Hidden Work (Part 2): 5 Steps to Strengthening Your Spiritual Core

by Alissa Coburn


In last week’s blog post, we talked about how our spiritual core strength—or lack thereof—affects our walk with the Lord and as a result, our ministry to others. A weak physical core affects our whole bodies and eventually begins to cripple our ability to move effectively; I can attest to this personally. In the same way, when we fail to do the deep spiritual work necessary to keep our souls “in shape,” everything we do is affected. In other words, our walk with Jesus starts getting real wonky. 

It wouldn’t be very kind of us, though, to tell you what the problem is without giving you a solution. Therefore, here are the steps God has been working out in us to help develop us spiritually.


A “Nutritious Diet” and THE Physician’s Advice

This is almost like the disclaimer on most workout programs where they tell you it should be used in conjunction with a nutritious diet and that you should always seek the advice of a qualified physician. So here’s our disclaimer: nothing we say here will take the place of a steady, plentiful diet of consuming God’s Word and you should always look to Him as the ultimate authority on your spiritual formation. In other words, he might have a different spiritual workout plan for you, and that’s okay. Follow Him first.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about a plan.


Step 1:  Seek Guidance

The first time I walked back into the gym, I looked around at everything and everyone and very nearly had an anxiety attack. I felt overwhelmed and underprepared. I walked up to Josiah, who immediately saw the look of panic in my eyes, and he grabbed hold of me and prayed over me. Knowing God and my husband were with me helped immensely, and I was able to get down to business.

Maybe that’s where you’re at spiritually right now. Maybe you haven’t paid attention to your spiritual health in quite some time, and the thought of deep, intimate heart work with God sounds completely overwhelming. That’s okay! We’re in this together. Just like Josiah wrapped his arms around me and prayed over me, I’m going to wrap mine around you (metaphorically, unless I see you soon) and pray with you as you start this process.

Father, you already know every need we have. You created us and are intimately familiar with every corner of our souls. You are El-Roi, the God who sees us and knows us, and we look to You for guidance in our work. Comfort us, calm our spirits, and lead us to repentance and transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit. We pray this in Jesus’s holy name, Amen.

Step 2: Assess Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When I walked back into the gym that first day, everything felt weak. However, as I started to workout, I realized that wasn’t necessarily true. Even some of my stomach muscles functioned pretty well, but as I started to move, my sore back indicated that not all was working as it should be deep in my core.

As I moved (and honestly, did a bunch of research) I realized my main issue lay with one of the deepest and lowest muscle layers in my core. Knowing my problem area helped me to develop exercises designed to target them specifically.

It works the same way spiritually. You and the Holy Spirit have to get together in a quiet place so He can tell you where you need the most work. For those of us who are used to Google giving us the answers we need in a flash, this assessment period can be one of the most difficult to navigate.

How do you do it? Ask God questions and wait for Him to answer. Here are some of the questions that have been most helpful for us:

  • What am I afraid of?
  • What lies am I believing about You (God) or myself?
  • Where does my mind need to be transformed so I can know Your good, pleasing, and perfect will?
  • What or who am I turning to instead of You?
  • What needs to die in (be eliminated from) my life so I can live freely for you?

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start. I would caution you, though, not to simply ask yourself the questions. Let the Holy Spirit do His work. There have been times when I’ve realized the answers I was getting were coming from my own processes, instead of from the Holy Spirit. Let me give you an example.

Recently, Josiah and I got away together to invest in our marriage. On Sunday morning, we each took time with the Lord to do some of the deep heart work we’re talking about. I asked God what needed to be eliminated in my life and then immediately started to journal about needing to be in control. I knew that was an issue, so I assumed that was the answer to my question. I wasn’t necessarily wrong, but the core issue was much deeper than that. God wanted to show me what was beneath my need for control.

I felt the Holy Spirit nudging me, telling me I wasn’t listening, so I stopped. I listened. And what I heard (not audibly, but more as an impression deep in my spirit) was “pride.” Ouch. I asked the Holy Spirit to show me what He meant, and as I journaled about my issue of pride, I realized that if I need to be in control, then I’m not trusting God to do His job. I’m not resting in Him. I’m not casting my cares at His feet, but instead, clutching them to my chest—and consequently, crumbling under the weight.

How do I know this was from the Holy Spirit? It’s in alignment with God’s Word:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:5b-7)

Casting our cares on Him requires us to humble ourselves. Conversely, when we refuse to humble ourselves and take our cares upon our own shoulders, we are proud—and put ourselves in opposition to Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, Author of each of our days. It’s not a smart move. Nevertheless, it’s what I was doing, and it needed to stop.

What God showed me was absolutely in alignment with His Word, and I felt the deep, cleansing conviction that only comes from the Holy Spirit. We really cannot stress this enough: God will ever disagree with Himself; if what you “hearing” from God is not in agreement with His Word, then it’s not from God.


Step 3: Formulate a Plan

You’ve asked for God to guide you and the Holy Spirit has shown you what your problem is. Great! Now what?

Now it’s time to let Him help you formulate a plan of action. This will differ depending upon your issue, so I can’t exactly lay it all out, but I can give you some examples and show you what this looks like for me.

Maybe God has shown you that instead of operating out of trust in Him, you’re operating out of fear or pride (and they often walk hand-in-hand). You could find some Bible passages that address these issues. Commit them to memory and meditate on them often. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You,” and I’ve found it to be a remarkably effective plan of action.

For my issue of pride, I needed to use part of my daily quiet time to ask Him to show me where this is still showing up and ask Him what I need to lay down. At night, I started asking Him to show me where in my day I had clung to my cares instead of laying them down at His feet. My plan of action was to keep showing up and asking Him to help me.

One of the best verses in the Bible for this particular practice is found at the end of Psalm 139. David says:

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns.

See if there is any offensive way in me; lead me in the everlasting way.”

Psalm 139:23-24 HCSB

Basically, he’s saying “God, I’m inviting You into the deepest places of my heart, and I’m asking You to show me all the dirt and grime in the darkest corners and show me how to get rid of it.” That, in essence, is how you formulate your plan.


Step 4: Work the Plan…and Receive God’s Grace When You Don’t

This is the hardest part of any workout routine for me. I’m great at figuring out what needs to be done, but then life gets in the way, and I stop showing up. I think we all do this in different ways. In our workout routines, our marriages, our spiritual lives—in a myriad of areas we lose sight of our priorities and quit doing the work we set out to do.

Is this you? Congratulations! You’re human. 

Here’s what I have had a tendency to do in the past, and what you’re NOT going to do: you’re not going to let shame and disappointment keep you in a place of inaction. You’re not going to allow your inability to consistently work the plan keep you from doing the work God has called you to. Instead, you’re going to look to God, receive His grace, and start again. I don’t care if you have already done this a million times. I’m going to ask you to do it a million and one, two, three…to infinity.

Because here’s the thing—until you’re dead, you haven’t made it. If there’s still breath in your body and blood pumping through your lungs, God isn’t done with you; He has a plan and a purpose for your life, and He’s going to keep doing the sanctifying work in your soul that makes you look more like Jesus every day.

When Paul wrestled with his “thorn in the side,” he said:

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

You might be weak, but He’s strong. Lean into His grace and His strength.


Step 5: Get Help

As much as we try to be lone wolves, working out our plans and purposes alone, we were made for community. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”

When we fall down, we need help up, and frankly, we need people who know us well enough to know that we’ve fallen.

Furthermore, remember when I told you to make sure what you think the Holy Spirit is telling is in alignment with God’s Word? You need people around you who will tell you you’re wrong. Our hearts are desperately wicked when we’re operating out of our flesh, and we (or the enemy in our ears) can sometimes twist God’s Words or take them wildly out of context. You need people in your life who know the Bible well and will lovingly use it to correct you when you’re wrong.

In Summary

Just like fitness plans for our bodies, there is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for our souls. We need expert help and guidance to figure out what our needs are and to formulate and work a plan of action. We need to share our plan and our burdens with people we trust, knowing that through those relationships, God will strengthen us all.

What do you need to do today to start, or continue, growing strong in the Lord? And how can we help you get there? We want to come alongside you in your journey! Send us a message or let us know in the comments how we can help!

Picture of Alissa Coburn

Alissa Coburn

Alissa Coburn is madly in love with Jesus and her husband, Josiah, and her family. She has a passion for learning and teaching God's Word and loves to share about her spiritual walk with anyone willing to listen. She often says her love languages are transparency and vulnerability, and she tries to love others well by sharing her story with authenticity and a little bit of humor. When she's not working in ministry, you can find her homeschooling her kids, dancing in the kitchen with her husband, loving on grandbabies, or working on one of the many hobbies she's hopping between (which often include hand-lettering, watercolor painting, and crocheting).