As an eighth grader leaving Chisholm Middle School, I was introduced to the Newton High weight room and to Ted Jantz, the Head Football Coach. I was decent as a football player, but I gained an even more important life skill from Coach Jantz; the life skill of achieving and maintaining physical fitness. When my classmates and I toured the school, we were allowed to go upstairs to the weight room. It was in that weight room, at Newton High School, that I found a life skill that will always be with me.
I am forever thankful to Coach Jantz for teaching me that I can always transform my body if I am willing to put in the discipline and hard work to do so. Physical fitness means controlling my body, not allowing my body to control me. Physical fitness means always exercising a certain amount of discipline about what I eat, what I drink, how much sleep I get, and how much I exercise to keep myself in balance. Physical fitness means having an awareness that I’m only given one body and that it’s up to me to take care of it.
As I’m sure many of you have experienced in your own lives, I have a love-hate relationship with keeping my body in the shape it needs to be in. There’s a war that is waged daily between what I think I need and what I actually need. Will I choose to take that walk rather than watch that television show? Will I use portion control when my favorite meal is cooked? Will I practice keeping social media in its proper place so that my sleep isn’t interrupted? Will I allow myself at least one full day off from work each week so that I can decompress?
Many of us struggle with succumbing to a negative thought process about ourselves. If we fail to have the discipline we need to obtain physical fitness for one day; that doesn’t mean we need to allow that to stretch into a week of failures or a month of failures. Worse yet, we may be tempted to give up, allowing the pattern to go on for years. If you fail 182 days of the year but have success on the remaining 183 days, then focus on the wins, not the losses. Set a small obtainable goal for yourself and celebrate the results of your success. I set the goal of bench pressing 300 pounds on my 40th birthday. I had always benched around 250 or more. I was content with the thought that any amount equal to my body weight and beyond was great! But setting that goal motivated me, and I attained it two weeks before my birthday. Now every year I set a small attainable goal that I try to achieve on or around my birthday.
My life skill of physical fitness changed into a value in graduate school. In one of my theology classes our teacher had us read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I would strongly encourage all Christians who read this blog to read this book. It’s well worth the read. In his book, Foster identifies three categories of disciplines inward (prayer, fasting, meditation, and study), outward (simplicity, solitude, submission, and service), and corporate (confession, worship, guidance, and celebration). Dr. John Auckerman came to class prepared to focus on spiritual disciplines and to expand our understanding of how important they are to a Christian’s daily life. To inward disciplines he added journaling, silence, and reading of Scripture. To outward he added testimony and accountability. To corporate he added proclamation and community. On top of Richard Foster’s categories, he added an altogether new category which he named physical disciplines. Immediately when I saw his addition I realized, for the first time in my life, that physical fitness is an action offered unto the Lord.
Dr. Auckerman included proper diet, regular exercise, stress management, sufficient sleep, and relaxation under the heading of physical disciplines. Seeing this category included under spiritual disciplines brought me to an important realization. God gives us one body with which to serve him. The better we take care of the body he has given us, the more fully we can do the work he has set out for us. In I Corinthians 6:19-20 the Apostle Paul says, “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.” Here Paul is talking about sexual immorality as a sin against “our own body.”
Unfortunately, the Apostle Paul is not here to ask; but I think it’s safe to say that he would agree that sexual immorality is not the only sin against “our own bodies.” Not maintaining the temple we have been given was considered by the early Christian monks the chief of all sins. They called this sin gluttony, which is the over-consumption of “things” so that they are withheld from others that need them.
Christianity Today, in an article called RX for Gluttony (August 28, 2000), states, “between ages 20 and 50, the average person spends about 20,000 hours—over 800 days—eating.” Our daily schedules are often planned around mealtimes. Business deals are cut among people who “do” lunch together. We have TV dinners, fast-food drive-up windows, and tailgate parties.
Consuming things is a problem in our culture. I saw one study that said that 40 percent of the people who were polled said their greatest fear was “getting fat.” At any one time there are more than 70 million people in American on a diet, and particularly in this month of January, I’m sure the number is the highest it will be all year. The Bible is the only book that outsells dieting resources. This is good news, because my own greatest fear is that people will enter their eternal destiny without the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ in their lives.
Christianity has lost its sense of over-consumption being a sin. Instead we have entangled it with cultural and psychological language that makes over-consumption a disorder and not an absence of discipline. This psychological and cultural language has replaced the language of morality so that we no longer see over-consumption as a real spiritual issue.
We can be gluttonous with food, drink, the resources of our environment, and wealth when we over-consume; which withholds these items from those in need. But what if gluttony is taking so much into our body, in the form of food and drink (without the ability to burn it off through exercise), that we deprive others of something else they desperately need? As Christians, we’ve got to begin to see ourselves as God sees us. We are the tool in the hand of God that brings the message of Jesus Christ to the world. Whether you know it or not, whether you accept it or not, God needs you to build His kingdom and those around you need you too! This means not taking care of our bodies withholds a needed resource from those who need us. My prayer for you is that you will commit to physical fitness as a spiritual discipline and that it will become a value you hold in high regard. It is my prayer that you will be available to minister to those whom God has called upon your life to reach!