This summer I am working on strengthening my core. I’ve been inconsistent with core-building exercises since moving away from a place with easy gym access, yet I hear from experienced runners that core strength is important for improved speed and endurance. A strong core is important for many other sports, as well. Canoeing, for instance, might seem like and arm-and-shoulder kind of sport, but I have learned during my time in Hawaii that an effective stroke of the oar really stems from the core. And consider sailing. My son would certainly not be able to constantly “hike out” in order to counterbalance and effectively use the wind in the sails if he had a weak core!
I believe there are also spiritual applications to this concept of core strength. When asked about the most essential point of the Law, Jesus summed up what is most important to God in two statements: love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40). At another point during His ministry, Jesus told His disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33).” To live in such a way as to please God, then, I must pour everything I can into loving God and loving others, thereby putting Him first in my life.
First, in order to truly love God, I must spend time getting to know Him and seeking to understand His calling for my life through the serious study of His Word and prayer. Only then can I demonstrate my love to Him, as I obey what I read in Scripture (John 14:15). If I am not keeping up with basic spiritual disciplines and growing daily to be more like Christ, I cannot possibly be in tune with His will for my life, and my Christian service may end up being based on shallow motives, or may easily collapse as I attempt to serve Him in my own power. Worse yet, without having taken time to prayerfully develop a solid understanding of God’s Word, I may get off track and stray into error (Prov. 10:17). However, by making “every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love,” I will be effective and fruitful “in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:5-8).”
Jesus’ second command, to “love your neighbor as yourself,” has numerous applications, but for the married Christian, the heart of the matter is, or should be, the marriage relationship. Scripture closely relates the bond between husband and wife to the relationship between Christ and the church, highlighting its importance. A husband should love his wife with the same sacrificial love Christ demonstrated to the church, and the wife should submit to her husband in the same way the church submits to Christ, the Head (Eph. 5:22-32). A husband and wife cannot possibly live up to these high expectations in their own strength; therefore, they each must maintain a vibrant, growing relationship with Christ. They will then be empowered by God to not only pour into their marriage relationship what is needed to keep it strong, but also to impact those around them for Christ (Phil 2:12-13; Heb. 13:20-21).
As I exercise to build up my physical core this summer, I am challenged also to “seek first the kingdom of God,” by working to strengthen my spiritual core. I pray to express Christ’s love to others, beginning by investing time and energy into my own marriage, and to grow in Christ, that He may strengthen me “with power through the Spirit in your inner being… that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and high and long and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:16-19).”