Spiritual Muscle Memory
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Ted, a devout Christian, recently left home with plenty of time to get to his prayer meeting. He didn’t have far to drive. His short drive came to a grinding halt when he encountered an elderly woman blocking traffic. She seemed to have stopped her car in the middle of the road for no reason. He waited impatiently, nervously patting his hand on the steering wheel. Annoyed by the delay as minutes ticked by, he became more upset. Click here to see what happened next.
After a few more minutes he considered beeping. He held back. “Certainly, she will see me, move her car out of the middle of the road, and allow me to pass,” he thought. She did not. It seemed forever before she finally, painfully, slowly, inched her car forward giving him barely enough room to get around. As he passed by, he noticed she was looking down at her cell phone. He glared at her disapprovingly before speeding off. “What is that crazy woman doing,” he wondered.
No sooner had he passed her and turned onto the next road when his conscience was pinged by the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, he realized that this woman might have been lost, or worse yet, she might have been experiencing a medical emergency. Guilt followed on the heels of that thought. He began to chastise himself. “Why didn’t I stop to help,” he wondered. He had squandered an opportunity to respond in a Christ-like fashion. Not lost in his thoughts was the irony that he had just acted in a non-Christian way while heading to a prayer meeting. The good news is, that upon arrival at the meeting, he confessed his mistake to his friends.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? How many times in a week do we miss our opportunities to respond as true disciples of Christ? How many times could we have helped someone, but didn’t? How often are we inwardly focused on ourselves and fail to see someone in need? The answer for most of us is that this happens far more often than we care to admit.
Can anything good come from these spiritual missteps? Yes, but only if we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us through our mistakes. The lingering memory of our inaction might be what prompts a more appropriate action next time.
Permit me to make an analogy to something called “muscle memory”. Muscle memory refers to our physical reflexes and reactions. Our muscles have memory, well, sort of. Our brain learns how our muscles should react in specific situations and implements that action the next time it is in that same situation. With repeated practice, athletes train their muscles to perform with perfection.
Exercising a muscle essentially causes it trauma, which leads to muscle memory. An athlete’s brain stores that trauma in its neural pathways for future reference. Proper exercise leads to appropriate muscle reaction. Improper exercise can accidentally create muscle memory that is counterproductive and leads to the wrong muscle reflex.
Now back to Ted. There is no doubt he had the wrong response to the situation he found himself in. The good news is that he recognized it, albeit a little too late this time. Like “muscle memory,” we could say that his mistake caused him a moment of spiritual trauma. This stored “trauma” in his brain, might prompt him to have the correct response the next time.
What are some lessons we can all learn from our sins and mistakes?
- If we are open and honest with ourselves when we make mistakes, we can learn from them.
- Our mistakes keep us humble and grounded and remind us that we have plenty of room to grow in our faith.
- If we dwell on our mistakes, we become discouraged. If we see our mistakes as lessons, we can improve and respond in a more Christ-like fashion next time.
- Spiritual memory, like muscle memory, requires constant repetition of the correct action in order to assure the proper response when needed.
- If we acknowledge our own stumbles and imperfections, we are more likely to react with an understanding heart when someone acts improperly towards us.
As Christians we must remember that a wise person may fall many times, but they always get up and try again. A foolish person stumbles and remains on the ground. We all need to learn and grow from our mistakes. Our mistakes and missed opportunities can be a doorway to an intense and beautiful experience of God’s love if we are open and willing to allow His grace to work through our slip-ups.
Proverbs 26:11 says, “As dogs return to their vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” Paul tells us this in Philippians 3:13-14, “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” Finally, Proverbs 11:2 states, “When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.”
Let’s all grow in humility and wisdom by learning from our failures, and let’s strive endlessly to become the saints we are called to be.
Heavenly Father, some days I just flat out screw up. Sometimes I simply miss an opportunity to help someone in need, or worse yet I choose to ignore their needs because I am too focused on myself. In either case Lord, I ask for your forgiveness and I pray for your strength and guidance to do better next time. Amen!
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I feel if we’re open God is speaking to us though our daily experiences.
A great reminder to listen & repent
Been there. Done that. Thanks for the reminder.
Thanks Brian, I needed this. Jim