This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart. I have not always been a Christian. So when I discuss this, it’s not from the perspective, “well that’s what Christians do their whole lives”. I’ve been involved in athletics pretty much all my life. I was on and off swim teams since I was about 8 years old. I played football from when I was eleven years old until I was seventeen. I worked at the local YMCA where I played basketball, racquetball, weights, and other stuff here and there. I’ve stayed active for the last 40 odd years mostly training and participating in triathlons, also kickboxing and a little basketball mixed in. If anyone can get me into to a racquetball regular game, I’d love it if someone could hook me up with a regular racquetball game again.
Having said all that, yes, it’s been a regular part of my life. And frankly, while I do try, I’ve never been good at anything. It was necessary, serving in the Coast Guard Reserve, my job was operational. I had to stay in condition, because I could be called on at any time to be involved in very physically strenuous situations. So yes, I’ve had a reason to stay active for a long time and it’s been an important part of my life. It really drags me down when I don’t keep up a regular routine. So who knows, maybe I need those endorphins, dopamine etc in order to feel good. But as I grew as a Christian and have become a pastor, I’ve realized that we do have a responsibility to maintain the body God gave us and to especially not abuse it. Now believe me, I’m not any “George Gorgeous”, if you saw me I look pretty much of a dumpy old guy. But… a year ago, I did get a stress test done because of a minor issue. The technician asked me if I worked out because she could see it on the results I was producing and when the doctor looked at my results, he pretty much told me to “get outta here, you’re wasting my time”.
Having said all this, in no way shape or manner am I saying that to be a “good Christian” you need to be in great shape. It’s not a works thing, but in my continual discussion about our “relationship” with Jesus, He gave us our body, mind, everything we have. Don’t most of us want to be in good shape and look good for our spouse, SO? Don’t we want to feel good, have energy, all the benefits of good health? The better we maintain ourselves, the better we serve our Savior, our family, our brothers and sisters in Jesus, the church etc. So don’t we serve and relate better to everyone involved when we do the best we can to maintain ourselves?
Now, IN NO WAY SHAPE FORM OR MANNER, am I saying that you can only be a good Christian if you’re in good physical condition, you’re all pretty and photogenic and all that stuff. Too many “churches” have some need to be all pretty and everyone associated all pretty, that is straight out phoney, hollow and misguided. It’s sort of in the sense of the “cool kids” table in high school. No that’s unacceptable in a Christian church. We need churches that are authentic, phoniness in the church is killing the church and is leaving too many others to die without Jesus. I’ve known plenty of great saints who could barely lift themselves, no less a dumbbell. And believe me I have my own issues that need to be dealt with, I’m not trying to sell that I’m perfect. What I am trying to say is that we still strive to be the best we can with what God gives us. There is way too much mediocrity, and excuses out there. We are called to be perfect as our Father is perfect. Let’s do what we can to strive for that goal, but accepting that no matter what, all of us will fall short and most (like me), miserably so.
An article in Christianity Today (June 2013 pp 39-43) discussing this very subject and I think is a really good perspective. One beef I do have with many Christians is their ability to phoney themselves, their church, their lives in general up. Which certainly does not enhance our witness in the world and refers back to my “cool kids table”. If you’re a Christian and concerned about being part of the “cool kids”, you are already way off track. The world is phoney beyond all question. Why do we keep trying to emulate the world? The church has to be authentic, warts, chubby pastors (like me), lack of talent, but authentic, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Leslie Leyland Fields makes some great points and does sternly caution against a wrongheaded approach to encouraging all that God’s given us. We should be strong in mind, body and spirit. Doesn’t always work out that way, sometimes due to circumstances beyond our control But we should work on what is in our control, not because it makes us better, but frankly makes us a better witness to Christ. Ms Fields quotes Charlie Shedd: “…if our bodies are to be [or already are] temples of the Holy Spirit, we had best get them down to the size God intended.” Fair enough.
“PraiseMoves cites 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 as its foundational verses: ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.’ … Many in the faith and wellness movement cite the apostle Paul: ‘Whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.”
I really like Ms Fields point: “…outside the church, it challenges the prevailing notion that our bodies belong to us alone – either as machines to be hacked and fueled, or as ‘plastic’ to be reshaped, starved, pierced and used for pleasure or vanity. and inside the church, it challenges the dualistic worldview that God cares only about ‘spiritual’ matters.”
To be sure, as Ms Fields points out, we do not become stupid, obsessive and phoney over the subject of physical fitness and conditioning. We do it with intelligence, planning, something that we will benefit from on many levels. With the mind-set of serving God, that we want to build our relationship with Him, that we want to serve our family, fellow Christians, our church to the best of our ability and this is one way to do it. Realizing that regardless of our physical condition we are to always serve the Lord and the Body of Christ. But to quote Nike “just do it”. How about a church filled with people who do strive, who do want to bless each other, who are spiritually, mentally and physically doing their best in order to disciple others to strive to be their best for Christ who gave us His best.