For physical training is of some value but godliness is of value in every way, holding promise for the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8
Ann Dirks is another spiritual mother. At 83, she is as spry as most are at 33. This week she leads 25 kids through a sweet, savory maze that is the church’s Cooking Camp. Kneading, rolling, and mixing are no match for Ann. And having sat beside her in Bible study, I vouch for Ann’s gracious, godly wisdom. Ann also happens to be an avid gardener.
I don’t think it’s coincidence that so many Christ-exalting, fruitful servants exercise their bodies. It might have been a throw-away line in Elizabeth Elliot’s tribute- the bit about her daily exercise-but I won’t toss it. I think it was a rare glimpse at an usually unseen thread.
Four Reasons to Exercise, Even if it’s Second-Rate Training
1. Serve strong.
If anyone serves, let him serve with the strength that God supplies, so that God in all things might be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:11
2. Remember more.
Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgements he uttered. Psalm 105:5
Christians are called to remember. Over and over we are warned not to forget how God worked in the past. Since we have such short memories, He even sent a Helper to bring to our remembrance all he said (John 14:26). The Helper doesn’t only remind- or always remind-while I bike or jog, but He does a lot. The memory boost, like the calorie burn from weight training, is twofold: during and after.
My mind is more clear, more thoughtful and creative, while I bike than when I rest. I reflect, I remember, and memorized verses come to mind. But exercise helps us think straight after our heart rates go down, too. Over the long term, aerobic exercise reduces memory loss by reversing age-related shrinkage of the part of the brain largely responsible for memory.
3. Transfer strength.
[S]training forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13b-14
When the hill is steep, do you get off your bike and walk it up? Or turn around and coast down? Do you gear down and press on up? Exercise can be transposed to weightier matters. Physical work-outs can be the practice field for living strong in God’s grace in soul matters.
I’m not sure if Jonathan Parnell runs or bikes, but he writes,
The more and more we prove to ourselves the presence of God’s grace in our work, the more and more we will be equipped, for the sake of our sanctification, whenever the going gets tough. And this becomes our goal. This transposition becomes the fuel for that final push.
Making my body push up those hills somehow strengthens my soul to press on through life’s valleys.
God uses the grueling, gut-it parts of our work-outs to fuel the fight of faith.
4. Serve gladly.
Serve the LORD with gladness. Come before Him with joyful song. Psalm 100:2
You know what happens if Mama ain’t happy. Same is true about Papa. Or Auntie. My “sanctification level” fluctuates with the sleep I got last night and the jog I took this morning. I know the Lord loves a cheerful giver and I know patience and gentleness come a lot easier when I’ve had a good dose sleep and some exercise.
That connection is central to why John Piper jogs:
I know that I am prone to depression and discouragement, and I have discovered that if I go to the gym three times a week and hammer my body, I don’t get depressed as often. I’m sure there are physical reasons for that…I know that it works. I know depression hurts my ministry, my marriage, and my parenting. So, for the sake of kingdom purposes I am off to the gym.
I think Elizabeth and Ann and Jonathan were on to it, too. How about you?
Do you know the some value of exercise?
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 Corinthians 6:19-20
*Author Philip Gura describes how early in his pastorate, Jonathan Edwards established routines he’d keep for life.
He typically spent thirteen hours a day in his study but always punctuated this labor with some sort of recreation, usually walking or riding or, if the snow was too deep, chopping wood for half an hour or so. In the warmer seasons he commonly rode two or three miles “to some lonely grove,” where he would dismount and walk for a while, sometimes jotting his thoughts on small pieces of paper that he would pin to his clothes for the ride home.(Jonathan Edwards: America’s Evangelical, pp. 58-59)