Committing to anything new carries a risk factor – will the effort involved lead to the results hoped for?
This is particularly true with spiritual exercises. To embrace these exercises requires faith, because they seem non-productive from the world’s point of view. Since we cannot measure the ‘product’ of time spent developing our relationships with God and with others, it can be challenging to invest time in these ways, especially if we are conditioned to expect immediate results.
Although there may not be quantitative measures of ‘spiritual fitness’ there are qualitative ones. These are more likely to become evident when hardship or loss are encountered, but can also be seen in the everyday ‘irritations’ of life. A sudden emergency can highlight our spiritual fitness or lack of it. In 2009 Captain Sullenberger, the pilot of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 made the split second decision to land in the Hudson River because a flock of geese had knocked out both engines. Sullenberger credited his skill in landing the aircraft safely, saving 155 passengers, to his training: ‘I have never stopped learning, never stopped growing’. His commitment to training had made certain reactions automatic. Our spiritual training will show in similar ways.
Response time: A response that has become ‘hard-wired’ in our minds and spirits leads to godly reactions in all situations: our immediate response to being ill-treated by others is to bless and forgive; our default setting is to pray about any work situation or decision; and our concern is naturally for others, be they colleagues or customers, rather than ourselves.
Resilience: Many of us can muster the strength to face short term difficulties but the resilience needed to stay joyful in ongoing wearing circumstances is of a different order. Paul could write, from a prison cell, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ (Philippians 4:4). When the pressures of difficult colleagues, impossible workloads, caring for others in great need, or physical deterioration are our lot then we have to know how to draw strength from God and be sustained by his Spirit.
Peace: Paul encourages us, ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:6-7). Often the evidence of a life where there is a commitment to spiritual disciplines is a ‘still centre’ – the ability to be at peace in the eye of a storm.