I have a very set routine when I go to the gym, followed in roughly the same form since first semester freshman year. Go twice a week. Walk into the building. Get on elliptical. Set resistance for 6, because it’s the number of evil. Work out for exactly 30 minutes. Wipe down machine. Get water. Leave.
If you couldn’t tell from my tone, I absolutely hate working out. I can come up with very creative new ways of complaining about it, ranging from my theory that the gym steals people’s souls and uses them to power the campus, to naming different pieces of equipment after different Disney villains, depending on their perceived level of torture.
I get no detectable levels of endorphins from working out. I’m not trying to lose weight. And I’m very vocal about the fact that no one should run unless they are running from something (like a bear or axe murderer) or running toward something (like the goal at the end of a treasure hunt).
So, many people ask me, “Why do you even work out, then?”
To which I usually sigh dramatically and give some noble reply like, “Because it’s good for me. I suppose we should be forced to suffer every now and then.”
But I’ve figured out the real answer. The real reason I work out even though I hate it is very simple: pride.
Which lead me to other questions. Like why do I read my Bible? Why do I sing songs in church? Why do I go to church at all, or serve in a youth group, or do a thousand other spiritual practices that have become a normal part of my life as a Christian?
Am I doing it for God or for me? Out of habit or with a purpose?
Hear me out: I am a big fan of discipline. There is nothing wrong with doing something just because you know it’s good for you, even when you don’t emotionally feel like doing it. I’d argue that’s actually a strength.
But when it becomes a matter of pride, then there’s a problem.
You can read the Bible, attend church, and practice other spiritual disciplines out of duty, as long as that duty is motivated by love. Answering, “Because it’s good for me, and God told me to” is a perfectly fine answer, as long as it’s true. Sometimes, for me at least, the real answer is more like, “Because it makes me look good to be doing what God told me to do.”
When we make Christianity into a routine that we follow and take pride in, step-by-step, mindless, and empty, we’re making the church into a gym, a place where most people come simply for the benefits they get from being there.
The church isn’t a gym. It’s a family. So let’s start treating it like one.