This chapter hits close to home, and I agree with Tozer, that the struggle for your heart will not be an easy one. He likens it to pulling a tooth from the jaw. I went through a struggle of this sort a couple of years back; and at the time, it caused me a great deal of anguish and internal strife.
In fact there are pages of my journal spilled with ink as I wrestled through the decision before me. My idol was nothing so precious or important as Abraham’s son. In fact, writing it down makes it seem very silly, but at the time it seemed enormously unfair that God should demand of me something so ‘good’ and ‘healthy’ and which gave me such pleasure and joy. (Those last words are the key to why I think God centred it out in my life.) What was it??? It was my work-out routine. (I told you it would seem silly and small.)
Let me explain it in brief. When I turned 30, I realized I had grown fat. My knees ached and I was tired and none of the pants I had owned in my 20’s fit me any more. I had a sedentary job that required little physical effort on my part. So at the age of 31 and the weight of 265lbs I joined a gym. I joined the gym the way most 265lb people join the gym – reluctantly. At first I simply had to force myself to go. I wasn’t in any shape to go into the basement where the real weights were kept... I was ashamed of my condition when confronted with the truly svelte Hercules of the basement. So I walked on my elliptical machine and worked on my rowing machine and did a circuit on the cable machines.
Within a year I had lost a great deal of weight – over 30lbs lighter, I looked better, felt better and didn’t mind going to the gym. I wanted to do more. I started heading down to the basement to life some of the ‘real’ weights and took up running (something I thought I would hate, but discovered I liked, and eventually loved). I lost even more weight – I had to buy new clothes, because the clothes from my 20’s were too big now.
I intentionally scoffed at XL T-Shirts – I would wear large – because there was no longer a bulge at my waist and, progressively, the bulge of my bi-ceps, shoulders and chest were such that I thought them worth showing off.
I actually left the gym I was at and joined the ‘lifters’ gym where the elliptical machine was covered in dust and the bench-press and squat rack had a line-up. I have pictures of myself in the midst of a ‘Farmers-Carry’ at the highland games with 185lbs in either hand and muscles bulging. I have other pictures from a triathlon where I tipped the scales at a scant 215 and finished mid-pack for my age category.
I LOVED the gym. I went to the gym 8 times a week to lift. I ran on the in-between days, and I HATED injury because it kept me from my routine.
And then I heard it – a still little voice that simply posed the question – is this really what you were meant to live for?
I ignored that – after all, why would God have any sort of issue with me pursuing a healthy lifestyle?!
But it kept coming – every time I would try to spend some quiet time reading my Bible or praying I would hear the voice – what do you really love? What are you living for?
I’m a pastor! I’m living for Jesus! I want him to be glorified, and isn’t he better glorified by a svelte Hercules than a rotund couch potato?
But as much as I tried to deny it, I knew that when it came right down to it – I would cut morning devotions short in order to ensure I didn’t miss the morning gym routine. And as much as I may have thought about God and scripture while I was working out; I found myself thinking about working out and getting fitter while I was meant to be focusing on God more often.
I HATED the fact that God was suggesting that I had to give this up. I tried a little token sacrifice during the traditional season of Lent. I gave up the gym for 40 days and committed myself to prayer instead. That’s when I finally knew how big an idol I had admitted into my life – because I spent that entire period CRAVING the gym; I was hoping that I could offer a half-hearted sacrifice and satisfy that small voice.
It was finally with tears that I laid the whole thing before God. I told him the truth (he already knew it anyways) – I was defining my life by the gym and my physical fitness – I loved it most of all. I asked him to take it from me and committed myself to living instead for him.
No one who knew me understood. Some were quite panicked by the decision – but I finally had peace. I didn’t lift a weight for two years. I gained back weight that I had worked hard to put off – and lost some of the toning I had worked so hard to build. But I had peace.
Here’s the interesting thing. I bought a gym membership last month. I’ve been working out a couple times a week. It’s a healthy choice, it’s good for my body, but my desire to live for such a small thing as muscles or fitness is dead. God in his grace killed it and gave me back the workout thing as what it is – ‘a thing’ not my God.
Tozer hits it right on. Giving up the THING you’ve set in the place of God will be like pulling a tooth from the jaw – it will seem the hardest thing you’ve ever done – until it is done, and then you’ll be free.