Make Fitness an Act of Worship
by Cheri Strange, Ph.D.
September is here, and that means lots of things are beginning to look different. And different is good, for most of us, even if we don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Across the past six months, you an I have been home a lot. Home, with all our people, possibly more than ever before. We might call it The Staycation That Would Not End. On the lighter side, the saying goes that most of us will emerge from our forced staycation as drunks, monks, hunks, or chunks.
Honestly, a couple of months into the quarantine, I went to my first outside girls gathering, and this small group of women stood around confessing their leanings toward the chunk designation. Apparently, none of their pants fit because no one was wearing pants (or regular clothes) and all they had been doing was eating. I get it. Corona has not been kind to us. So today, I want to take those predictions by the horns by talking about how you and I can make fitness an act of worship.
Now before you stop reading, I’m not a health fanatic or about to point you to holy yoga. Keep your sugar, your coffee, your M&Ms in your purse, or your wheat germ with kale smoothie streaks. I simply want to lead us through some guiding principles that demonstrate Jesus followers have a responsibility for their bodies. How to make fitness an act of worship is something we should absolutely be aiming toward.
Five Guiding Principles to Make Fitness an Act of Worship
1. Remember it is a holy responsibility
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 1 Cor 3:16
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor 6:19-20
The moment I became a follower in Christ, my physical body took up the residence of the Holy Spirit. Now, unlike those in our society, I am not supposed to be trying to get the attention of other people to gaze at me and my body when I am out and about, or by my social media posts. It matters not whether I can pull off a bikini successfully or not. That is not the issue. Paul is reminding us here twice, that it’s not my body to flaunt or accentuate. And it’s not yours.
Filling my body with bags of M&Ms and Oreos and cheese fries until I pop is not on the table, either. But starving it half to death and exercising four hours a day in order to gain the approval of others or even self-gratification is also out of place. These, my friend, are the things you and I do left to ourselves.
We neglect to keep in the front of our minds who is living in us and the gravity of that reality. Ours is a holy responsibility because the spirit within us is holy. Making fitness an act of worship, rather than a chore we need to accomplish, will help us to keep in mind the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
2. Remember the Christian life is a life of discipline
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. 1 Cor 9:24-27
Again, Paul is talking to the same audience. He continues to use this same physical comparison of the body and exercise with the disciplines of the Christian life. It is not as if you throw caution to the wind and simply embrace your spiritual side at the expense of your physique (barring medical limitations).
The tragic reality most of the time is that we simply don’t like the discipline of it. We don’t want to run or walk, or hop, skip, or plank. Why? Because it’s hard.
In light of what Paul has just said, it seems the expectation is that we will do both. We will exhibit self-control to discipline the temple of our bodies, AND we will aim toward self-control and discipline to keep our wants and desires and impulses under control spiritually as well. He’s issuing it as one and the same mentality. It’s aiming and disciplining. You and I need a plan and the will to execute that plan. In the Christian life, we cannot get away from these necessities for growth. To make fitness an act of worship is just part of the Christian walk.
3. Your Fitness is not just about you
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Hebrews 12:10-13
At first glance, these verses seem all about the individual. But the message of Hebrews is one of community. I am responsible for you and you for me. The writer here admits that no discipline is fun. But it’s necessary because it changes us from the inside out. But more than that, your changing impacts those entrusted to you, so don’t make it harder than it needs to be. The writer is charging us to make the paths straight so others can follow. The picture given is that of wagon wheel ruts that the next person down the road tries to follow to keep them on the right path.
That’s you, my friend. So your discipline matters. Your fitness as worship matters beyond whether you feel like it or not, or whether you value it or not. You are creating paths for others. So let us make them worth following.
4. It builds our endurance
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Hebrews 12:1
In other words, our discipline in this area, as worship, builds our own endurance so that we can do more and greater things. It’s just like when I got this hair-brained idea to run the Oklahoma City Marathon. (A marathon is 26.2 miles.) I had never completed more than six miles in my life and that had only happened once. (Incidentally, I ended up doing not only that one, but another, and a couple of halves.) I am a squatty body, non-athlete. There are two reasons I find this example so powerful when I think about endurance.
- I never thought I could have done it. I went from couch potato to finisher, and all it took was sheer discipline. No ability. Zero physical prowess. No special traits coming into the situation. Just doing the deeds. Day after day. And I did it. Me. The squatty body, non-athlete. Honestly, it did so much for me, and my understanding of what I can accomplish lies beyond my actual ability, I wish I had done it years before. Sister, you have no idea what you can do until you put your discipline to work. No, you cannot hop out and run a marathon today. But by training and showing up, you can. The Christian life is so much like training for a long, long race that looks impossible to complete. It is. But if we show up every day, put those shoes on, seeking God to renew us, and transform us, we will build that endurance.
- The second element is a picture I will never forget. When you begin the race, it’s early in the morning. Dark. Chilly. Everyone lines up long before the gun fires starting the race, so there is a lot of standing and waiting in your spot. You, along with literally ten thousand other people. Everyone is wearing sweat pants, sweatshirts, gloves, earmuffs, hats, extra layers. Scarfs. But when that race begins, within the first five miles, people begin throwing off all that garb. The roads are strewn with clothes, where people have thrown off what they had on. They don’t need it to run. That’s what the writer is talking about. Throwing off everything and anything that is going to slow you down, because finishing well is the goal and it’s a long, long race. He knows you are never going to make it if you are carrying extra stuff. To make fitness an act of worship helps us put these ideas together. It’s one and the same pursuit. What is keeping you from running your best race today? What is slowing you down? The encouragement here is to get rid of it. You don’t need it. You won’t make it unless you throw it aside.
From one non-athlete turned finisher – to you, wherever you line up on this–the path from couch potato to finisher–from louse to experiencing the disciplined life you long for–is often a matter of putting on your shoes and showing up. Building that endurance. So that tomorrow – you can go just a little further. Because it’s a long, long race – and it’s yours to win.
5. Your life should look different than your neighbor’s
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. 1 Cor 6:12
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
Your fitness may look different than your neighbor’s. And it should because you are doing yours as an act of worship. Right?
Maybe it will be the clothes you wear. It could be the music. Or the language you use and the joking you share. For my daughter, an obvious clash has been clothing. Often she has been the only girl on the team wearing a shirt. Yes. A shirt. Everyone else is wearing a sports bra, only. Even when we are not monitoring her behavior, her practice is the same. She simply does not feel comfortable. Why? Because her body is not her own. She is being transformed rather than conformed by her surroundings.
Do our decisions slap our culture in the kisser in ways that leave us having to make daily choices against our natures driven toward comfort and delectable delicacies, beach-lounging, and our need to be found beautiful? Why, YES. But we are not our own. We were bought with a price.
What are You Suggesting?
Today, I am not suggesting that if your BMI exceeds the normal range or you tip the scales either way, or you get winded going up and down a flight of stairs, or you decide to train for a difficult race that requires more focus that you are living in sin. No. Nothing like that.
What I am attempting to suggest is that you and I take Paul’s message and the writer of Hebrew’s encouragement to heart. That we begin to live as if the Holy Spirit really resides within us. To believe today that these bodies of ours that can take up so much of our attention- moving our focus OFF OF WORSHIP, are truly instruments OF worship. And to make strides to move them back into this rightful position.
Helpful Resources to Make Fitness an Act of Worship
As you go on this week, I want to provide you with a few resources to help you get on your way.
- Walking App: BetterMe., It provides a profile, goal weight, water intake, workouts, step tracking, etc. FREE.
- Plant Nanny. It gives you a plant to water which grows based upon how many glasses of water you consumer per day.
- On-line Accountability Group. Find an accountability group even while we are social distancing. My friend, Meredith, hosts one on Instagram. I’ve known her since she was hardly an adult. Since then she has had three kids and moved all over the country and has become a fitness coach. She provides things like menus, workout plans, accountability, and encouragement, from a Christian perspective. You can find her on Instagram @my.faithandfitness –
- Spotify. I find it so much easier to worship when I am literally moving to music that moves my thoughts and heart toward God. I have created a walking playlist and I am sharing it with you today. It has about 30 minutes of Christian music you can walk to. Just click on the link and it will take you to the playlist. Download it to your device and you are all set. But you MUST have a Spotify account.
- Change/Take Your Plate. Try this if you are struggling with your food intake, as in, it’s too much. (That’s most of us.) Here is a trick I pickup up a long time ago that has really helped me through the decades. When at home, eat on smaller plates. When you’re out, plan on taking a portion home. Decide before you go, that you will not finish your meal. Generally, for most Americans, we struggle with portion size. It’s not that we eat too little, we binge on too much. No one needs all the food restaurants put on our plates. In fact, Time magazine recently reported on a study finding that 92% of restaurant meals provided more calories than is recommended for the average person and that the portion sizes were “obscene.” We often carry that bad vibe home, adding too much to the rest of our meals. Get a cute little plate you love. Or a set of them. Make it your dinner plate. Plan on a doggy bag if you get food out. And you will be on your way to increasing your portion control and focusing the fit-ness of your temple on someone greater than yourself.
You are not alone.
Remember, don’t do this alone. We are here for each other. You and I are the Body of Christ – and within that Body (capital B) is a collection of bodies hosting the Holy Spirit within. May we think more intentionally about how to make fitness an act of worship every single day of our lives. May we talk about it, sharing, helping, and nurturing each other, even at a distance as we go. You, my friend, can do this.
For His Glory,
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