The Privileged Life: The Holy Habit of Exercise

“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)

I have never been a true athlete. In fact, I’m quite inept at any sport involving a ball…which pretty much covers the sports spectrum. For me to talk about exercise is truly laughable. 

But it’s the second component in the three-pronged approach to building health, so I can’t ignore it. It’s also one of those elements of the Christian life that we tend to brush aside as less important than spiritual matters. Physical fitness? We write it way down on the list of to-do’s when we’re striving to be missional for Christ. 

The apostle Paul speaks otherwise. When he wrote to the Corinthians, he likened the Christian walk to a sporting competition—a race to be run with keen ambition, to win the victor’s crown. But Paul gets more specific in this passage: 

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Some versions use the word “buffet” or “subdue” instead of “discipline.” It carries the idea of Paul training himself to the point of being uncomfortable or even in pain. One could almost visualize the valiant apostle doing arduous push-ups to prepare for the rigors of persecution that lay ahead. He was definitely a disciplined dude.

There are other biblical examples. Consider verse 17 in Proverbs 31, where the “virtuous woman” girds herself with strength and in particular “strengthens her arms.” Or look at Caleb in Joshua 14, where he declares he is as strong at age 85 as he was at 40, ready to tackle obstacles for inheriting the promised land. Caleb wasn’t sitting around on a camel hide for 45 years, just munching on manna chips.

In this light, have you ever considered exercise to be a holy practice? A gift to God? Essential for doing His kingdom work? Just as eating healthy involves sacrifices, strengthening your body helps prepare you to be a fruitful worker for Christ. Here are a few tips that have worked for me:

  • Make exercise a daily/weekly habit. In his book Atomic Habits, author James Clear maintains that little habits kept faithfully over long periods of time will reap big results. It’s true. At the beginning of the year, I started a habit of stretching before bedtime for just five minutes. I was astonished two weeks ago when I was able to touch my toes—something I haven’t done since high school. And, my knee pain is gone. Set yourself a schedule you can keep…read Atomic Habits for ways to keep going effectively.
  • Choose sports or workouts you enjoy. Again, I’m not enthralled with ball sports. But I love to walk, hike, and get out in God’s beautiful world. This kind of workout energizes me. Seek exercise that fits your interests and lifestyle so you’ll look forward to it.
  • Invest in some inexpensive home equipment. You don’t have to spend a bucketful of cash to buy a jump rope, a few weights, a mat, or some stretchy bands. This will create a home gym if going to a fitness center is too expensive. Look online for videos on proper exercise techniques. Or choose an exercise app for your phone and work out along with it.
  • Set reasonable goals/objectives. If you over-commit at the beginning, you’ll falter, get discouraged, and give up. Identify small milestones to meet, and build on them…in repeated moves (reps), distance, or time. Prioritize these goals in your daily schedule, carving out time for yourself. If you want to do a fun run, for example, sign up for one several months in advance—then look for a “couch-potato-to-5k” plan online for beginner runners, with incremental steps to achieve your goal.
  • Keep track of your accomplishments. Many smartphones have built-in apps for tracking steps/activity, or get an inexpensive tracker for your wrist or belt. Make a written calendar or chart. Celebrate your achievements with a healthy treat. My daily target is to walk five miles. I don’t achieve it every day, but I move toward it instead of sitting still. I celebrate with a fruit smoothie!
  • Remember—everything you do is for His glory. Your mission isn’t to be a wealthy athlete or even a gym hero. It’s not about your looks or admiration from others. Your objective is taking care of the precious body God has given you, in the very best way you can, to have more energy to serve Him. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the discipline, opportunity, and means to be strong for Christ.

May God bless you richly—with strength, energy, and good health—so that you will be fit for His kingdom work. Enjoy your workout!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the privileged gift of bodies that are fearfully and wonderfully made, according to Your great design. Let us work and exercise with purpose, to be better suited to serve You and Your people…forgive us when we falter, and inspire us to persevere. Help us always to rely on Your strength and power in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Next week: The great “trifecta” of health concludes—with sleep….

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© Copyright 2022 Nancy C. Williams, Lightbourne Creative (text and photography)

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

4 responses to “The Privileged Life: The Holy Habit of Exercise”

    • Thank you! I forgot to mention that those load-bearing exercises are important as we get older…osteoporosis runs in my family, and I’m supposed to use weights, which I do. But walking is my favorite exercise…and really the best one for everyone! Happy walking to you today!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You’re right- taking care of our bodies is so important. My husband calls it “temple maintenance”. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and we are entrusted with its care. I remember a conversation where someone asked if it was wrong to spend extra time each day on oneself, when it would seem selfish. The conclusion to the discussion was that it is time invested. A few hours a week can yield several extra healthy years in which to serve Jesus and care for others. In that respect, not doing it seems irresponsible. And I’m with you. Weight bearing exercise, gyms… it’s a struggle. But getting out in Gods amazing outdoors and putting miles on my shoes… I’d do that all day everyday if I could!

    Liked by 1 person

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