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Train in Godliness: A Spiritual Fitness Plan for 2024


Imagine your car breaking down on a gravel road, miles from the nearest gas station or help. You don’t have cell phone reception. It’s blazing hot outside. Your infant daughter is in her car seat screaming, and your spouse turns to you and desperately pleads, “We need to get help fast. It’s too hot for her.”

So, you exit your car and begin to run in the direction you last saw civilization.

At this point, what happens next is largely dependent on what happened before the car stalled out. If you’re in good shape and have a regular practice of running, you will find help sooner and (hopefully) return without injury. If you’re out of shape, you, too, will likely find help… but not before injuring yourself and, more importantly, leaving those depending on you dangerously stranded for much longer.

I share this parable not to ask whether you’re in good physical shape, but to ask whether you’re in good spiritual shape.  

Every day, we face temptations to trust God and walk in his way or to take a different path. When the moment of trial arrives, the question is simple: are we fit enough to choose Jesus?

Just as the body needs consistent exercise to rise to the extraordinary occasion, so the soul needs exercise to rise to the heights of costly obedience.

Perhaps this is why Paul reminded his young protégé Timothy, “Train yourself to be godly. 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.” (1 Tim. 4:7b-8)

Do you have a plane to actively train for godly, spiritual fitness in 2024? 

Why We Train

It’s easy to fall into one of two traps. First, the false belief that we train to earn God’s favor or love. This is a debtor’s ethic. You see what God’s done for you and think he wants you to pay him back.

But here’s the truth: you can’t earn God’s love and you don’t have to.

Jesus already paid for our sins. It was a price we couldn’t pay, and one we shouldn’t attempt to repeat. He has won the father’s love, favor, and adoration on your behalf. Rejoice in this truth. Relish it. Enjoy it.

Don’t try to add to it.

The second trap is the opposite error: the belief that because Jesus paid it all, he calls you to nothing.

The truth is, Jesus calls us to be his disciples, to follow his pattern of life by his gracious power.  

A close look at his life reveals that he disciplined his mind and body with ultramarathon-grade spiritual disciplines: solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, study, service, worship, chastity, sacrifice, fellowship, confession, and submission. 

These were the real-world means by which Jesus prepared himself to take his cross, and the means by which he bids us take up our own.

But didn’t Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?

Jesus did say this. He meant what he said.

But he didn’t mean to say that the Christian life is easy. He was saying that he himself is a gentle spiritual trainer who graciously trains us to walk as he walked.

He does this by teaching us the same spiritual exercises he practiced. His yoke is light, because he’s always pulling alongside us—but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t throw our back into it. 

So why do we train? Because Jesus calls us to train, he empowers our training, he oversees our training, and he works through even our weakest efforts.

How to Train in 2024 

Read your Bible. Pray. These are obvious spiritual disciplines Christians have practiced throughout the ages. But I want you to consider incorporating three additional disciplines in 2024: fasting, sacrifice, and silence and solitude. 

1. Fasting
Before Ezra left Babylon on a long journey to Jerusalem, he called for a collective fast “I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey.” (Ezra 8:21)

Given food scarcity in the ancient world, it’s not a stretch to imagine that their months-long journey was attended by hunger. There were days they couldn’t eat. Days their feet hurt. Days they felt the terror of external dangers—thieves and highwaymen who threatened their lives.

They knew they were going to suffer on their journey, and they needed to prepare themselves to suffer happily. They did so through the chosen pain of fasting. 

This is precisely what fasting trains us to do. Thomas à Kempis wrote, “Whosoever knows best how to suffer will keep the greatest peace.”

Suffering has a way of making us better or worse than we would be otherwise. It can make us terribly irritable or gloriously patient, self-indulgently brash or self-sacrificially kind, bitterly despondent or strangely hopeful.

The truth is that we will all experience suffering. And how we respond in the moment depends on how we prepare.

By fasting, we induce brief periods of suffering to train our souls to enjoy God in hardship, creating in us a readiness for good when we face truly painful affliction.

2. Sacrifice 
Let’s return to Ezra’s journey. Normally a caravan like his—full of people who could be sold into slavery and goods that could make a robber rich—would need armed guards to make a 900-mile journey.

But Ezra refused to ask for protection, because he feared it would imply God could not protect them.  

He explains, “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’” (Ezra 8:22)

This is the spiritual discipline of sacrifice.

Dallas Willard writes, “[Sacrifice is when we] forsake the security of meeting our needs with what is in our hands. It is total abandonment to God, a stepping into the darkened abyss in the faith and hope that God will bear us up.”

Like Ezra, we refuse to meet our own needs not as a test of God, but as a testament to his power and generosity. Doing so disciplines our souls to trust him for provision, even when we fear the worst.

This happens when you give away more than you planned, trusting God to provide the difference.

Or when someone takes what’s yours and you give away your right to seek restitution.

Or when you sacrifice your control of a situation, and trust God to do what he pleases.

It must be noted that none of these sacrifices are necessary. Nor does God promise to give you what you want. Instead, he promises to give you what you need.

Small sacrifices throughout the week—refusing to take what’s owed to you or to secure what you feel you need—train your soul to trust God in larger, unchosen sacrifices. This gives you a readiness to do good in those trying moments, not evil.

3. Silence and Solitude
When Ezra finally arrived in Jerusalem, he found a sorry situation. Those who returned from exile before him had married women who worshiped other gods, and presumably worshiped those other gods, too.

In grief, Ezra tore his clothing, ripped out his own hair, and “sat down appalled … until the evening sacrifice” in silence. Later, he “withdrew from before the house of the Lord and went into the room of Jehonanan son of Eliashib” where “he ate no food and drank no water.”

The failure of his kinsman to worship God was an existential threat. If they continued down this path, it would lead to the death of Israel and the death of Yahweh’s plan to renew and restore creation.

By silence and solitude, Ezra entered into death for a moment—cut off from people. Dead to sounds.

We experience something similar when we practice the discipline of silence and solitude: a kind of dying to self and the world around us.

Again, Dallas Willard writes,

Solitude is a terrible trial, for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us…[and] discloses the fact that these abysses are haunted.”

Put differently, silence opens us to a deeper, spiritual reality behind our material reality. A reality we can hardly see with all the distractions, sounds, and busyness of modern life.

In 2024, try out one of these disciplines on the regular:

  1. Commit to a consistent day or half-day of fasting every week. Train yourself to suffer for righteousness and hunger for God.

Need help getting started? Find helpful tips for fasting here.

  1. Commit yourself to sacrificing once per week. It can be big or small, but entrust your desires and needs to God. If he provides, praise him. If he gives you something different, praise him. Train yourself to trust God in the day-to-day.
  1. Commit yourself to a daily time of silence. Set a timer for two minutes and simply sit in silence. It won’t be magical. It will be incredibly challenging. But in the silence, train yourself to encounter the transcendent God of reality whom material reality often obstructs. 

Are you looking for more ways to incorporate spiritual disciplines modeled by Jesus in your own life? The Ten Minute Bible Talks team shares five habits to help you grow in your faith.