Same Behavior. Different Motive.

I used to be a runner. Not a marathoner, or even a half-marathon runner. Okay, not even a racer. I once ran a 5K and while I could easily finish the three-plus miles, I can’t even tell you the number of elderly people and young children who passed me up to finish the race ahead of me. I learned early on that competing wasn’t for me.

But for nearly ten years, while slow, I consistently ran anywhere from four to seven miles a day, four or five times a week. I ran during my third pregnancy and all during and after my divorce. Running was not only a good form of therapy but – most importantly to me – it kept me looking the way I wanted to look and feeling the way I wanted to feel. That was my primary motivation – feeling good about the way I looked.

After I became a believer, I continued to work out, but I began to notice a growing discomfort with the motivation behind my exercising.

I wanted to glorify Christ, more and more, with everything I did, but my exercise was still “all about me” and my self-esteem. About a year into my marriage to Warren, I found myself giving up on exercise, for many reasons – some of which had to do with working full-time and managing the schedules of five busy kids as well as a new marriage. But some of it, honestly, was that I couldn’t see how I might continue to exercise without sinning. I was losing my motivation for why I exercised, and I didn’t have anything to replace it with.

But I have never really been comfortable with the idea of just letting myself go, either.

God Himself commands us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and the apostle Paul seems to emphasize the idea that we should glorify God in all we do (1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 1 Thessalonians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 7:1). Elsewhere in scripture, we are also taught that our bodies are a temple – the Holy Spirit Himself lives within us – and we should care for them as such (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

“Christians who don’t take their
health seriously don’t take their
mission seriously.”

And so, as I slide into my upper 40’s and stare middle age in the face, I want to give regular exercise another shot…but I needed help with my motivation. I didn’t want to make it about the number on the scale or the size of my jeans, or the health of my heart – though certainly there’s merit in that last one. And while I am certainly motivated to stay healthy for the sake of my young son who is still at home and will count on me for at least another 12-15 years, that in itself cannot be my motivation either. I want to live a life worthy of the calling I’ve been given as one “awakened” in Christ to new life. I want Jesus Himself, and pleasing Him, to be my motivation. But I needed help, and so I did what I often do – I went looking for a book written by someone far smarter than me.

Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul is written by Gary Thomas, who also wrote Sacred Marriage – an excellent book on marriage that Warren and I often recommend. In the opening pages, Thomas hooked me with this statement: “Christians who don’t take their health seriously don’t take their mission seriously.”

Thomas goes on to say it better than I ever could:

Just as viewing my marriage through the lens of a pathway toward holiness more than happiness gave me renewed motivation to grow in union with my wife and ongoing motivation to keep pursuing deeper intimacy with her, so understanding my body as an instrument of service to God is giving me renewed motivation to take better care of it in the face of my cravings and laziness.

Two areas…that received attention in previous ages are widely ignored today: excessive eating (in all its forms) and laziness when it comes to caring for our bodies. In ancient times, these hurdles were called gluttony and sloth. Growing up, I rarely heard any teachers talk about either of them or about how a lack of physical fitness can become a significant spiritual issue, so I never considered how giving in to them might be holding me back. It wasn’t until I spotted them in the classics that I could see them in Scripture, and then it took a decade of God’s gentle confrontation pointing out how my failures in both areas were negatively impacting my spirit. They weren’t “damning” me, but they were making me less useful and less prepared to do any good work.

Christ died to bring us into communion with Himself in eternity, but He also saves us for good works in the here and now. Our lives here matter, and everything we do is intimately involved in that. Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose Driven Life, emphasizes the same point – there is a purpose for your life. God has put you here on Earth to accomplish that purpose.

I want to live out my purpose for Christ and, as I age, it’s going to be more and more important that I take care of my aging body in order to have the energy to do so. I’ve not finished this book yet, but I look forward to learning more about how I can be sure that as I strengthen my biceps and quads, the most significant change will be in my life of faith.

2 Timothy 2:20-21 (ESV)
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.

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