I have a friend who is a personal trainer. You know, one of those people you pay money to and then they make you do things that hurt. My wife, Debbie, and I have had memberships at a local gym for over ten years and we have faithfully used the facility four or so times a week for that entire period – ok, fine, so “we” is really more Debbie than me. Nonetheless, we have seen personal trainers and their clients in action for many years.
It is intriguing to me listening to my friend talk about her job. She speaks about obvious layers of commitment she experiences with her clients. Most sign up because they really do want assistance in improving some element(s) of their physical well-being; however, there are a few who come reluctantly, having been strongly “encouraged” by their spouse or family.
She further shares that the ones that get involved with good intentions fall into four sub-categories:
- those who want to look like magazine models in two weeks;
- those who waver after a few sessions when they realize that getting in shape is a lot of painful work;
- those who want the process to be easy and get upset with her when she pushes them, blaming her for the pain they experience for being out of condition
In my friend’s experience, each of these groups sooner or later judge personal training and/or the trainer as inefficient, perhaps even inept, and subsequently quit.
There is one more sub-group:
- those who understand that getting into (back into) excellent physical shape may well take a long time and will definitely involve a lot of work and pain – but they judge it to be worth the cost and make the commitment to the long haul. Additionally, they appreciate their trainer and take her advice to heart and apply it. My observation after ten or so years at the gym is that this is a very small group of people.
Here is the spiritual application. In his letters, there are a number of times that the apostle Paul compares physical training to spiritual training; for example in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Paul speaks of the “strict training” necessary to obtain the prize. Those of us who do pastoral counseling are somewhat like “personal trainers” and we experience the same categories of “clients.”
Some folks come for ministry because they truly desire to be “spiritually fit”; however, there are some who come simply because their spouse or parent made them. Some come believing a counselor can somehow change the circumstances with little effort from them. Others simply want the counselor to agree that it is all the other person’s fault and validate the poor decisions they are making. However, there is a group of folks who come ready to make themselves available to the Lord for growth, even if it is painful and takes a long time (some of the lies in their lives have been resident and powerful for decades). Counseling and the counselor are deemed “good and worthwhile” or “ineffective and a waste of time’ depending on which of the above they expect. Many quit; but there is a small community who stay the course and find themselves more emotionally and spiritually healthy.
Jesus told us that it is absolutely necessary to “count the cost” before embarking on a great endeavor and foolish not to do so. Those who don’t count the cost quit and fail; but those who do “build buildings” and “win wars.”