If What Used to Be Easy Becomes Hard

A few months ago, I donned my snazziest athletic clothes, laced up my cross-trainers, and popped in one of my favorite workout DVDs. It started out fine; I cruised through the warm-up with minimal sweat and only a little complaining, and then began the red meat of the routine.

Within minutes, I found myself dripping with sweat, gasping for breath, and wondering whether I’d ever again be able to scale a flight of stairs without the telling chorus of “Ooh! Ooh! Ouch!”

Here’s the thing: That was one of my easy workouts. The ones I reserve for when I’m sick, tired, or feeling sluggish for any reason at all. And there I was, fatigued like I’d just completed a triathlon. What happened, you ask? Well, you’ve heard the cliché “old habits die hard”? As it turns out, sometimes they die hard. Sometimes they just die. And when that happens, what used to be easy becomes hard. Really, really hard.

Climbing That Mountain—Again

Of course, it’s not just in the realm of diet and exercise that we find this easy/hard phenomenon, although at this time of year it’s certainly an area that comes to mind.

How about in childrearing? For instance, you might have been enjoying a full night’s sleep for ten years since your littles ceased interrupting your blissful slumber. But suddenly you find yourself the unwilling bed partner of a two-year-old granddaughter who needs numerous drinks of water, sees monsters in the corner, and misses her mommy at fifteen minute increments all through the night. In your thirties, it was easier to bounce back after a poor night’s sleep. But now at sixty?

What used to be easy has now become hard.

Or how about going back to college in adulthood? A friend who went back to school once her children were grown regularly comments on how much harder it is to memorize and regurgitate information as a middle-aged woman than it was when she was in school as a younger woman.

What used to be easy has now become hard.

Perhaps by now you’re wondering what I’m getting at. This is the True Woman blog, right? And it is January, right? So that means . . . Yes, you’ve got it! There is one more very clear example of a habit developed over the course of time and experience, one that reaps huge rewards when we are diligent and great detriment when we let it die: Consistent prayer and Bible study.

Uh-oh, right? How did this happen? How did you only make it through February’s readings in your 2016 “through the Bible in a year” plan? You were so good at making prayer a priority the first month after the True Woman ’16 event, but lately, it feels like a chore to bring praise, adoration, and petition before the Lord. Why? You were so consistent with your personal devotional time last year, but ever since you started your new job, why are you having such trouble getting up just thirty minutes earlier to fit it in?

Well, I’ll admit, I don’t know the specifics of your situation, but in my life, I’ve found one stumbling block each time I experience renewed fervency toward Bible study and prayer, then find myself fading into a sort of spiritual atrophy after a period of days, weeks, or months:

It’s hard. It’s work. It’s hard work. And like any other work, prayer and Bible study can start out a delight—so fresh, so new, so much what we need—and turn into drudgery in no time.

It used to be easy, but now it’s hard. And guess what? That’s okay.

Studying Like You Mean It

I, too, finished my bachelor’s degree as a married woman with two children (and a third on the way!), and I found myself feeling ultra-convicted during that time of the voracity with which I studied my college texts compared to the flaccid half-heartedness of my personal Bible study. I wanted more, and it was clear that Bible study is not always the steaming latte, sunny window variety we see on Instagram. Often times, intensely profitable Bible study is the type that’s hunched over the table, pen-clicking, page-flipping (or screen-clicking), with a strong cup of black coffee and a handful of ibuprofen.

Take a look at this passage from 1 Timothy 4, and notice the words and phrases used to describe diligent reading, study, and teaching of the Word:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. 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. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (vv. 6–16, emphasis added).

Diligent Bible study, it seems, is not for the faint of heart, but it will produce spiritual fitness, as will:

Praying Like God Will Really Hear

At a basketball tournament last weekend, I chatted with a coach about my son’s growing confidence in taking a shot. “Yes,” she said, “That’s huge! As a coach, I’m always having to remind the kids to shoot like it’s actually going to go in!”

Is it possible that our “prayer muscles” have developed atrophy because of ongoing misuse? Do we pray as though God will actually hear our prayers and will answer? It’s likely that if God in the flesh were seated in our prayer meeting circle, the intensity of our prayers would increase. We might even break a sweat!

Author E.M. Bounds said:

Spiritual work is taxing work, and men are loath to do it. Praying, true praying, costs an outlay of serious attention and of time, which flesh and blood do not relish.

And also:

The lazy man does not, will not, cannot pray, for prayer demands energy. Paul calls it a striving, an agony.

Consistent, fervent prayer is perhaps one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines to master. We should not be surprised when our prayer life needs a reboot just like our New Year’s exercise program.

Five Tips for Getting Fit Again

Redeveloping our spiritual fitness will not be easy work. It may be a process, just like exercise, that we may have to revamp and restart at various times throughout the year. As I look at my journey toward physical fitness, I see a few parallels that might prove useful in training the soul as well:

  1. Come up with a plan that works for you.

    Not your brother, not your sister, but you, true woman! I’ve asked plenty of friends what plan they follow for physical health, but when it came down to it, to be successful I had to find a plan that would suit my life and preferences. It can be tempting (and even useful) to try to emulate the study and prayer life of your spiritual mentor, but in the end the only successful prayer and devotional time is that one that actually happens. Make the main thing the main thing!

  2. Understand that the first few days will be hard.

    Just like my struggle with kicking my nighttime sugar habit, kicking the habit of lazy mornings spent with your feet up watching the Today Show before you’ve met with the Lord might be difficult, too. But be encouraged that with each passing day it will be easier and, dare I say, pleasurable!

  3. Do it even when you don’t “feel it.” No, do it especially when you don’t “feel it.”

    Just like exercising, that sluggish, “I don’t feel like reading my Bible today” feeling is often a symptom, a warning sign, that time in the Word is exactly what we need. Some days, I just have to tie up my shoes and start. We need to do the same with our Bible. Open it up, and simply begin. Progress will follow!

  4. When the results come in, ride the wave!

    Whatever your physical fitness goals, it’s always a wonderful feeling when they begin to be accomplished. Seeing a new number, noticing increased energy, whatever it is, the feeling is great! I’ve found the same to be true with spiritual disciplines. When you begin to reap the benefits—increased love for God, intimacy with Christ, love for the Word—simply enjoy it, and use it as motivation to continue!

  5. Prepare for the “One Month Slump.”

    Inevitably, it will come—the day you won’t, or can’t, when it seems like all the forces of nature are aiming to prevent you from prayer and study. Prepare for that day in advance. Just do something. Read a psalm. Pray for a short while. If you miss a day, get over it, and get back to it. Don’t let a small failure set you back. Get back on track, and keep on pressing on!

2017 is here, and it’s time to evaluate your spiritual fitness! What are your Bible study and prayer goals for this year? What Revive Our Hearts resources are you using to help you stay on track? What tools have you deployed to build fitness this year? We would love to hear from you!

About the Author

Laura Elliott

Laura Elliott

Born and raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Laura Elliott and her husband, Michael, now call Minnesota home. Laura is the mother of five sons and one daughter and serves as the marketing content manager for Revive Our Hearts. In … read more …

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