CULTURE WATCH: Faith & Fitness (Part 4)

Practical Matters

By Wendell Cantrell

(This is the last of four articles examining the Christian response to faith and fitness. Read the first articleRead the second article. Read the third article.)  

Are you bored with the history, philosophy, and scriptural points we have reviewed related to faith and fitness? In this final article, we’ll get pretty basic. You have already heard of many plans, but experience has shown that motivation is 99% of the battle. The UPS driver, the mail carrier, the farmer, and the yard man have the luxury (though they may not think of it that way) of vocational exercise. The rest of us, thanks to basically affluent conditions, have a myriad of choices of non-vocational exercise. Dog walking, organized sports, bicycle commuting, gym membership—the list is endless. We are only limited by our creativity.

Many will say, “I don’t have time.” Listen to the example of Emerson Eggerichs, bestselling author of Love and Respect. He rigged up a desktop over his treadmill.  He works and walks, typically putting in 12-13 miles a day, without sacrificing a minute of work time. A current rage, somewhat limited by city rules and paved pathways, is bicycle commuting. Perhaps it is a bit longer commute, but think of the burned calories and saved dollars. Some might argue that a 90 minute daily fitness program is poor stewardship of time. Research has shown that exercise usually adds to our lives. A Harvard alumni study tracked 17,000 men for over twenty years. Their results suggested that each hour spent exercising adds about two hours to one’s life expectancy.1

As I have stated before, our primary goal in discipline and fitness is not necessarily to add days, weeks, or years to this life (though the grandkids will love it). Our goal is to develop, through devotion and pursuit, a “silver soul.” This can put our daily battles for physical fitness into an entirely new light. Achieving some fitness milestone doesn’t count as carrying a cross, but it can develop a soul willing and able to carry a cross.

Some of you reading this may be convicted of the need to fix this NOW. Be careful with this approach. Remember the biblical principle that where we have been matters less than where we are headed. We must take gentle steps. An overly ambitious program can increase our stress and self-condemnation. The path to greater spiritual and physical health could be started with a simple, regular one mile prayer walk in the neighborhood- not a lot of calories burned, but a step in the right direction. In addressing a long neglect, we must remember to embrace His grace, and not languish over the body we have from the past, but what we are doing with our bodies presently. Because of His grace, every day is an opportunity to worship and serve Him with our body regardless of the condition in which past choices have left it. Remember, this isn’t about earning His love, but being set free by His love!

In the first article I mentioned the diet/fitness plan promoted at Saddleback Church. This church found that a key factor in success was accountability partners and workout partners. Women especially thrive on the social element of their fitness routines. It helps keep our mind off of the effort and increases the enjoyment. If we enjoy it, we will stick with it.

We will wrap up this series making a connection between the battle for fitness and the battle against spiritual laziness. We grow into holiness in the same way we grow into fitness. We’ll view this connection as we see how Jim Ryun, the first high school junior to run a four minute mile, reflects on the need for discipline both physically and spiritually:

My rise began first with a goal. Then came the plan, step by step how I was going to achieve my goal. It took a focus previously unknown to me. The road to success was not without bumps. There were injuries, delays, and incredible physical and mental exhaustion. We likewise yearn for spiritual growth, but we want the quick fix; we want it now. But just as I had to keep training as a young runner, putting one foot in front of the other, we have to discipline ourselves spiritually, putting one foot in front of the other to move toward the upward calling of Christ Jesus. It takes discipline and time, but it also takes ownership.2  

Like Ryun, we’ll discover there is no quick fix. We have to set goals and persevere. The ungodly may fail once and give up trying, but living with His grace gives us the strength to persevere in spite of repeated failure. We should seek to embrace, in a Christian context, the following anonymous quote: “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”

Fortunately, it is His hands we will be sliding into. That day will come for each of us.  On that day, our defeats and struggles will make the fact that we are sliding into those scarred hands all the sweeter. We enter by the marks on the Savior’s hands and not through something we have earned. We will be glad we can say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Questions or comments may be directed to

 1)    Strides: Running Through History with an Unlikely Athlete by Benjamin Cheever
2)    The Courage to Run by Jim Ryun