The Art of Beating Yourself Into Submission

Ever since I can remember, the discussion of spiritual formation and the other brilliant movements of the Christian life tends to come around to this question:

What do formation and evangelism have in common?

Formation, where we are poetically and radically shaped into the likeness of Christ and evangelism, where we proclaim through words and actions the story of God's rescue and redemption to others who have no idea such a thing exists.

In reading 1 Corinthians this morning, I found a helpful passage that aligns formation and proclamation:

Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:26-27, NIV)

The context of this passage is Paul becoming "all things to all men" (9:22-23) so they might migrate into the Kingdom of God. He then describes the winding course of his mission in athletic terms, encouraging the Corinthians to run in such a way that they'd break the tape first (9:24) but in turn reminds them that training is necessary to accomplish that feat (9:25). In the end, they aren't training for a cheap trophy but an eternal crown of victory that causes us to salivate uncontrollably (9:26).

Paul puts two terms out there: training and preaching (more likely "proclaiming" from the Greek kerusso). In training, he puts the frail and fallible ("body") through the rigors of discipline so that it's obedient to the mission at hand. For runners, it's the race but for followers of Jesus it is life in the Kingdom.

Spiritual disciplines and pathways of formation are therefore ways that the grace of God speaks motivational words to our frailties and shapes them for the Kingdom agenda.

In proclaiming, Paul shows that evangelism fits into the formational patchwork as both an overflow and a reference point. He beats his body so that proclamation is possible without the annoying mosquitos of distraction but also so that the act of proclamation doesn't destroy him in the process ("disqualified for the prize").

Paul knows that to tell the story of God's rescue (proclamation) apart from a life coming in line with Jesus (formation) is an exercise much like running a marathon without training. You may finish, but you're going to feel it in the end and honestly it may be the gracious end to your career of putting one foot in front of the other.

Where are you lacking today? Have you been training but never entered a race? Have you tried to run without planning, dieting, and getting your body to sit, beg, and roll over? Allow God to speak to you for a moment today, through the gracious and unhurried voice of His Spirit, as to what's next in your training regimen or what opportunity to "proclaim" you may need to prepare for.