“[A]part from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us throw off … and let us run …. ” Hebrews 11:40b-12:1 (NASB)
This passage in Hebrews has left me awe-struck. And I find it curious that, although I have read and studied it many times before, it has never struck me in the way it does now. God is using it in profound ways in my life.
Hebrews 11 & 12 discuss the reality — God’s reality — that how I live my Christian life matters not only to me and to God, but also to every one of God’s people in the course of history. How I run my race matters to Moses and Abraham and Paul and Peter, etc., etc. That blows my mind!
You see, for the most part, I have never really enjoyed participating in team sports. I have always loved fitness and exercise, but as for sports, I always gravitated to the individual sports. Too much pressure or something in the team sports. But now I am on Team Jesus … and the team members are not only those I interact with in the here and now, but also those who have ever played for Him throughout the ages. Given my history with teams, you’d think that might paralyze me, but actually it inspires me to run my race more intentionally — with more focus and inspiration. As only the Spirit can do, this passage is increasing my desire to play my role well because it can help the whole team.
God made people the crowning jewel of creation. And a God sent His one and only Son to restore and redeem people. On top of that, God desires to see all of creation redeemed and restored. I’m not sure what goes on in heaven, but I am now convinced that if those are the things that are on the heart of God, then those are the things that are on the heart of His saints in heaven. Just because their “at bat” is over, do you not think they are interested in how the rest of the team in doing? I do, for Hebrews tells us that apart from us, they will not be made perfect.
Therefore, let us through off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us ….” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)
1) Whenever we see a “therefore” in Scripture, we always want to ask what it is there for. In this passage, “therefore” refers back to the prior chapter’s description of the great faith displayed by so many of the saints who have gone before. And more pointedly, it refers to the prior two verses in 11:39-40: “All of the people we have mentioned received God’s approval because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had far better things in mind for us that would also benefit them, for they can’t receive the prize at the end of the race until we finish the race.” (NLT) In other words, our race is somehow inextricably linked to the glory or prize of all the saints.
2) We are encouraged to throw off everything that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles us. It will help our race, and it will somehow contribute to our “prize” … but it will also somehow contribute to the prize of all the saints. Wow.
What does this have to do with fitness?
1) It is another reminder that all of us is important. Every aspect of us — our body, mind & spirit — and each and every part of our bodies is important, just like every Christ follower is important to the body of Christ. (Reminds me of Romans 12:3-5 & 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.)
2) For me, it not only provides Biblical motivation to run my Christian race well, it also provides great fodder for my mind and my heart when I physically run … for I believe that God moves in my spirit while I move in my body (or should I say His body?), especially as I meditate upon Him & His truths.
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author & perfecter of our faith….” Hebrews 12:1b-2a (NIV)
When I first began following Christ, I mistakenly internalized this passage to mean “run your race with perfection ….” Of course, this interpretation led to frustration & agony on several levels. But, of course, that is not what the author intended. He intended to encourage us to run our race with perseverance & endurance. As I’ve aged in my walk with Christ, the distinction has has become poignantly more clear and has several important implications to me, including:
1) I will struggle and stumble, sometimes I might want to quit, and I will fall down from time to time. Running with perseverance doesn’t mean running with perfection. It means getting back up when I fall down and never giving up. It means keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus while I am running and even when I stumble. He is my motivation when I run, and He is my motivation to get back up again.
2) Running with perseverance & endurance implies it’s going to be a long race. Not a sprint; more like a marathon. And marathon runners will tell you, one of the keys to running such long distances is to stay relaxed. Relax your hands, your arms, your face — relaxing everything except the legs. And it takes thought and intentionality to stay relaxed during a long race. It’s unnatural. We want to push and drive and strain ahead on our own energy. But we won’t make it that way. Long distance runners have to train to stay relaxed. And so we, in our spiritual race, have to learn to stay surrendered. We have to seek to keep our hearts softened and surrendered to Jesus. It is not natural. We have to be intentional about it, but it’s the only way we will finish the race He has set before us.
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” 1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)
Exercise has been a form of worshipping God for me as long as I can remember. Seeing nourishment as a related way to worship God is a more recent development for me — a way God has been growing me over the past several years. But every bit as equally, how we nourish our bodies is part of how we steward this amazing creation God has given us. Here are a few things God has shown me:
1) As 1 Corinthians 6 discusses, God has released us from His dietary laws. Some of us, however, may function better with certain dietary restrictions (e.g., I function better off dairy and gluten). Regardless, we have choices to make when we eat. And out of all of our options, some choices are more profitable than others, and God encourages us to make the more profitable choices. For many of us, one of the more profitable choices we can make would be to eat more fruits and vegetables (at least 50% of what we consume per day!)
2) God encourages us not to be mastered by anything. Whether it is potato chips, bread, chocolate, Coca-cola, or alcohol, God wants us to be free from slavery to anything. He wants us to be free to follow & adore Him. So the work begins to discern what has the potential to control and master us … & to instead make more profitable choices.
3) Food is made to fuel the body. Not the other way around. Food is meant to fuel the body. And while our societies have found ways to make food quite enjoyable, food’s main objective is to fuel the body. In our home, we often tell our young children that many of the things we eat are for our bodies, not for our mouths. So consider consuming more fuel for your body than you do pleasure for your mouth.
“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.
“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.
“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.