In our health-crazed and image-driven society, having a "fitness trainer" has picked up momentum. The idea seems to be that if you want to have a fit and firm "bod," a tough but caring guide is needed to provide a training regimen -- to encourage, and to hold accountable.
While there is profit in physical training (and in having a fitness trainer), as Paul writes to Timothy, spiritual fitness should be the top priority of a Christian (1 Timothy 4:8). And just as some have found it helpful to have a physical trainer, those who desire to grow spiritually, may find it beneficial to have a Spiritual Trainer.
Having a Spiritual Trainer is actually not new. Joshua had Moses. Elisha had Elijah. Naomi had Ruth. Timothy had Paul. And, of course, the Apostles had Jesus. The truth is we all need help; we all need the guidance, friendship and, yes, sometimes tough love from someone who has been around the block a time or two. The sad, reality, however, is that in our individualistic, "pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" mentality, very few of us have a Spiritual Trainer (also known as a Soul Friend, Guide, or, by the classical term, Spiritual Director).
Unfortunately, many Christians are too proud to ask for help; to seek out a wise and seasoned guide to aid on the journey. Equally troublesome, those who should be able to serve in the role as a Spiritual Trainer are either too busy, or immature, or have seldom had a Trainer either. Also problematic is that expectations of such a relationship are often unrealistic. That is, those wanting a Trainer can have naive expectations; often wanting an immediate "fix" and/or thinking one's Guide has all the answers. Also, those who are willing to serve as a Trainer can sometimes assume their role is to be "Answer Man" or the one able to fix all the problems.
Despite these and other potential pitfalls, the discipline of having a Spiritual Trainer or Director may well be the most needed, and perhaps neglected, spiritual exercise of all. Of course, the Spirit of Christ is ultimately the one who trains, directs, and provides the growth. All good trainers who are worth their salt know this innately. However, we just can't underestimate how crucial it is to have someone ask us questions about our spiritual life (e.g., How's your prayer life really going? How are you treating your wife/husband?), as well as the gentle reminder of what we may be missing, either the fruits or delusions.
How does one go about finding a Spiritual Trainer? * Ask -- Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to someone you know-or perhaps a friend of a friend-who might help you in your spiritual journey. * Seek -- Don't become discouraged or give up if no one comes to mind or even if the person you'd like to companion you says, "No." It may be that, for whatever reason, there is other work you need to attend to first and/or that God has someone else in mind. In addition to praying, you might want to ask a respected, older person if they know of someone who could be a Spiritual Trainer for you. If this proves unsuccessful, you might contact another church or nearby monastery. * Find -- God is good to provide the person you need, when you need it. If the person is a trained Director, they will know what to do, how often to meet, etc. If they have never served in this role, set out some mutual expectations. For example, most have found it helpful to meet monthly for one hour. For more information on what should happen in a Spiritual Training session, you might want to read "Trustworthy Companions."
And what actually should a Spiritual Trainer do?
Some of you who are reading this article may already be functioning in this role, whether formally or informally. Here are a few things you can do if you sense a prompting that you are (or could be) a Trainer for others.
Ask the Lord if there is someone who might need you to be their Spiritual Trainer and tell him you want to be ready, if that is his will. There are people longing for someone to approach them and say, "I see Christ at work in you and if you need me, or just want someone to talk with, I'm here to listen and pray for you." If that seems too pushy, you might consider spending a season of prayer about this, asking the Lord to bring to you someone who could profit from your guidance. This is dangerous and risky, so watch out if you choose this approach!
If and when you meet with someone in this capacity, you might want to begin by seeking out what the other person wants or needs. If you don't think you can help, or feel that someone else would be better, say so! You are neither the Savior nor the Ultimate Trainer; Christ is! What you might say is, "While we meet, you can talk about anything and I will listen-not only to what you are saying but to what the Spirit may be saying. That is, I'm not here to fix you but rather to seek Christ with you, realizing he is always in our midst." It may become apparent that you are not the one to help or that there is psychological or physical assistance that is needed. If that is the case, do not hesitate to speak about this.
It should go without saying but no one should serve in the role as Spiritual Trainer or Director who does not have their own wise Guide. We all have blind spots and are in need of guidance and training, especially if in roles of leadership. We remember the admonition, "He who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall." As you meet with your Trainee (and usually once a month for an hour is adequate), a big part of your role is to find, and point out, those places of grace, or self-deception, that may be overlooked.
Without doubt, the call is to grow up into Christ and this involves not only grace but intentional, disciplined living that can be enhanced by a spiritual trainer.