The Aqueduct of Segovia is one of the most well preserved elevated Roman aqueducts in the world. Likely constructed toward the end of first century or beginning of the second century CE during the reign of Emperor Domitian or Trajan, the aqueduct transported water from the Rio Frio River to the city of Segovia, Spain, spanning a distance of nearly eleven miles. The elevated portion of the aqueduct measures 2388 feet in length and is 93.5 feet tall at its maximum height. It consists of approximately 24,000 granite blocks fit together to make 165 arches, which are more than 30 feet tall. This amazing feat of engineering continued to carry water to the people of Segovia up until the 20th century. According to legend, it was during this time period that people decided that the aqueduct should be preserved rather than used. So, they laid modern pipes to bring drinking water to the town and allowed the aqueduct to rest as a treasured monument. But the unexpected happened. The aqueduct began to deteriorate. Apparently, the lack of water flowing through the aqueduct allowed the sun to dry out the rocks and mortar which then caused the structure to crumble. Now, the Aqueduct of Segovia is listed by the World Monuments Fund as a monument to watch due to its deteriorating state. Ultimately, the lack of use brought about the aqueduct’s demise.
We often refer to such deterioration as atrophy. Atrophy can be defined as a gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. Atrophy affects our physique if we fail to use our muscles. For example, I have been exercising regularly by running a few miles three to five times a week since April. Running has always been my preferred form of exercise because, when I was in high school, I competed on the cross country team and on the track team. But once I exited high school I quit exercising because it was no longer required in order for me to compete on a team. As a result, my muscles and joints grew accustomed to not being intensely used, and, for the first few weeks of my newfound effort to exercise, my body hated me. Had I continued to exercise post high school, I would never have gotten out of shape and would not have had to endure the growing pains of returning to an exercise routine.
Atrophy is not limited to our physique; it can also affect in our intellect. Failure to continue using information you learned can cause that information to be lost. For example, I studied Greek during my freshman and sophomore years of college, which occurred prior to the inauguration of the twenty-first century. After passing those classes, I decided not to continue my study and/or use of that information on a frequent basis because I was entering into youth ministry and you don’t need Greek to be an effective youth minister. Years later I found myself in pulpit work and realized that the knowledge I once had about the Greek language could be useful in my sermon preparation and delivery. So, in recent years I began trying to relearn concepts that I learned nearly two decades ago but lost because I failed to exercise that knowledge.
So, we understand that physical exercise is necessary for the health of our body because it prevents the degeneration of our muscles, and we understand that mental exercise is necessary for the health of our minds because it promotes the retention of information. But do we need to exercise spiritually? Yes! We are capable of spiritual atrophy if we fail to exercise our faith. Such is the point being made by James when he wrote, “faith without works is dead” in James 2:26. What James is saying is that faith that exists as a confession absent activity is a faith that has atrophied.
So, how do we prevent spiritual atrophy? We prevent spiritual atrophy by engaging in spiritual training. There are three passages worth noting on this subject.
First, Jesus indicated that becoming like Him should be the objective of every disciple. In Luke 6:40, He said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (emphasis added). In this passage, Jesus established an expectation that disciples would seek to be “fully trained.” Additionally, Jesus indicated that such training leads us to be like Him. In other words it should produce Christlikeness, which, according to Paul, is the basis of the mindset (Philippians 2:5-8) and behavior (1 Corinthians 11:1) we are to emulate.
Second, Paul instructed Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 to “have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (emphasis added). In this passage, Paul indicated that our spirits need “training” just like our bodies, and such spiritual training is more beneficial because it impacts not just our “present life” but also our eternal life. Additionally, Paul indicated that our training should produce godliness, which is one of the attributes that Peter says we are to add to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7) and one of the characteristics that Paul instructed Timothy to pursue (1 Timothy 6:11).
Finally, Paul, speaking to Timothy again, told him in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (emphasis added). In this passage, Paul indicated that Scripture exists in order to provide us with spiritual training so that we may be “complete.” Additionally, Paul indicted that our training should produce righteousness, which is an attribute that John indicates we are to practice as evidence of our relationship to God (1 John 3:7-10) and one of the characteristics that Paul instructed Timothy to pursue (1 Timothy 6:11).
Based on these passages, we learn that the primary objective of our spiritual training is to grow in Christlikeness, godliness, and righteousness, and we learn that such growth is an expectation of Jesus, is beneficial for “the life to come,” and is directed by the Word of God. So, for the next several weeks, I will be using this article space to share some biblically-based spiritual exercises that we can do in order to engage in spiritual training. These exercises will prompt us to engage in activities such as prayer, meditation, memorization, fasting, confession, service, and worship, all of which are activities presented in Scripture as disciplines of the individual who pursues Christlikeness, godliness, and righteousness. The goal of this series is for each of us to learn ways in which we can promote spiritual growth and prevent spiritual atrophy. And it all comes down to this, spiritual growth “is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.”