It’s the beginning of a new year. That means that gym membership subscriptions are up. Maybe you are one who wants to make a difference in your fitness level this year, and you are finding yourself in the gym for the first time wandering around from machine to machine feeling like you are an alien on a foreign planet.
Fitness is somewhat of a controversial subject to talk about among pastors. I think because some of us downplay it and others make it out to be a bigger issue than the Bible does. Some church leaders, who shall remain nameless, spend way too much time in the gym. It looks like they buy shirts from the little boys section to show off their bulging biceps. Working out becomes just another thing that feeds their own narcissism. Others eat very unhealthy diets and neglect exercise entirely.
I contend that it is important for pastors, church planters, and other church leaders to take care of their bodies and their fitness. However, I’d also warn pastors not to let fitness take over their lives. Both extremes are unhealthy.
I know it is not easy to implement health and fitness changes into your life. Good pastors spend their time with people. People gather together while they eat. It is good to meet with people over lunch and dinner. However, it can also make it very difficult to keep control of what you are consuming. I love good cheeseburgers. I crave them. The more meat and cheese the better. I even like it when you get different meats on top of the burger such as bacon or pastrami. However, it’s not always good for my health. In order to change your health, you have to be intentional to make it a priority.
1 Timothy 4:8 says, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Biblically, physical fitness comes secondary to spiritual fitness. It should never arrive on the same level. However, the Bible also is not arguing that we should neglect physical fitness. As long as the physical is secondary to the spiritual, I believe it is good and right. Here are several reasons why I believe it is beneficial to take care of body fitness.
1. You will have more energy.
Living in Utah, I have several outdoor hobbies that I enjoy. There’s hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, mountain biking, ultimate frisbee, and others. Obviously, in the summer, there is more opportunity to spend outdoors than in the winter. I find that the more active I am, the more energy I have overall. When my kids want me to throw them in the air or carry them down the stairs, I don’t have to pull out an oxygen tank.
The more active you are, the more energy you will have for your family and for your church. Church life is busy. In fact, it’s way busier than I ever thought it would be before becoming a pastor. We need energy to keep going. Taking care of your diet and exercise will help you have more energy for your busy schedules.
2. You will have less health problems.
I realize that physical fitness will not remove health problems from your life. There are many health problems that plague perfectly normal people. But, there are also many problems that are preventable. Problems that can be avoided through taking care of physical health.
3. It will put you in a better emotional state.
When you eat right and you work out, many find that they feel better about themselves. Physical health can often be a nagging problem that often brings guilt and shame whenever you think about it. You want to get to the gym, but you’re not sure how to start. You want to eat better and change your diet, but you find it’s too difficult to avoid the late night cookies or snacks. Once you start, you may find that you feel good just for going. Hopefully, as you find more energy, you will also find yourself more emotionally healthy as well.
4. It will help you become more disciplined.
There’s something about getting up earlier than everyone else that creates more personal discipline. Here, in Utah, winter can be very dark. It’s dark early in the morning and it’s dark early into the evening. I will often go to the gym before everyone else wakes up. Going to the gym at times that you have available may mean that you watch less television and get to bed early so you can get to the gym in the morning. The discipline to go affects the other areas of your life which in turn help you to be a more disciplined person.
5. You will probably sleep better.
Research has shown that exercise can improve the quality of sleep at night. Those who exercise regularly sleep on average over 45 minutes more a night. Plus, those who struggle with insomnia seem to struggle much less when they exercise.
6. This habit will affect other necessary areas of your life.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an excellent book on the research of how people change. He has documented numerous cases of people who have made enormous changes in their lives professionally and personally. He makes the argument in his book that a keystone habit change in almost all of his students was exercise. When his students started to exercise regularly, he found that they changed other bad habits in their lives.
We all have bad habits that we’d like to change, but we often don’t know where to start. As Paul says to Timothy, diet and exercise aren’t everything and should never be the main focus of our lives, but there is profit to it. Plus, changing this area of your life may also help provide the focus to change the other key areas of your life.