I reckon most of us know what I’m talking about when I refer to ‘that’ feeling when you get on the treadmill for the first time since your last gym visit….6 months before. Or when you pick up the dumb-bell you were once lifting and now can barely move – that feeling of being flabby or feeble or both.
Spiritually we can can get flabby and feeble and, in the world of exercise physiology, this is explained by the term atrophy – the wasting away of muscle fibres leaving us weaker, joints unstable, slower in metabolism, unsettled in sleeping and, interestingly, more prone to gain unhealthy weight also known as adiposity.
Atrophy is countered by hypertrophy as the opposite of muscle wastage. This is what happens when you lift weights and your muscles get larger/leaner. In spiritual discipline it’s a similar principle, although profoundly more mysterious.
When we have become strangers to our place of private prayer, it takes a while to get back into a healthy routine. When we’re injured or demotivated, our bodies don’t get back into shape in a few visits; the only way they get back into shape is by consistently re-engaging with a regular pattern. Consistency is the golden key for this in the physical world of weight lifting, or swimming or climbing or however you exercise, and so it is when it comes to prayer.
Initially you might find that your concentration goes quite quickly or that you weren’t as patient (enduring) as you were before; that’s ok – that’s simply part of getting fitter and leaner. The golden key is just the same as in rehab in injury – little and often.
Sometimes we get knocked out of regular exercise because of poor motivation or busyness of life; but other times we can’t exercise because we’re injured or have had surgery. Recently I have had ankle surgery which has meant I haven’t been able to run for the last 6 months. It has been a major interruption into my exercise routine and I’ve had to be flexible about how I go about keeping in shape. But I have to be intentional about what I do now that I can’t do what I love – it’s not as automatic. My levels of automaticity have dropped so I have to make myself get in the pool or do my exercises that I’d rather not. But it’s leading back to the joys of running and football, God willing.
I think if we ask the Holy Spirit to help us with automaticity in prayer, he really will help us. I think He wants for prayer to be as normal to us as living or moving or just being. (Acts 17). I find I have to sometimes make myself get up early (rather than when it’s more automatic) or find it’s helpful if I’m intentional by prepping the place I’m going to meet God in – make sure my stuff is ready the night before. Sometimes it comes down to things like this.
Be encouraged – as you’re intentional you’ll start hearing His voice in new ways!