January: the time to shed the excess Christmas weight and resolve to live a healthier lifestyle. But so often we fail after a few weeks, sometimes because we have set ourselves unrealistic goals, and sometimes because our motivation is coming from the wrong place.
So much of life comes back to the question of identity. When we know we are truly loved and valued by God then we will hopefully be more inclined to value ourselves. Valuing ourselves means acknowledging that we are made in the image of God, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that as we follow Jesus our bodies become a temple for the Holy Spirit.
God has created us as mind, body and spirit and we need to take care of each of these areas. As we do so, we glorify God. We honour him with our bodies. Looking after our bodies with exercise and healthy eating makes sense from so many perspectives. It can play a part for longer living, it can help protect us from disease, it can make a difference to our mental health by reducing anxiety and depression. Exercise can reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia, and Alzheimers.
“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented,” says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant. (taken from NHS UK website)
If we believe that we are valued by God, then we need to value ourselves. God has much he wants us to do on this earth, we need to take responsibility for looking after our bodies so that we can serve Him as well as we can, for as long as we can.
I run a lot. And for me a long run in a beautiful park with just myself, God and nature is one of the best de-stressers. It clears my head, it prompts me to worship, it reduces my anxiety and it takes me closer to God.
But I also exercise with others through classes at my local gym. And this has been a wonderful way to meet new people, and to even share my faith with those I meet.
This new year, consider taking up some form of exercise as an act of worship. Not worshipping your body, but worshipping God for what he has given you. Consider taking it up also as an act of relational evangelism, as a way to meet new people and share life with them and God’s love with them.
I also serve as a gym chaplain where I seek to bring an intentional, positive Christian presence into the gym. I offer social, pastoral and spiritual care for members and staff. People go to the gym for more reasons than fitness, they go because of loneliness, rehab, health issues, stress, body image, self esteem. Gym instructors aren’t necessarily trained or have the time to deal with that. So, to have a chaplain who has the time for this is such a blessing.
Whether you wish to pursue chaplaincy or not, there are plenty of ways that Christians can simply be salt and light at their gym, by being prayerful, intentional and making time to build friendships. A gym, a running track, a walking group can be both a place of worship, and a place to share faith.