Use it or Lose it: Thoughts on Spanish, Fitness and Spiritual Discipline

“Use it or lose it.”

I was reminded of that truth this past week as I struggled holding a conversation in Spanish. I studied Spanish for 7 years in high school and college, even spending 6 months living and studying in Spain. I achieved a measure of hard-won fluency, and then I graduated school. I mentally filed my Spanish away, having no reason to regularly use it, only bringing it out for short periods of time on rare occasions. Over the last 8 years, I have forgotten vocab, verb tenses and grammar. My brain has slowed down in comprehending the spoken language I used to hear on a daily basis. I have not been using Spanish and I am losing it.

Similarly, athletes know that if they give up an exercise regimen and are not exerting their muscles and cardiovascular system, they can quickly lose the strength and endurance they worked to achieve. I used to be able to run a 5k (though not very well), but then I took a break from running. I certainly couldn’t run that distance today. Use it or lose it.

How does this play out spiritually? Are we at risk for losing something in which we have previously invested time and effort?

We should rejoice that our salvation depends not on us, but on our Savior, and so we are not at risk for losing our salvation (John 10:28-29, Ephesians 1:13-14). Jesus and the Father hold us securely and they will not lose us. The Holy Spirit seals us and is a guarantee of our inheritance. Even in the times we lose sight of the glorious truths of our salvation, God’s gift of salvation remains secure.

However, when it comes to our progressive sanctification, our growth in Christlikeness, we are vulnerable. So often in Scripture we are told to stand firm (1 Corinthians 15:58, Philippians 4:1, James 5:8). We are to make conscious effort to not give up the spiritual ground that we have gained through our efforts and God’s gracious work (Philippians 2:12-13). As we grow in knowledge and understanding of the Lord, we must watch our lives carefully so that we are indeed growing in faithful obedience and loving worship. We need to put truth into practice  and strive for continued application (use it) so that we don’t forget it or grow content in not obeying it (lose it). As we memorize Scripture, we need to regularly review it and meditate on it (use it), or we’ll forget it (lose it). As we build spiritual habits and disciplines, often at the expense of great effort, we must stand firm in practicing these so that we continue benefiting from them and growing in our walk with the Lord.

But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. 10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 1 Timothy 4:7-10

As you discipline yourself for godliness, make sure you continue to use your spiritual muscles. Our spiritual discipline is to be ongoing. Continue laboring and striving for godliness, continue fixing your hope in the Savior of all men. Don’t give in to spiritual laziness or forgetfulness. Don’t take a break from spiritual growth or allow yourself a “break” from seeking the Lord. Don’t take past victories for granted, but walk in faithful devotion today.

Use it, don’t lose it.

Jennifer Cantu
Jennifer Cantu works as a counselor and Shift Supervisor at Vision of Hope. She received her biblical counseling certification from ACBC in 2014. In addition to working at VOH, Jennifer counsels women through Faith Church’s counseling ministry. She is very thankful for ministry opportunities to help, teach and encourage women with God's Word.