Have you ever done what Christianity Today columnist Carolyn Arends wrote about: “spiritualizing” a tendency toward avoiding physical fitness by focusing on “soul things: instead of “body things?” How can Christians keep these two arenas of stewardship in appropriate balance?
Oh sure; I’ve sometimes been guilty of thinking that workout fiends were simply worshiping their own bodies, wasting time, or at the least, investing in only temporary rewards. While I still think there’s a real danger in placing such enormous emphasis on the physical realm, there’s an equal and opposite danger in neglecting the body entirely. It takes wisdom, discernment, and attentiveness to the Holy Spirit for each believer to strike the right balance in their own lives.
Have you ever noticed, as Karen did, a connection between your spiritual discipline and physical discipline? How so? Reflect on how this connection might be experienced in your life in everyday ways.
An improvement in my physical condition has always resulted in better mental clarity and self-discipline overall, but I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed a spiritual connection until now.
Can you pinpoint other “soul” issues that could be helped by focusing on physical fitness? How often do you hear of pastors and counselors suggesting that physical fitness can help in the process of healing and recovery?
I’ve battled depression at several points in my life and a few years ago, one of my counselors suggested mild physical activity as one strategy. She recommended taking regular walks along with meditation as a way to relieve stress and build some calm into my day. Though I never made either a long-term daily habit, I did find them helpful at the time.
Reread 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Correct doctrine (what we believe) is an essential component of true faith, but what does this verse teach us about how our commitment to Christ calls us to something beyond that?
Christ wants not just our hearts and minds, but our bodies as well. For some, this may mean a specific calling as demanding as dedicating our physical selves to work across the globe as missionaries. For all of us, it means a general calling to dedicate these vessels of the Holy Spirit to his service no matter where we are placed. At the very least, we are charged with supporting our bodies with the best health and fitness of which we are capable.
The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:20 tells us to “honor God with [our] bodies,” but in 1 Thessalonians 4:4, he seems to suggest this isn’t something we do naturally: “Each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable.” How might this “learning” be experienced in your life?
I agree that physical discipline is not innate! For me, it involves a repeated choice to set aside comfort and cravings and choose what is good for me. Sometimes that involves exertion when I feel lazy, good nutrition when I’d rather eat some junk, or using my body and energies for service or fellowship when I’d prefer to stay on the couch. This learning of physical discipline is such a slow process for me, and like most meaningful endeavors, it usually involves plain old hard work along with some level of personal discomfort.
Karen says, “People want to hear about grace and about how much God loves then, about how they are good enough just as they are. There’s a lot of truth in that, but the message about weight in our churches is that it’s rude to say to someone that they need to lose weight– so we just don’t address it.” Do you agree that this is the current trend? What do you think of it? What would an ideal approach or response toward these issues look like?
I’m still not sure that people should call others out on their weight in general, but I do think that there’s room for that kind of specific conversation in the context of a loving friendship where people are open with each other. One response could be teaming up with a friend to build exercise habits or educating others about nutrition and risky health choices. I think there’s a way to communicate concern for another person, and probably even rebuke and correction, if needed, without loading on additional judgment or shame on a person who likely already feels the weight of embarrassment too keenly.
Favorite quotes from this chapter
The curse of today is that so many Christians equate bodily sins with sexual sins. The only possible bodily sin, in their minds, is related to lust. If they’re not sinning sexually, they believe these verses don’t apply to them. The contemporary age of the church is the only generation that has believed this.
… though exercise and staying in shape require a lot of work and even regular pain, not being in shape requires its own pains and labors. If I’m going to hurt in this fallen world– and everyone of us will– I’d rather hurt and be sore getting in shape than hurt and be sore because my body isn’t fit.