Exercise as Worship I

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.”  1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV)

(By a very slight margin, you guys voted to hear about exercise as worship first. My next post, however, will address nourishment.)

Exercise as worship!? Isn’t that an oxymoron, you say? No, it’s not. Exercise can be an amazing pathway to meet with God. Here are a few tips to start:

1) Enter your exercise time in a posture of prayer. By that, I mean to begin your exercise time with an expectancy to meet with God. Just as you might enter a church service, a prayer meeting, a small group experience or serving opportunity … enter your exercise time with a desire and expectancy to meet with God. Set your thoughts on things above and look to Him and for Him during your workout. Talk to Him … or simply quiet your mind and listen for His still, small voice.

2) Equip yourself with a personal, inspirational verse. Mine is Philippians 4:13 — I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Whenever I’m getting tired, bored or just want to quit, I recite Philippians 4:13 to myself. When I am trying something new or hard and begin to doubt myself, I recite Philippians 4:13 and trust Him to help me do my best. There are many great verses. (Caution: this is not permission to try to do stupid stuff, calling on Jesus to help you. This is within the context of reasonable challenges appropriate for your current fitness level.)

3) Run your own race. By that, I mean to forget about the people around you and what they are doing. Don’t look at the speed they are running or the amount of weight they are lifting.  Run your own race. Choose appropriate challenges for yourself and stop comparing. It’s like what Jesus said to Peter when Peter asked about the fate of another disciple; Jesus said, “what’s that to you? You follow me.” (John 21:22). This is not a comparative race.  Focus only on you and God when you workout.  You have your race. They have theirs.

Acts of Worship

“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — that is your true and proper worship.”   Romans 12:1  (NIV)

In view of the mercy that the Father has extended to us through Christ — in light of all we have received in Christ — Paul urges us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, as an act of worship. Is it odd to you that the body can be offered as an act of worship?

So often, the messages I have received from the Christian community is that the body is “flesh,” evil … or at the very least, insignificant. But I don’t believe that is Biblical. The body is a beautiful and incredible instrument that God has given and entrusted to us. It is in and through this amazing body that anything and everything we do flows. And I believe the way we care for our bodies can truly be an act of worship.

How? As with most things, it starts with a perspective shift.  A renewing of your mind.  As Paul continues in Romans 12, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Then we begin the work of integrating our renewed perspective into the daily way we do things.  As with any new spiritual practice, it takes intentionality, focus and repetition at first, but it soon becomes second nature.

So the first step is to ask God to help you renew your mind about the way you interact with and treat your body.  God is able to renew and restore damage done by others or by our own hands!  Then, take a step of faith consistent with your renewed perspective.  In the coming days I will begin posting some helpful ideas and practices in two key areas:  how we nourish and how we strengthen our bodies as spiritual acts of worship.  Use this poll to let me know which you want to hear about first.  

SHEMA

“Hear o Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”  Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NIV)

The SHEMA is an ancient Jewish prayer that is arguably one of the most important prayers is Judaism.  It is recited in the morning and evening prayer services.  It begins with “Hear o Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

As Christians (Judeo-Christians, to be specific), we have come to understand  The Lord as three in one.  God is one, and yet God is triune — Father, Son and Spirit.  There are three aspects, or three faces, of God … yet God is still one.  I believe that one of the ways God made us in His image is that He made us triune.  We too are one and yet triune — body, mind and spirit.  And God has asked us to worship and love Him with all of who we are.  God desires for us to love Him with our heart and our soul and our strength — with our complete triunity.

God didn’t have to make us with a body.  But He did.  God doesn’t have to give us a new body in the afterlife (why not let us be all spirit?), but He will.  (See e.g., Romans 8:23, 1 Corinthians 15:45-58, & 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.). For His reasons, God values the body.  And he asks us to love Him with all that He made us to be.  Let us worship and adore God with this body, while we still can.

God Causes the Growth

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” — 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)

The risk in discussing fitness — in discussing fitness in a Christian context — is the implication that I am adopting the world’s standards of health & beauty as mine for fitness. May it never be! Anoerxia, bulimia, plastic surgery, enhancements and the like are all symptoms of a culture that is striving after an unrealistic ideal the world has set up.

Instead, I believe that each one of us is fearfully and wonderfully made by God (see Psalm 139:14).  I believe God created each of us as unique individuals, and the bodies He gave to each of us are as unique as our individual thumbprints. God has an ideal “you” in mind — the one He created since the beginning of time. Yes, that includes your talents, abilities & contributions to His kingdom … but I believe it also includes the body He gave you. It includes the temple He entrusted to you. (See March 27, 2014 post).  He wants to see all aspects of you renewed and redeemed.

So the point is not to strive after (or settle for) thinness or beauty as the world defines it.  The objective is to care for this temple He has given us and, in the process, perhaps discover more of its true, inherent, God-given beauty.  Our job is to care for the temple — to nourish it, strengthen it, stretch it, cultivate it, care for it, replenish it. The results are up to God.

So forget the ideals and goals the world lays upon you.  You care for the temple. Leave the results to God.

Body as Sacred

“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 with a price.  Therefore honor God with your bodies.”  I Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

As a Christ-follower, I have heard numerous sermons on this verse over the years.  Almost all of them have been about one of three things:  sexual impurity, addiction or, perhaps, self-mutilation.  While I whole-heartedly agree that God doesn’t desire those three things for us or our bodies, I also believe He has so much more in mind.

What if we began a dialogue about treating our bodies as something beautiful and holy that God created?  (Which, of course, He did). What if we began to care for our bodies in kind, caring & respectful ways?  What if we thought about fueling it properly, strengthening and growing it to its fuller potential, and ensuring it received the rest that it needs?  What if we began to see our bodies as one of the most amazing gifts that God has given us and began to steward it accordingly?

I think it’s time to reclaim our bodies as something sacred.  How about you?