Recently I came across a study that said that men over 35 who could do 40 consecutive push-ups were at a lower risk of heart failure. Doctors were considering using this Push-Up Test as a diagnostic of men’s cardiovascular health.
I immediately asked myself if I could do 40 push-ups without stopping, so I tested it out and I only got to 28. So, I committed myself to getting to this 40 push-up milestone. First, I determined my max once a week. Once I got to my max and needed to rest, I then continued my reps until I reached the next rounded milestone. First it was 30. The next week, I tried again. With just a little bit of Kettlebell work and the 7-minute workout done a few days a week, I was quickly able to get to 40. I decided to keep going and see if I could get to 50. Now I am up to 61 and pushing towards 70. I have gone from 28 consecutive push-ups to 61 in just a few months. It has been a confidence builder and a rather easy process.
This got me thinking about the spiritual equivalent to the 40 Push-Up test. Our spiritual heart (our spirit, will, choice) is, as Dallas Willard describes it, our executive center of the self. This is the part of us that has to be transformed to make us more Christlike. Could there be a way of assessing or examining our heart to determine where it stands spiritually and then begin to train it to grow stronger but also more loving, compassionate, and fruitful?
I wanted to avoid legalism and the temptation to equate achievement with heart change. I could read my Bible 8 hours a day or pray the Lord’s Prayer daily and mark it off my list but still have little growth. Like the classic cardiovascular stress test, the diagnostic is the strain put on the heart and then seeing how it responds. The spiritual version is to see how our spirit does under strain. This strain could be discouragement, temptation, grief, conflict, or any number of things that might shed light on our spiritual maturity, faith, and perseverance. Unfortunately, life provides enough strain so we just need a way to monitor our spiritual heart in the midst of these strains.
Here are a few activities that can help us daily assess our spiritual life and to monitor our growth.
1 – Journaling – One of my favorite questions, taken from Brene Brown, is to ask what story am I telling myself right now? If I am focusing on my shame or how mad I am with someone or obtaining something that doesn’t belong to me then I know that there is some work that needs to be done in my heart. I can then ask God to show me how to make these changes.
2 – Examen – I have discussed this before but the Prayer of Examen is a way to assess where you are spiritually but also to see what God may be doing already so you can join him.
3 – Accountability – Personal feedback is helpful but we also need to get out of our own head and let others have a say. Physical exercise is greatly improved and maintained when we have accountability. Spiritual progress can work the same way. This accountability can take the form of confession, committing to challenge one another, and intentional practice of spiritual disciplines. This is an area that I could improve in.
None of these exercises are intended to make us feel bad about ourselves or our lack of progress but it gives us a chance to check in and see what has improved and what we still need to work on. My push-up test showed that I needed to improve for the potential betterment of my health and then my small actions led to that improvement. In the same way, your spiritual health needs a diagnostic and then a committed plan to track improvement.