One would have to be living under a rock to not know we have grown larger as a people in the United States. Obesity is a growing concern in our nation. And, few in the church have bothered with the issue or even seen it as a problem. We have no problem addressing issues such as greed or guilt, but seldom do we approach the word gluttony. Yet, in my opinion, and experience, how I feel physically almost always impacts my spiritual life.
In Joshua 14, Caleb was 85 years old and “just as strong” as when he was called to mission. Somehow, to me, that seems to be a better motivation than learning to navigate the rocking chair and television remote. I’m not trying to be funny—and certainly not cruel—but I do believe as much as it depends on me, I should take care of the body God has given me. And, as a pastor, I have taken it personally to lead my church in total transformation: caring for their body, mind, and soul.
I haven’t always thought this way, but shortly into my thirties I began to get heavier. I had always been called “skinny”, but suddenly the candy bars began to catch up with me and my stomach approached near “Pillsbury Doughboy” proportions. It didn’t take long to realize that my new physical form was impacting me in every other way. Since then, for about the past 15 years, I have disciplined myself to be healthier. I have experienced remarkable difference. At 50 years of age, I feel better and am more productive now than I was in my mid-thirties.
Here are 5 ways physical training helps my total life—not just my physical life but my spiritual life as well:
- My mental capacity increases. I can focus better when I’m in better physical shape. In fact, if I want to work on a major project requiring extra brain power, I always spend an hour in the gym first. I don’t know all the chemical reasons exercise jars the mind, but I know the impact.
- I have more energy. I am in ministry. Some have said we are never really “off.” I try to discipline myself otherwise, because I believe in observing the Sabbath, but there is no question that our work can be very demanding. Kingdom work is too important not to give it every ounce of energy I can muster. Exercise energizes me to be more productive.
- I am more disciplined. Discipline leads to more discipline. When I am disciplined in one area of my life, it transfers to other areas of my life—including the process of my spiritual formation. I am most disciplined with my personal devotion time, my pastoral studies, and my development as a Christian leader when I am disciplined in my physical training.
- Forced rest. Some people don’t need this, but I am wired to work. I have a self-confessed (probably prone to being sinful) workaholic tendency. I would always be working unless I made myself rest. Exercise does three things for me. It makes me more tired at the end of the day—actually a good kind of tired. I want to rest. It makes me more disciplined, as in the previous point. Finally, it also provides me with a more balanced outlook on life. When I am exercising I can’t be checking emails or using social media as easily. It’s a forced way to unplug, and I feel more peaceful.
- Other tasks seem lighter – After I’ve pushed my body to an extreme, the other strenuous parts of my day have less impact. I’m more fit for the journey. I tire less, and I excel more. I’m more prepared for the Kingdom opportunities God brings my way when I’m in the best physical shape I can be.
Whenever I talk about the importance of physical fitness as a pastor, I’m always reminded that there are more important issues that need addressing. I agree. No argument. Paul said it like this, “for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way…” (1 Timothy 4:8, HCSB). The problem is when we don’t recognize the limited benefit, when we don’t address the issue at all, or when we live like it has no benefit at all. Often it is the more minor issues which keep us from addressing the major issues.
Let me close with this challenge. Test my claim. Spend some time addressing the physical needs in your life for a period of time long enough to make a difference. Try it for at least thirty days. Then you decide if it is worth your attention. I am confident you will find it well worth the time and effort you put into it.
What value have you seen in physical training, especially as it helps you in spiritual training?