One evening I caught part of a motivational talk given by Jimmy Johnson on the NFL Network. He was sharing a football philosophy he learned from another coach about how football rewards great conditioning. When we think of a great football player, with think of a tough guy with great strength, speed and natural ability, but it means nothing without conditioning. Regardless of your ability, fatigue will cause you to lose focus and make mistakes; you will lose the will to fight and you will lose the will to win. Nearing the end of a game, a player should be smiling. The player who is hunched over and sucking-wind in the 4th quarter becomes a coward. Even if your opponent is more talented, you can still win by exhausting your rival.
When I was younger I played some soccer. Now my eleven year old son plays on the local travel team. At the end of the last spring season we had a “kids vs. the parents” game just for fun. I do some jogging to try and keep fit, but it is nothing like the conditioning needed for the frequent, fast sprints required in soccer.
Although the Dads were bigger, stronger and in some cases more talented than the boys, by the end of the game fatigue made a coward out of me. I lost the will to play and I lost the will to win. I started to make mistakes. I began to hope the ball would not come my way in fear of being embarrassed by some speedy kid. I knew what to do, but I could not do it; my body could not react to my will because of fatigue. It was like Romans 7:19 was coming to life right there on the field, “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want”. The Dads did win in the end, but no thanks to me.
After seeing coach Johnson’s talk the night before, I happened across a reflection from St. John of the Cross the very next morning which spoke of fatigue. We may be familiar with the analogies that compare spiritual conditioning to physical conditioning. An athlete prepares for an event through training and practice; it’s a lot of hard work and discipline. It may even be described as suffering and sacrifice. The same is true in the spiritual life if we want to defeat our adversary. But St. John touches on something a little different; something that is dangerous even for those who are spiritually well disciplined. It’s what happens when we are fatigued by divided desires.
“Weakness and tepidity are another kind of harm the appetites produce in a man. For the appetites sap the strength needed for perseverance in the practice of a virtue…. A man whose will is divided among trifles is like water which, because of some leakage, will not rise higher and consequently becomes useless.”
|St. John of the Cross|
If we pour out too much of our time, talent and treasure like a libation to the gods of power, possessions and pleasure, we leave ourselves open to spiritual attack, even if we have routine spiritual practices. Too much work, too many hobbies/activities, too much on the social calendar; the devil loves worldly busyness and helps to keep us pulled in many directions in order to exhaust us. This can happen even with ministry work and other “good deeds”. Once fatigued, his temptations have greater effect. He knows we will lose focus in our spiritual life and make mistakes, we will lose the will to fight and we will lose the will to win. If not careful, we too will become useless, living life as described in Romans 7:19 because fatigue makes cowards of us all.