Shaped by Faith: Are You Exercising for the Right Reasons?
While I would love to say otherwise, the original reason for starting an exercise program as an adult was the very superficial worldly desire to lose weight and look like the skinny models on the magazine covers. In my young mind this seemed very reasonable especially if it kept me motivated enough to exercise. With magazine cover and tape in hand, my fitness plan was pasted to the front of the refrigerator.
After Christina was born I initially lost all of my pregnancy weight, but while taking care of her the first year, I sat around the apartment, ate when she ate and watched soap operas. I blossomed into and felt like Pork-a-rella. Being strong-willed and with an all or nothing attitude, I made exercise one of those get it done daily rituals. Keep in mind this all took place before beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
My motive for exercise got me to the gym but it couldn’t make me like it. In fact, I dreaded it. Actually, I hated and loathed it. But I separated myself from my feelings and walked straight into little miss fitness instructor’s class. There she stood wearing her teeny tiny fitness top which displayed her well toned core. She was all about herself and I felt like a beached whale being observed by her adoring public. Even though living in a comparison world is unhealthy, I still wanted to look like she did. My shallow motivation was taking me out into the dark waters.
Somehow the shallow motivation kept me going until certifying as a fitness instructor. I wonder now if my training would have continued without becoming an instructor. Instructing classes recharged my motivational batteries and for a few years the satisfaction of teaching a great workout class was enough to keep me going. It was then, after a period of time, burn out began to set in and the great workout for my class became “just more work.”
Funny thing happened on the way to the burn out; God sent an invitation, by way of one of my students, to meet Jesus. My life, and my teaching, did a 180. Suddenly my purpose and motives for working out changed. By reading His Word, I discovered our bodies are basically on loan from God and we have been given the responsibility to take care of them.
I Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you at a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”
This created a new mind-set. Now, I was not only doing a good thing by exercising, it was being done for the right reason; to stay fit for God’s purposes and for His glory. The Living Bible translation of Proverbs 21:2 states it well, “We can justify our every deed, but God looks at our motives.” With proper motives God enriches every facet of life. With God the focus in all things, including exercise, our bodies and minds will be shaped for His purposes. Instead of dread there is excitement to working out and sharing the deeper meaning inside staying fit. There is joy in teaching when God is leading.
The best part, whether student or instructor, is the strength to endure and persevere comes from God. When our motives are pure and we stand on faith, in service to Him, we are no longer required to do it alone. Our physical fitness maturation, as with all aspects of our life, becomes a byproduct of our spiritual sanctification. When we yearn to be more like Jesus Christ, and less like ourselves and the world, it becomes easy to recognize our physical bodies are on loan from God! We desire to take care of our bodies, not out of guilt or shame, or because we have gained weight, but because Jesus shows us His way to be strong in service to Him.
Pastors, teachers and anyone working in the Ministry field may find there is a very limited amount of exercise time in their schedule because they are continually pouring themselves into the lives of others. While this is quite noble and maybe even understandable, it can eventually lead to health problems and burn out.
Ephesians 4:11 reads, “He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”
Sounds to me like the leaders in the church are going to need lots of energy and endurance to do all that is expected. No better reason than to schedule exercise time like you would any other important thing in ministry service. We need the leaders and they need to be re-fueled and recharged daily.
I want to leave you with I Timothy 4:6-10. Please read it carefully.
“You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God-no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gym are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. This is why we’ve thrown ourselves into this venture so totally. We’re banking on the living God, Savior of all men and women, especially believers.”