“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5.3-4 NLT).
I’ve worked out all my adult life. I’ve engaged in a wide variety of exercise routines through the years, including running, aerobic classes, cycling, rollerblading, swimming, MMA fighting and a little bit of everything else. Although I’ve always enjoyed lifting weights, I’ve never really dedicated myself to achieving muscle hypertrophy (building muscle mass).
I would watch my weight lifting friends plan their meals and work out routines, and I would wish I could dedicate time to learn the information they were implementing. Finally, God opened the doors, and I stepped into the exciting world of weight training! However, when I began the process of breaking down and building muscle, I realized that I had muscle imbalance, which is expected for people new to the sport.
Muscle imbalance means that some of the muscle groups are stronger than others. This causes an imbalance and can hinder training. 1) Stronger muscles will compensate for weaker ones, which causes the stronger ones to strain and the weaker ones to atrophy (become weaker). 2) The body’s form will be compromised during workouts, since the stronger muscles will adjust to compensate for the weaker ones. 3) The stronger muscles will begin to wear and tear from overuse because of incorrect form and usage. 4) The amount of weight lifted will also be compromised, since all muscles (especially in complex exercises–using more than one muscle groups) are not being activated.
When I began my training, I had weak back muscles. I just finished 9 months of intense aerobic classes that worked mainly the heart, legs and chest. Also, I sit at the computer and write for hours, which weakens the back muscles too. So my back muscles were much weaker than the rest of my body. This muscle imbalance became extremely noticeable during three exercises: pull-ups, bench press and dead lift.
When I would perform a pull up, my shoulders and trapezius (traps) would compensate for my back and latissimus dorsi (lats). This caused injury to my traps because my form was corrupted and I was straining to lift the weight. When I would perform a bench press, my body automatically wanted to lift only with my shoulders and chest, leaving my back and lats to do nothing. When I would do dead lift (which works the back and hamstrings), my legs were strong and could push the weight, but my back wasn’t strong enough to stay in correct form while holding the bar.
I was frustrated at first. I had to lower my weight, so I could achieve the correct form and strengthen my back muscles without injury. Finally, after almost two month of training, my muscles are stronger and I feel more balanced. When I do pull-ups, I make sure to keep my shoulders down, chest out and activate my back and lats. When I do bench press, I bring the bar toward my ribs (not shoulders) and I use all the muscles, including my shoulders, chest, back and lats to push the bar. When I do dead lift (which is now one of my favorite exercises), I’m able to keep correct form and lift the weight with my legs and back.
Getting to where I am now took a lot of dedication, caused a lot of pain and demanded lots of help, but I made it. Now I can focus on lifting heavy and achieving full body muscle hypertrophy! God also gave me a great analogy for my spiritual growth as well.
Our spiritual muscles can be compared to The Fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5.22-23 NLT).
Our spiritual muscles include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When we go into the gym of life (ministry), we will have faith muscle imbalance. God has given us The Fruits of the Spirit because of Jesus’ Finished Work on the Cross, but we have to activate and grow them in our lives! God does not want us to be imbalanced. He wants us to have the fullness of all His fruit because Jesus died to give it to us! God is training us to become the people we will be for eternity, and He wants us all around strong!
If we are weak in one of these areas, our strengths may try to compensate, comprising our overall form. It’s good to have strengths, but when it comes to The Fruits of the Spirit, God wants us to be strong in ALL of His fruit. God will place weight (difficulty, trials, tribulation) in our lives to help build those faith muscles. Yes, the weight will be difficult, and the pain will create soreness or even injury; but God is the Loving Trainer, encouraging us to press forward and push harder. God wants us to attain complete spiritual muscle hypertrophy!
So the next time you enter into the gym of life, don’t be scared about the weight and the struggle. God is watching over you. None of your pain and suffering goes to waste; it is all shaping you into the amazing spiritually fit powerhouse that God wants you to become. Don’t shy away from your trouble; embrace it knowing that you are becoming stronger with every trial you face and overcome! God wants you to be a heavyweight, and He will pump up all of your spiritual muscle if you let Him!
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Proverbs 18.10 ESV).