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A Long Obedience (1 Timothy 4:8-10)

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

I was recently at a church service where the pastor was preaching on a passage similar to this. In the middle of his sermon he stopped and said, "Right, I want the children to come to the front - we're going to have an arm wrestling contest!"

The children competed enthusiastically until eventually a winner was found. At this point the largest man in the congregation stepped forward to compete against the winner. The result was inevitable and the question was posed, "How do we become physically strong?"

The answer of course was, "By working out over time!" and the illustration was used to make a point about developing spiritual strength.

It's tempting to look at people who have been on the spiritual journey longer than us and to want the sort of relationship with God that they have. In our "instant" world we want someone to pray for us so that we will instantly be changed, or we come forward at the end of a service to make yet another "commitment".

These are both good things to do but on their own are insufficient to make us spiritually strong.

Spiritual strength comes through what Christian author Eugene Petersen called "a long obedience in the same direction".

If you want to grow strong in your faith and effective in your leadership then it's good to read books, talk to those older than you and learn from your own experiences. But ultimately the path to spiritual effectiveness is a long one of simple daily reflection upon God and His Word, followed by dutiful obedience.

In these verses, Paul reminds Timothy that Christian ministry is about "striving and labouring". There are no simple shortcuts to success. If you want God to use you as a leader then you need to be willing to make your walk with Him a priority and to invest in it daily.  

But what motivates us to keep going?

Some leaders are motivated by their own desire for success. They want people to notice them and to speak highly of them. They want to experience success so they can tell others of what God is doing through them. 

When that is our hope, motivation starts to fade when times get tough. When numbers are declining and young people seem disinterested in spiritual things, we can be tempted to give up because we're not getting as much out of leading as we'd hoped.

The challenges of ministry always reveal our true motives. Those who push on through the tough times are those whose hope is in one thing: not their own success or enjoyment, but in "the living God who is the saviour of all people" (v10).

Success and enjoyment are fickle and when you place your hope in these things you will inevitably, in time, end up disappointed. When your hope is in God you'll go through tough times but your strength will remain because your hope is placed in the One who will never disappoint.

He sees all you do and is pleased with you. And that's all you ever need to hope for.

Reflection

How faithful am I in committing to a "long obedience in the same direction"? Do I look for shortcuts to spiritual growth and effectiveness, or do I commit to daily devotion and time alone with God?

What is my motivation for ministry - where is my hope? Is it in results and outcomes, or is my hope in God alone.