After an ordeal with a slipped disc, my spine doctor told me to get serious about stretching. Stretching, really? He said it’s vital. We recognize diet and exercise as the key to a healthy lifestyle, not stretching.
It is humorous to imagine a couple of sports announcers providing a running commentary as an athlete moves through his pre-game stretching routine: And now he is touching his toes. What a fabulous reach. I wonder how long he’ll be able—oh, look at that release. Very nice. I counted four seconds. This is the kind of form we’ve come to expect . . .
We would all agree that there is little glory in the preparation that takes place prior to a sporting event. For the most part, before coming onto the court or field, the majority of stretching is done in the locker room away from the crowds and cameras. But the fact that few are interested in this process does not diminish its importance. Many injuries would occur if it weren’t for warm-ups and stretching, and players would become more fatigued much sooner.
As a believer, you probably find yourself excited about the spiritual “big game.” You want to use your spiritual gifts in order to edify the church; you desire to see many people come to Christ on the teen mission trip; you want to help your pastor gather many children for the upcoming VBS. All of these things are honorable pursuits, and because you desire these things, it is evident that the Spirit is forming in you the heart of Christ. But, if we are not careful, we may be so excited to get in the game that we forget to stretch.
Here are five practical ways that you can stretch your spiritual muscles. I’ll warn you—none of these are easy, and they won’t bring you a lot of praise from men. But, as a disciple of Christ, you’re probably figuring out that the Christian life isn’t an easy path (Matthew 16:24, 10:38; 1 Peter 2:21) or one that results in a lot of public adoration (Matthew 6:3-6, Acts 5:40).
Stretch Your Desire for Scripture
Since you became a Christian, you’ve no doubt been reminded and challenged to read your Bible every day. Nothing is more fundamental to our walk with God, but, just to be forthright, nothing is more difficult to carry out with consistency and freshness. If you’re like the rest of us, you’ve probably come up short more times than you care to remember. But keep in mind that the Scriptures explicitly tell us that the child of God delights in the Word more than anything, and he meditates every day on the Word (Psalm 1:2).
In order to stretch your desire for Scripture, consider this spiritual workout:
Download a solid Bible app on your phone, and make sure it has the option to listen to the audio. “Bible” by YouVersion is the one that I like to use. Now, pick a book that is no more than five or six chapters. 1 John, James, 1 Peter, or Philippians would be a great place to start. Now, start listening! When you finish, listen again. Just one book. Listen while you’re doing homework. Then listen again and again and again. Listen while you’re cutting the grass. And listen while you’re driving to school (be careful not to wear earbuds while driving). Listen actively and listen passively. Listen when you feel like it and when you don’t. Just listen.
After several listens, you will start to pick up on major themes in the book. You’ll begin to understand the author’s passion and the thrust of his message. Soon you’ll start to understand verses that you have heard before in a new light. You’ll find that you’re not just going through Scripture, but that Scripture is going through you! As you listen throughout your day, you’ll start to apply the truths of this book in your daily life. Most of all, you’ll start to better understand the Divine Author—more than just learning the Word, you’ll become more acquainted with the GOD of the Word.
Stretch the Content of Your Prayers
I’m sure you’ve noticed that we often tend to pray the same things over and over again. This is how Christian clichés like “hedge of protection” and “horns of the altar” become ingrained in our church vocabulary. If we’re not careful, we will just learn to say the same old prayers in case the pastor calls on us to pray.
In order to stretch the content of your prayers, consider this spiritual workout:
Open your Bible to the Psalms and spend some time in prayer, actually praying the Psalms. A few great Psalms to start with would be Psalm 1, 13, 34, 37, 51, or 103. Don’t feel like you have to learn all about these Psalms before you begin. Just get started! Your prayer in Psalm 1 may go something like this:
- Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers: “Dear Father, your Word clearly states that I should not live the life of the lost or allow sinners to control what I do and think, but it is so hard because I am around my unsaved friends all the time. Lord, help me not to allow them to influence my thoughts about life, but rather may I get to know you more so that I can be an influence to help them come to know you . . . .”
- But his delight is in the law of the Lord: “Lord, I have so many things that I delight in. I love basketball, my girlfriend, and hanging out with my friends, but, Lord, I know that you should be my greatest delight . . . .”
- And on his law he meditates day and night: “Lord, if I want to make you my greatest delight, it is going to start with getting to know you through the Bible. But, Lord, it is so hard to find the time. But, yes, I know that I will find time for the things I love . . . so, this actually proves that I don’t love you as I should. Lord, please forgive my failure and help me to make this a priority . . . .”
You will receive much spiritual benefit by learning to pray the Scriptures.
Stretch Your Love for the People You Encounter Daily
As a Christian teenager, you probably greatly desire to see more people come to the Lord. Don’t we all! This desire may have driven you to think about becoming a missionary or a youth pastor one day. Often, in the midst of these desires, we realize that we have trouble loving and serving those we come in contact with on a regular basis. Truth is, if we don’t learn to serve the ones God has placed in our path now, we will not likely serve or win others in the future.
In order to stretch your love for people you encounter daily:
Make three columns on a piece of paper. In the first column, list at least twenty people you encounter every day. Use the middle column to write down the last time you served or showed these people Christ’s love. In the third column, write down a way you could serve or show love. Your list may look like this:
Person’s name… The last time I served… I could help…
Mom… Gave her a mother’s day card… Help with dinner.
Dad… Can’t remember… Go fishing instead of games.
Brother… Helped with Legos… Help with math (he’s bad)
Lil sister… Can’t remember… Let her pick movie night
Bus driver… Really? Never… Pick up trash
Mr. Wilson (next door)… Never… Cut grass. (He’s super old)
Remember, initial stretching often causes soreness because we’re exercising muscles we haven’t used a while, but these are muscles we need to be using. Get in there and stretch your spiritual muscles so you’ll be warmed up and ready when Christ calls you. This is absolutely a thing worth doing!