the issue, which help blow the lid off it. Some explore how it affects others.
- Journal. Jot down the times when you give into that sin, and look for any contributing factors. Tiredness, hunger and not enough exercise all factor into mine with alarming regularity. Scribbling this down can be done during or at some point after.
- Speak to someone. Sins often hide in darkness, and speaking with a trusted friend can break its power.