Years ago I worked as a Behavioral Health Educator. What that means is this: I taught people how to have healthy, active lifestyles based on their eating and exercise habits. Out of all the jobs I've ever had, this one was-by far-my favorite and the most fun! It was exciting to see people-previously unhealthy, lethargic and tied to their next meal-become healthy, energized and educated on eating right.
Initially, as patients came to the institute, I would help them assess their exercise needs. Part of this included noting their current fitness habits.
I'll never forget the afternoon I sat in my office with a new patient. She had meticulously listed every bite of food she'd eaten the previous week in one column and her exercise patterns for the week in another. Imagine my expression when, on her very first day, she'd listed "feeding my cats" as her exercise regimen.
I pressed my lips together to keep from laughing, then excused myself and stepped into the hallway, closing the office door behind me. I walked around the corner where I came face to face with the institute's chief physician. "What's the matter?" he asked me, sensing my "how am I going to address this?" turmoil.
I showed him the entry.
"What kind of cats does she have?" he asked. "Tigers?"
Clearly, this was a patient who knew very little about living the active lifestyle and my work was cut out for me!
The Body Beautiful/Physical
I probably don't have to tell you the benefits of exercise. Books have been written about it. TV shows have been dedicated to it. Talk radio has laid it all out for us. But, for the one or two of you out there who have been living under a rock and haven't heard, here are but a few paybacks of a lifestyle of regular exercise:
1. Exercise increases your chance of weight loss
2. Exercise decreases your chance of heart disease
3. Exercise decreases your chance of stroke
4. Exercise increases stress management
5. Exercise slows the aging process
6. Exercise increases self esteem and confidence
7. Exercise helps you sleep
8. Exercise steps up your immune system
9. Exercise reduces the chance of your contracting various cancers
10. Exercise improves your overall quality of life
There's another benefit. A little over a year ago, while sitting at a café snacking on chocolate cake and coffee, a good friend and I were bemoaning our weight gain. Struck by a sudden case of The Guilts, we both vowed to begin watching our caloric intake (like I needed to be told this!) and then set a walking program we could follow together.
A few days later, clad in sweats and walking shoes, we began our new regimen. We walked a mile, prayed we'd be able to make it back to her house, and then-the next day-repeated the torture. But, within a couple of weeks, we had moved up to two miles...then three. At one time, we were doing four miles (until our schedules went completely crazy). Now, we are back to between two and three miles a day, approximately four days a week.
Our greatest benefit? No, not the weight loss (though that has been wonderful!). No, not the closeness we've come to feel as our friendship has deepened.
Our greatest benefit has been the times we have prayed together, lifting each other up before the Throne of Grace and Mercy as we pound the pavement.
One of the easiest things to do when it comes to exercise is to SAY you're going to do it. One of the most difficult is to "stick with it!" Here are a few tips that will help you start and stick with an exercise program:
1. Find a partner. Keep each other accountable.
2. Whatever exercise you pick, make it something you LOVE to do. If you are not a runner, don't choose jogging. If you are afraid of water, I'd suggest that you not choose swimming (which, by the way, is an excellent form of exercise).
3. Pick the right time of day. If you are a runner or walker, like I am, don't wait until the heat of the day. Instead, choose morning or evenings. If you live in a cold climate, be conscious of your clothing.
4. Start off slow. This isn't the Olympics and you're not representing the United States. This is for you. Take your time...enjoy....
5. Remember, a little soreness can be expected...but you should not be in agony.
If you want a easy way to convince yourself to stop exercising, injury would be at the top of the list.
Finally, if you have not been active in a while, are elderly, pregnant, or have certain physical disabilities, be sure to speak to your physician before beginning any type of program, including those you might feel are "easy." Together you should be able to design a program that is right for you.
Side Note: Janet Holm McHenry, author of 17 books, including PrayerWalk: Becoming a woman of Prayer, Strength, and Discipline gets up at 5:00 every morning so she can walk up and down Main Street, all the while praying for the people whose homes she passes and the owners of various businesses along the way. The benefits? Janet answers, "There are several benefits of prayerwalking. I have lost weight and the aches and pains that used to keep me up at night have disappeared. Depression and fears that used to drag me down no longer plague me. The best thing is that God is answering my prayers--in my own life and in the lives of those for whom I pray."
The Body Beautiful/Spiritual
For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. ~~ 1 Timothy 4:8
I've heard this verse misquoted many times. "The Bible says you shouldn't exercise," someone told me, citing the above scripture. Ah, no. Paul was expressing the difference in the physical body's ability toward furthering the Kingdom vs. that part of the body-what's on the inside-being fit enough to do the same. He was also speaking to a people who put a lot of stock in physical fitness. Paul is not saying physical discipline is wrong, but that godliness holds an even greater promise.
So, then. What is this godliness we should be striving toward as diligently as we push ourselves toward physical "perfection?" Over this past weekend I've spent a lot of time studying the word godliness. And, as you might have guessed, I spent a lot of time being spiritually challenged on the principles of godly behavior. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and in the absolute worst way. At one point I threw up my arms and cried out, "Why did You have to choose me for this life? Why couldn't You just leave me alone...let me be?"
Thank the good Lord, He knew I didn't mean a word of it! But was that godly behavior? Not for a moment. So, I persisted in study, finally resting on the words of Peter in 1 Peter, beginning at 1:13 and continuing until 5:11. The NIV Study Notes state that these verses are "...imperatives" for holy living. For sure, holiness is godliness because God is holy. (Psalm 99:9)
I encourage you to sit down with pad and pen and write down the instructions Peter gives for holy living. As you do, note 1 Peter 3:15, which reads: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.
This is the absolute first step to living a godly life. If Christ is not Lord, there is no point...there is no hope...there is no way!
Also notice that many of the imperatives given by Peter are followed with "because" or "so that." In other words, cause and effect. Just as physical exercise has results and benefits, so too does the spiritual "exercise" of holy living. For example: Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation. Clothe yourself with humility (because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble).
As you pore over the verses of 1 Peter, you may think, "I could never accomplish all this! I could never be this...this...godly!"
This would be like me looking at a photo of fitness guru Cory Everson (get it? Everson) and saying, "I could never look like that! No matter how many miles I walked or crunches I groaned through."
No. I may never reach physical perfection in this lifetime (but I've got some pretty firm hopes for Heaven, let me tell you!), but it won't keep me from doing whatever I need to do to stay as toned as possible.
When I wanted to become physically fit (or, in my case, less unfit!), I grabbed a walking/accountability partner. Allow me to suggest that you do the same in your quest to be spiritually fit, to live a godly, holy life. Actually, grab two -- the first being the Holy Spirit. Without Him, you won't make it past the first imperative. With Him you can do all things! (Philippians 4:13)
Second, have a prayer/accountability partner. Make sure this is someone who is spiritually on the same level as you and someone who wants to live a godly life as much as you do. Obviously, make certain this is someone you can trust. And don't forget, you are to be there for her, too.
With God, all things are possible! (Matthew 19:26)
Questions for Personal or Group Study
1. How physically fit are you?
2. What kind of physical exercise do you enjoy? How often do you participate in this?
3. Do you have an accountability partner for your physical fitness goals? Why or why not?
4. How spiritually fit are you? Do you have an accountability partner for your spiritual fitness goals? Why or why not?
5. Read 1 Peter. List all the imperatives you find within the verses.
6. In a separate list, note those scriptures that give a "result."
7. When you look at the first list, how "godly" are you? Where are your strong areas? Your weakest? What goals can you set to become more spiritually strong?
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson's work includes Intimate Moments with God and Intimate Encounters with God (Cook). She is the author of Shadow of Dreams, Summon the Shadows and Shadow of Light. (Barbour Fiction) She can be contacted for comments or for speaking engagement bookings at www.EvaMarieEverson.com
Join us next week for the final installment of High Maintenance Christianity!
Other Articles in this Series:
High Maintenance Christianity: Feet on the Ground
High Maintenance Christianity: Hand in Hand
High Maintenance Christianity: Clothed with Righteousness
High Maintenance Christianity: Is Your Soul Soft Too?
High Maintenance Christianity: Don a Protective Shield
High Maintenance Christianity: Being "Washed Clean"
High Maintenance Christianity