The Strenuous Life – the Mindset of a “Muscular Christian”


…I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desire mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.1 (Teddy Roosevelt)

“Muscular Christianity” is organized according to three, broad tenets:

  • Know What You Believe and Why – be able to articulate what you believe and why you believe without sounding hesitant (1 Peter 3:15)
  • All Things at All Times – God is the Filing Cabinet and not a mere, File Folder (2 Cor 9:8)
  • It’s Not About You – His Agenda, His Timing, His Resources. You benefit by subordinating yourself to God and to others. In other words, it’s not about you and that’s a good thing (Phil 2:3-4)!

Taken together they serve as a solid, theological foundation that is simultaneously both practical and logical.

It’s unfortunate that much of what translates to something that’s legitimately motivating and beneficial gets lost in the midst of a conventional perspective that limits a relationship with Christ to either a Divine Emergency Procedure or a Sanctified Insurance Policy – supernatural options reserved for crisis situations and funeral arrangements.

That’s not what Christ intended.

He defined eternal life as “knowing God (Jn 17:3)” and when you make a point of positioning Him as your Motivation for everything you say, think and do, the resulting Standard of Excellence is downright inspiring.

So, what does the day / mindset of a “Muscular Christian” look like?

Here’s some Biblical scaffolding that answers that question, as far as how you’re “thinking” throughout the day in order to accommodate a godly perspective that is as Powerful (Phil 2:13) as it is Practical (2 Cor 9:8):

Reveille – Morning! It’s a good day It’s not about the mistakes of the past (Lam 3:22-23), it’s not about what’s looming on the horizon (Matt 6:34), it’s about the fact that I’m upright, God’s got a Plan (Jer 29:11; Phil 2:13), I’m destined for great things (Eph 2:10) and it’s going to be a great day (Ps 118:24).

Holy Ghost Briefing – I follow the example of my King in that I spend some time with my Heavenly Father at the top of the day (Mk1:35). I don’t just race through a couple of theological sounding thoughts, I take the time to consume some Truth and I pray in a way that combines reverence, intercession and appeals (John 1:8; Matt 6:9-13). I’m training to be godly and not just going through some spiritual looking exercises (1 Tim 4:7).

Keeping my Body Tight – my body is God’s Temple. It doesn’t need to be the size of Atlanta nor does it need to be a feather pillow. And my age doesn’t matter. If I’ve got a metabolism like that of a racecar, I’m still watching what I eat. And if it takes a little longer to get my muscles warmed up, that doesn’t matter either. I’m a pointless, puddle of perspiration when I train and I’m not clogging my pipes with ludicrous carbohydrates either. I don’t look at it as an obligation, I see it as an invitation to be excellent and in that way I’m an effective commercial for my King on top of being able to enjoy all the benefits that go along with looking my best and being able to perform at 100% capacity. Dig that!

Kiss on the Cheek – Depending where I’m at in my life, I’m either kissing my Mom and Dad goodbye as I’m heading out the door, or I’m kissing my bride and my kids goodbye. Regardless, I honor them and I treat them as the priority treasures that they are (Eph 5:22- 6:1-4; 1 Pet 3:7).

Work / School – I’m knocking it out of the park! I’m bringing my “A” game to whatever it is that I’m doing (Col 3:23) and I benefit because people are drawn to excellence and / or those who pursue it.

Going South – not everything works out the way I prefer. Sometimes my heart gets broke, sometimes I get angry. But rather than careening off into an emotional ditch, I reign my passions in and bring them under the Umbrella of my Savior’s Purpose, Peace and Power. The clouds don’t always clear, but the Son’s given a chance to break through the cloud cover and there’s enough Light to justify an even disposition and a genuinely optimistic outlook (Rom 8:28; Phil 4:6-8).

Riding Off into the Sunset – the day is done, but actually it’s not. I’m not just collapsing in front of the TV. Maybe I’ve got homework, maybe I’ve got some other commitments but I’m still engaged right up to the point when my head hits the pillow. It’s called “diligence (Prov 12:24).” Clean up after yourself (Dt 23:12-14), take care of any chores or admin, read a book (“To lead, you must read.” [Theodore Roosevelt])2, invest some time in other people, invest some time in improving yourself (Phil 2:3-4).

A Good Night’s Sleep – now you’re done. And you can look forward to a good night’s sleep (Ps 127:2). There’s always going to be something else to do, there’s often something on your mind, but the “Muscular Christian” is giving the keys to his Heavenly Father as part of being a “responsible driver.” It’s not that you’re incapacitated. Rather, you’re wise enough to know that it’s God Who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose and provided your obedience is in place, you can rest well knowing that it’s all good (Rom 8:28; Phil 2:13).

The quote from Theodore Roosevelt that’s referenced at the beginning of this devotional refers to a life that is “strenuous.” At first brush, it may be tempting to process “strenuous” as being strained or stressed. It’s not. “The Strenuous Life” is the life of a Hardcharger. It’s the approach taken by a Muscular Christian. It means that you’re engaged, motivated and productive for all the Right Reasons (Matt 5:16) and utilizing all of the Right Resources (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor 2:16; Col 1:27). It’s the practical manifestation of the Divine Life that proceeds from knowing God (Jn 17:3).

Below is a spreadsheet that you peruse every morning that includes all of the verses / themes referenced above. Read through the verses everyday and start each day by getting your spiritual tires aligned in a way that positions you for some quality Gains (2 Cor 3:18) and some true Success (Josh 1:8):

The Mindset of a Muscular Christian
Theme Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Morning! Lam 3:22-23 Matt 6:34 Jer 29:11 Phil 2:13 Eph 2:10
Holy Ghost Briefing Mk 1:35 Jn 1:8 Matt 6:9-13 1 Tim 4:7 2 Tim 2:15
Keeping Your Body Tight 1 Cor 6:19-20 Rom 6:12-14 Prov 23:2 Prov 12:1 Eph 5:1
Kiss On the Cheek Eph 5:22 Eph 6:1-4 1 Pet 3:7 Prov 29:15 Prov 6:20
Work / School Col 3:23 Ecc 9:10 Matt 5:16 Col 3:17 1 Cor 3:12-13
Going South Phil 4:6-8 Matt 6:34 Rom 8:28 Rom 8:32 Is 30:21
Riding Off Into the Sunset Prov 12:24 Dt 23:12-14 Phil 2:3-4 Prov 6:6 Prov 20:4
A Good Night’s Sleep Ps 127:2 Rom 8:28 Phil 2:13 Is 41:10 Ps 37:5-6


You’ll see some of what’s discussed in this post expanded upon in the devotional material included with the “Muscular Christianity: 90 Day Workout Plan.” Thing is, you don’t want to limit it to a three month training period. Being able to explain what you believe and why, applying all that Christ offers to every aspect of your life and establishing God as both the Target and the Source of your ambition is a lifelong dynamic. In other words, it’s not just a timeframe characterized by a spike in spiritual disciplines and physical training. It’s a mindset – the mindset of a “Muscular Christian!”

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