Spiritual Stretching


For those of you who don't know, my background is in Kids Ministry. That being said, I love a great object lesson or metaphor or word picture--whatever you want to call it. Thankfully Jesus really liked these as well, and he spent a lot of time communicating with them. I've always really loved that about Scripture--the fact that it's God speaking in our context.

Hopefully you caught a few of our posts last week and the challenge that we'll be hanging out with for a few Fridays to come.

All
about
stretching.

I'll be totally honest. I am not the best at this. I workout a lot, but I stretch a little. I know that's not a good thing. I'm at least aware that it's something I need to improve on, but I for one am glad we're taking on this challenge because I need some accountability to actually start building this habit in my every day. Raise your hand if you're with me...and then keep on stretching towards the sky once you do!

Stretching is definitely not just a physical thing, though that is often where are minds go to first.

stretch: 
(of something soft or elastic) be made or be capable of being made longer or wider without tearing or breaking.

Stretching in a wider, broader sense of the word can encompass so much more than our muscles. We can stretch our minds, our emotions, our hearts, our souls, our relationships, just to name a few. Just like we see that stretching our muscles is essential for good health and balance--just as important as the working out and healthy eating-- stretching in all of these other facets is essential as well.

Stretching in every sense of the word requires softness and elasticity. It requires some bending and molding and often times contorting. It requires us to be in positions that we normally would not be and it often makes us uncomfortable. But if we're rational about it, we can recognize that the momentary discomfort is worth it if it might prevent some more intense pain and more permanent discomfort further down the road.  We know that and yet we still skip it and avoid it and refuse to make time for it. Do you ever wonder why that is?

Do you remember when you were learning to read? I sure do. I was so jealous of my friend Brian who was a couple of years ahead of me because it seemed to me he could read anything. It seemed all I could do was stare at symbols on paper and babble a whole bunch trying to blend a bunch of sounds together to make a word. All I wanted to do was read stories. Staring at the words hurt and seemed to be getting me nowhere. I used to love memorizing words and pages. That way I didn't have to work so hard at making sense of it all. I could just remember what the pages said and breeze through them. Until the teacher added another sound and a word with more letters and a different book that I hadn't seen before.

You see where I'm going with this I hope. Reading--learning in general actually--was so hard as a kid. I wanted to just stay in my comfort zone and read the books I had down by heart. I didn't want to stretch my brain to learn the bigger harder words. But, at some point I had to realize that if I didn't get the concept and learn the sounds and the letters and do the hard work of sounding out the words, I wouldn't be able to read whatever stories I wanted, and that's what I wanted more than anything.

Math was the same story for me. It seemed that just when I caught on to one concept we were diving into another that I just couldn't grasp and that made my brain hurt. But, I wanted the grades that would get me into college, and so I dug in and stretched my brain and my will further than I thought I ever could -- I got uncomfortable -- because I knew it would be worth it in the end.

I could list about a million examples here of ways I've had to learn to stretch in just about every area of my life. My relationships, my studies, my faith, etc.

Our spiritual lives are no different. In fact, stretching in this area is probably more important than all the others. And God knows that. That's precisely why He's always finding opportunities to put us in situations that will stretch us out of our comfort zones.

We know that not stretching before and after a workout puts us at risk for injury and leaves our muscles stiff and not flexible. In order to workout in a healthy way, it's essential for our muscles to be soft and loose, and for the workout to be most beneficial it's important that we help our muscles recover afterwards. Working out without the stretching loses its value and so much of its benefits. It's not bad for us, but it's also not as good as it could be for us if we'd spent the few extra minutes in discomfort.

There is absolutely nothing more crucial in our spiritual lives than a soft and moldable heart and spirit. If we come to Scripture or to prayer or a church service with hard and stiff hearts, we aren't ever going to grow or go deeper. And sure, reading scripture and praying and going to church won't be awful for us, but they also won't have their full effect if we aren't doing the work to open ourselves up and allow our spiritual muscles to be shaped and molded. We've got to prepare our hearts to get all the benefits and soak up all the nutrients. On the other side of it, we've also got to be willing to go further than the church service and the one paragraph devotional. We have to ask hard questions about the teaching we heard and challenge our thinking on the scripture we've been hanging on our wall since our Sunday school days, and we've got to be willing to allow the Scripture we hear to confront us and change us. If we don't, our heart will get stiff and cold and stagnant. I'm not a cardiologist, but I know that none of those words are words that you want associated with a healthy heart. Healthy hearts require lots of blood pumping through arteries that are constantly being stretched and walls that are flexing to keep a rhythm in our chests and life in our bodies. Our spiritual life and heart and muscles are no different. They require stretching and flexing and fresh life and blood pumping on the daily to keep them strong and healthy.

Stretching in every capacity is so easy to overlook and skip. We often rush right past it because it doesn't seem to matter much in the moment. It seems that intense workout or that really great and electrifying sermon were more than enough. Getting in a stretch or taking time to reflect afterwards doesn't seem to make all that much difference there and then. It's not until later that we realize how important and crucial it really was. Then, all of a sudden, the workouts get harder because our muscles have lost their agility or we find ourselves drifting more and more during sermons because we haven't done the hard follow up work to let it really change us and keep our hearts soft and open.

As we take on this stretching challenge all week, let's not forget that stretching has a much larger context in our lives than we often give it. While you're on the mat or fitting in some morning stretches on a break at work, take a moment to think about how you're being stretched spiritually right now. What does that look like in your space and context? We would love for you to share your stretching challenge with us--how you're incorporating stretching of every kind into your life in this season!




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