This is the time of year I prepare for my annual military physical training test. I’ve had the privilege of serving my God and my country as a chaplain for 26.5 years. I hold the rank of Colonel in the Arizona Air Guard.

The yearly test is good discipline for me, but not a lot of fun. I restrict my diet and exercise. I must confess that I tend to eat my stress and pastoring in the same church for twenty-two years is a stressful job. It’s stressful on your family and stressful on those you serve. We all have idiosyncrasies, and we learn those about others, and they learn ours. We often can focus on those more than all the good. That is stressful. I’m a blessed man in that my staff and church family support me and put up with me. When I was younger, I heard men say things like that, and I really didn’t believe them. I know I’m blessed that so many give so much to the vision God has called our ministry to execute!

But that still doesn’t make it less stressful, at times. It’s easy for me to add pounds and then make a mad diet/exercise dash the last three months before my test. I have to do a certain number of push-ups and sit-ups as well as run 1.5 miles and have a waist measurement 39 inches or less. As you get older, your metabolism goes down, and joint pain goes up. Also, have I mentioned gravity which tends to move weight around as well? My experience is that the weight moving around rarely goes where you want it to go. I go to lift weights at the gym, both to exercise AND as a part of body configuration! I want to move the weight from south to north! As you can see, I’m well versed in excuses for poor behavior. But that doesn’t help me pass my military test every year. They don’t care about my excuses.

Every morning as I eat my egg whites and trudge off to the gym, if I’m awake, I attempt to think spiritual thoughts. You know, like, “Mike, why did you do this to yourself again, this year”? But isn’t that how we face our spiritual journey? When life is calm, we don’t need God. We only need Him, if we are a student, before the test. We only need God when we are desperate. If it’s our job, it’s when there is a conflict with a boss/co-worker, or a failed project. If it’s in our marriage, it’s often when the other person says, “I’m leaving.” If it’s with our kids, it’s when they say, “I’m moving in with my boyfriend/girlfriend.” In other words, we treat God, the way I treat my PT test. It’s only important in crisis. Another way of looking at this is that we treat God the way pagans in Israel’s history in the Old Testament treated their gods. They are gods to be mollified. They are gods to meet my needs. They are gods to be appeased! We treat the God of the universe no better than pagans treat their gods.

Remember the gods that the prophets of Baal cried out to when Elijah had them on Mt. Carmel in I Kings 18? They did all kinds of things including self-harm to get the god of storms, Baal, to send down fire on the sacrifice. They were all about manipulating their god to get their way. It’s a little like how I manipulate food and exercise to pass a test and then forget about it until the next year. We do the same thing with God. It’s not about a relationship with Him. Food is not about a healthy lifestyle for me; it’s about passing a test. With God and periods of discomfort when I’m dissatisfied with Him, it’s about Him serving ME! When I’m not comfortable, then HE has failed.

It’s been a faith journey for me to understand that His sole goal for me, is Christ-likeness! He wants me to respond as Christ responds! He doesn’t want me to pout, stress eat, yell, vent, be passive-aggressive, etc. You know all the methods we use to get OUR way! Christ never responded like that and neither should I. When I do respond that way, it’s Christ showing me, graciously showing me, how far the journey still is for me to be more like HIM! That’s it! All my relationships, failures, successes, difficulties, etc. are simply His plan to draw me into a deeper relationship with Him, Romans 8:28-29. I can only be in that relationship when I’m like HIM, not like me. I’m not to treat Him as a pagan deity who meets my felt needs, nor am I to treat him like my military PT test, only a concern when I’m desperate to pass, but my relationship with Him is to be a focal point of my life as He works ALL things together for my conformity, not comfort! He works for my holiness, not happiness.

Well, I’m off to the gym. These new Saucony running shoes that I got for Christmas…hmm…I wonder what my family is telling me…surely won’t get broken in writing this blog post! Treat Christ and that relationship as your most prized possession and thank Him for those other relationships that teach you how to be more like Him, even the ones that hurt. He certainly had a few relationships that hurt Him!