The world of health and physical fitness are almost foreign to the history of Christianity. It seems that somewhere along the road of spiritual devotion our church fathers lost a part of their humanity. The human is a unique creature, not wholly spirit, or wholly beast, but a combination of both. Made perfectly by the Almighty God, we originally possessed a perfection of mind and body.
Then came the fall. A corruption of our spiritual nature resulted, and because of the close ties, our physical nature was also defiled. Death and sickness, frailty and pain entered our lives. Because of human sin we no longer possess a spirit capable of oneness with God, nor do we possess a body capable of everlasting life. We were corrupted. As Christians, however, we are redeemed. Christ, through his shedding of his blood on the cross and resurrection from the dead, saved us from our just punishments. In return we have been called to be holy, to be set apart for him. We must constantly strive for wholeness in our lives, even though this runs contrary to our natural bent.
This struggle to reform our lives is not limited to our being spiritually minded. I believe that God wishes for us to develop all that he originally created. Including the body. There is no shame, there is no evil that our body necessarily contains. We were made in His image, and there can be nothing evil within that structure. I believe that God desires us to develop our physical side for three reasons. First, I believe that ignoring our physical side would be to ignore possible gifts that the Lord has given us. To develop our physical gifts, and using them for God's service, is an act of worship to Him.
Second, the discipline gained through conscientious patterns of living teaches us much about the way of God. We have been given charge of our own selves. How we think, how we act, what we do is dependent on our choices. When we choose to live out of hope in God, we will worship him with our whole selves.
Finally, we must always be prepared for the trials and tests that will come. We cannot truly be able to fully utilize our faculties unless we are fit and in good health. Choosing God is the way to salvation, and seeking to glorify Him through development of all of our capabilities is a truly noble goal indeed.
The army was camped in the Valley of Elah, when he came upon it to deliver food sent from home. He regrettably left his duties at home to do this task for his aged father. He thought his brothers were rather obnoxious at times, and he was slightly jealous at their being able to fight in the wars while he was left at home to take care of the family sheep.
Now, he realized the real responsibility that he bore, but he had a passion for warfare. His long hours in the fields had groomed him into one ready for anything. His senses were prime from countless hours of watching for dangers. His body was muscular and lean from the hardships which he had put upon it. His dexterity was excellent from countless battles with the lions and bears which sought to devour the family fortune. He was no stranger to battle either, leading a servant of the King to call him a "brave man and a warrior." His service to his father demanded the utmost of his fitness and health.
Not long after he arrived he heard the booming voice of a single adversary from the valley beneath them. Hearing the words that were spoken ignited a fury deep within this young man. Though not a member of the army he lambasted his countrymen for their cowardice in not facing the enemy's challenge. He, himself, accepted the challenge of the Philistine, much to the surprise, and jealousy, of his fellows.
Though not prepared for a sword fight he drew upon his abilities and slew the foe with a solid strike of a stone, launched from his sling. This was to be only the first of many famous encounters that this man was to face. He drew upon the gifts that God had given him, namely his strength and prowess in battle. He was training his body for physical fitness from the time he was a mere boy. God used these gifts and talents for his own glory. And through the might of his physical body, and the faith of his spiritual acuity, he brought worship and glory to God, which spread throughout the kingdom and beyond. He started with nothing but his faith in God and his physical prowess, but ended as the King, and ancestor of the Christ. Once derided as a mere boy he soon became used to the cries of "Hail, King David" that were to follow him everywhere.
To deny our physical nature is to possibly deny a gift that God has given us. Our gifts are given to us by God to work for the common good of the church and to be used in a way that is honoring and praising to him. David was given a physical gift, he used it to the glory of God. God has given us a physical nature for a reason. Though our gifts may lie in directions not directly focused on our fitness, all things that we do are influenced by it.
How can we pray for long periods of time if our minds are not fed by proper food, and our bodies are made weary from simple exertions? In order to fully accomplish the duties that the Lord has given us we must train our bodies to do that which is demanded of them. We cannot ignore our fitness or health, for to do so would be to offer up to God less than our fullest, and as Christians we must try not to do that. He calls us to be warriors of his army, to stand up for his causes.
What kind of warrior focuses only upon the mental aspects of warfare? A true warrior develops both his mind, to know what to do, and his body, to accomplish that which he knows must be done, in order to serve at his highest level. So must we also commit every aspect of our lives to our king's service, so that we may praise and glorify his name to the greatest possible amount. To do any less is to succumb to our fallen human nature. Just as David did, so to must we, strengthen our bodies, inside and out, for the glory of God.
Weary after the long trip, the young man slowly followed the rest of his compatriots into the mighty palace. The last few years had been the very worst in his life. He could distinctly remember the glory that his homeland once possessed. How so much destruction and deterioration could be caused so quickly was beyond even his learned understanding. He should have been ready for it, however, for did not the Prophet speak of the seventy years of desolation. It was almost too great a burden to bear. At least he was not alone in this trek to the foreign land. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azrariah, his friends since early childhood, had accompanied him.
They were a handsome bunch. Chosen on account of their physical perfection, their striking appearances, and more than capable mental capabilities, these young men were picked from among the finest men of their land to serve the conquering king. The chief of the court officials greeted them, as well as the men from the other tribes, and laid out what their duties and expectations would be for the next three year. They were given the opportunity to eat from the king's own table and drink the king's own wine.
As hungry and thirsty as this man was he knew that to do this would be wrong. He knew that to eat these foods would be to defile his body in a way which could not be done. He spoke to the chief about this dilemma. Though at first almost offended by this man's refusal the chief gave him, and his three friends, the chance to prove themselves, to eat what was right, to maintain their discipline.
After the ten day trial period this man, and his three friends, were found to far surpass the others in health and nourishment. God blessed them tremendously for the discipline that they possessed. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. This would not be the first time Daniel's discipline would be challenged, yet for standing strong he was truly blessed.
In the world of physical fitness and health discipline is a key. We must learn to overcome obstacles that would otherwise hinder growth in these areas. What a great way to learn how to discipline ourselves for God's service! The act of devotion to God is similar in the daily struggles that will assault us. We will initially have a passion for God. After a time this passion will fade as we start the grind of service. If we persevere, however, we will be restored to our passion and will be forever changed by the transformations within us.
Daniel was a disciplined man. He trained his body so that it worked at its optimum level. He did not give into the temptations of unhealthy foods, but instead sought only what would be beneficial. He stood strong, and so should we. Peter tells us in his first letter to be "clear-minded and self-controlled so that you can pray." If we allow ourselves to become lazy and slothful in one area of life, especially an area as vital as our health, how can we expect to stay strong in other areas? God calls us to discipline ourselves, and this we must do in order to become fully devoted followers of Christ
As he bent over the length of wood one could see the sinewy strength of the muscles beneath the skin. The sweat beaded and dripped from his forehead yet he continued undaunted, delighting in the creation that was coming from his hands. His skin was bronzed from spending long hours finding the right trees with which to make his designs and his countenance shone with the effort he was exerting. As sawdust flew, landing all about him, and covering him head to toe, he began to think of the earlier creations he was a part of long ago.
Trained in carpentry since he was a boy, he was able to work long days, days full of labor and toil. He made sure he ate properly, understanding the nutritional needs of humanity better than most. He was in perfect health, able to endure the most strenuous hardships, which was good because one day in the future he knew he would have to. As he worked with the wood, sawing and hammering, he remembered the day he took over the carpentry business after his father died, actually not his real father but the time for his revealing this had not yet come. He paused, wiped his forehead with a dusty towel that was nearby, and noticed that he was hungry. At this moment his mother called, "Jesus, it's time for dinner, come on in out of that hot shop."
Though Jesus is often portrayed in film and art as an almost fragile human being I believe it to be just the opposite. He was strong, he was sturdy, he was exceedingly fit. He was healthy enough to endure forty days of fasting, he was sturdy enough to endure repeated floggings and beatings. For almost three years he traveled the land, teaching his message. He was a scholar of renown, a fact that is often shown. He was also strong in body, a fact which is seldom thought of. Not since Adam had a man existed who was perfect. Just as Adam possessed a body that was a archetypal model for humanity, so, I believe, did Jesus.
The bible does not focus on this physical nature, tending to spend its words on the spiritual side, but it was there. He spent probably almost twenty years working in the carpentry business before his time had come to reveal himself. He developed strength, he developed endurance. We, as Christians, have been called to be Christ-like in all we do. This includes the developing of our body to the level of Christ. We do not know the hardships that we will endure, as Christ did, but we do know that they will come. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, tells him that he should "endure hardships with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ." We battle in a spiritual realm, but our bodies are vitally affected by our souls. We should strive for health and fitness, not just to develop our bodies for our own sakes, but so that we may fight the good fight and finish the race. God desires our best in all ways, and the only way this is truly possible is to develop our physical nature to its fullest, not separate, but in conjunction with our development of our mental and spiritual capabilities.
In ignoring our physical nature, Christians do not take to heart many of the examples that the Bible offers to us. We read of great feats, of mighty prowess, and of great service that was only possible through previous exercise and devotions to health. Jesus Christ shows us that even he spent time developing his physical side. He prepared himself to meet the challenges that he was to face in a way which maximized his abilities. He knew the capabilities of a human body, and what must be done to fulfill his calling. We must try to be Christ-like in all we do, training ourselves for the trials ahead.
Daniel stood out because of his discipline in mind and body, chosen for his talents and able to then speak the words of God into a godless society. His courage and his dedication were spurred on by his attention to his diet and his overall health. Because of his holistic faith that developed mind, soul, and body for God he became a unique tool of God who speaks to us even still.
David was given powerful gifts in his physical nature. He used these gifts to glorify God, and to spread knowledge of His power. He trained himself in a way which made total use of these gifts, not ignoring any part of his life, but seeking to develop his entire self.
We have also been given gifts, some of a physical nature. We must strive to be the best possible in all that we have been given in order to offer up praises to our creator. Daniel was disciplined in all he did. He realized that the physical affected the mental and spiritual sides of humanity. He sought to avoid indulgence in activities, or foods, that would be detrimental to who God wanted him to be. We must seek this discipline in our own lives. We must see that our physical sides are represented strongly, and to ignore it would be wrong. The Bible offers to us many examples of people who lead a truly Godly life. Truly, physical fitness and a pursuance of health are acts of devotion to God.
Patrick Oden lives and works in the mountains of Southern California. Education web design pays the bills. Writing and enjoying the beauty of God's Creation fills his soul.