“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.
“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.