From Fitness to Faith

   I’m a pretty big proponent of personal fitness. It’s the third of my “F”s. Faith, Family, and Fitness. My job is no longer in the top three. It’s position got usurped by fitness not too long ago.

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   This is going to initially seem like a fitness post. Bear with me, the background is just important to establish WHY my fitness practices are important to my faith.

   I was raised by my father to prioritize God, Family, and Work . In that order, he was teaching me to never choose my job, or money, over the first two. My father was a very wise man and lived his life that way as long as I can remember, he always put us first. As I passed my thirtieth birthday, though, I began to consider things in a different light. My job was something that allowed me to serve my family and God, but not something that should determine my success or failure, and surely not something that should be able to affect my happiness. My “fitness” journey started several years ago. I was working at a bigger school (that really sapped a lot of that happiness) and a long time friend was also working there. He was a member of anytime fitness and invited me to visit a couple of times. We did “muscle group” style workouts and such. This prompted me to join a gym and go pretty much everyday after school. I had loads of time since my wife and I carpooled and she worked later than me. Since there was no way I was hanging around at that school any longer than I had to, I got in a lot of hours in a globogym style atmosphere. Then I got a phone call.

   The summer after my second year at that particular school I received a phone call from a coach and mentor of mine from my high school years. He had taken over the AD job and was offering me a position as an assistant. After some consideration, and honestly less prayer than there should have been, I accepted. It was the best professional decision I have ever made. While the work hours were marginally less desirable due to varsity sports, the atmosphere I worked in was world’s away from what I left. My wife was amazing for being supportive of that leap, she took on a lot more with our son while I was gone on weekends, all so I could be happy in my workplace.

   The downside to this change was that I didn’t have much time for fitness. I ate what I wanted and gained a little weight, nothing major. But I lost what I had gained. A couple of years ago I was offered another opportunity at the same school where I was coaching. This move to an administrative position allowed me to be more flexible with my time. I began to work out in the mornings at 5:30. I have been pretty consistent with this for a while now.

   Recently I also began to pay attention to my nutrition quite a bit more. I’m not going to go into details on food or workouts here, just know that I made some significant changes to both. As to why I hold fitness in such a high regard that it is only ranked below my family and God himself:

 

Just to be healthy

   There is, of course, the oft used “body is a temple”. Of course I want to take care of myself, to feel energetic and have overall wellness. I have been at points in my life before where I felt drained all day long and it felt like a yoga session just to bend over and tie my shoes or do other similarly simple tasks. Even when I was working out the first time I went through bouts of these feeling. I’m convinced now that it was largely because of my nutrition, or lack thereof. I would force myself to go to the gym and finish a workout, even pushing through fatigue most days. I think this was also due to the kinds of exercises I was doing. But one major concern is to live a better, longer, healthier life. Note that I don’t think tattoos are outlawed in this verse, for reasons that are my own, and possibly worth an entire other post. But that it’s about taking care of yourself so you can best serve God.

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you,

whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

1 Corinthians 6:19

 

Toughness

   Mental toughness is something that can benefit every single person I know. One of the main reasons I do the workout program that I do is that many of its workouts are extremely challenging to finish. A large part of what gets you through them is to keep going when every fiber of your body is screaming at you to quit. Because they are scaled to the mastery of the person doing them, it’s hard no matter how much of a beginner, or how advanced, you are.

   When I was in High School I was “confident”. There’s no hiding that, I thought a lot of myself. But it was mostly that I knew I was smart enough to come off that way, and then weasel my way out of however someone might “test” my actual ability in whatever the topic might be. So in short, I was cocky, and could be a butt hole about it at times. Just good enough at enough things to be able to fake my way through pretty much anything. For whatever reason after high school this changed quite a bit. I began to question myself and look for validation from outside of myself.  I spent  time (and still spend sometimes) wishing I could still capture the good parts of the “I don’t care what other people think” attitude. But I am making progress towards placing my value in something other than what people outside of my head think about me. I wouldn’t say I’m mentally weak, but I will say that I have a lot of room for progress. I can push through a lot of discomfort physically, I can finish runs or workouts that hurt like crazy. But sometimes I still find myself at a point where I stop and walk, or take a breath. It’s only after this happens and the workout ends that I think “I could have done one more rep, I’m not dead” or I know I could have finished that 5K a minute faster if I had pushed. This applies to acts of faith as well. We often trust God…. Mostly. It’s like when Jesus sent his disciples out in Mark 6.

And he called the twelve to himself, and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them power over unclean spirits. He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts-but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

Mark 6:7-9

   They probably thought he was crazy. Take nothing except a staff, shoes, and one piece of clothing. Not even food or money. This is not the only example of the disciples doing things like this. Their very following of Jesus was this manner of faith, more than one left their family and jobs. They didn’t have an income, it was all based on what people gave them during their travels. Tell me you wouldn’t have to be mentally tough to go in that situation and continue to go, every day when you get up and have no idea where your food is going to come from or if you will have to sleep outside. (without a blanket, remember he told them not to bring one)

   I wonder if I have that mental toughness. To drop everything and go without, trusting for God to provide. Or like the young ruler would I neglect to get rid of everything because it would be too hard? Too scary? Facing hardship, pain, and “I can’t do this” and learning to tell that voice inside your head to shut up, that’s what I’m looking for. I think it will make me a better Christian, and Father. It is my belief that it’s a mind set that can apply to many aspects of life. Learning it in a weight room or on a run is a controlled place. So I impale myself on workouts that leave me half dead some days. And I love it.

   I have also taken to reading books aimed at developing mental strength or persistence. My favorite two at the moment are: “The Warrior and the Monk” by Greg Amundson, and “Unbeatable Mind” by Mark Divine. Two other good ones that tell stories of people achieving things in this arena are “First: What it Takes to Win” by Rich Froning, and “Embrace the Suck” by Stephen Madden. You’re not here for a book review, maybe that’s something I could do periodically do as a part of OTR? (let me know)

   So one of the major reasons, if not the single biggest, that fitness occupies such a high place in my life is this: To be mentally fit enough to handle anything I may go through in my ministry for Christ, or the support of my family. To quiet the little voice inside my head that tells me “That’s good enough, you can stop now.” I believe this will make me a better Christian, Husband, and Father.

   The physical preparation is good too. Who knows what I may face up against in my mission. To be healthy and read to tackle any mountain, figuratively and literally I may come up on. The ability to push through the crap that makes me want to quit because I have done whats “good enough”.

 

Commitment

   To do well and make progress in fitness you must have a level of commitment. This doesn’t mean that you never miss a day or eat something outside of what you’re supposed to. But it means you keep those things to a minimum. I’ve written up a weekly plan, and I do my best to keep it. If I know we have something on both Saturday and Sunday that will interfere with my weekend run, I try to make time in advance to get it in. Ironically as I write this on a Sunday night I reflect that I missed my Friday work out, but did one Saturday to keep the balance. I hold myself to a certain standard with regards to this. The workouts may not always be good ones, but they happen. When the alarm goes off in the morning, that’s the first battle of the day and whether I win or lose that often dictates much more. 

   Similarly, I commit myself to reading my Bible every day. I miss days often, and I beat myself up over it. But most of the time, in the last couple of months anyway, I read at least something. Some times it’s  a whole chapter, sometimes just a couple of paragraphs. Sometimes it’s a devotional on my Bible app with accompanying scriptures, this often is when I was unable to get reading in at home that morning. I started by setting a goal, such as a chapter per day. But as I progressed into it I found that some times I had plenty to dwell on after just a couple of paragraphs, especially if they were in red letters. So I decided to commit to reading until I felt I had found the lesson for the day, then I went to putting it into practice. I prefer to do my workouts in the morning, but 5:30 comes early and I often snooze button my way into trouble (losing that first critical battle) and have to do it after work. The same with my reading, I prefer to do it in the morning, as it gives me a goal and prayer to live out during the day. Committing to something over time, even if it’s forced at first, begins to change who you are.

   What you put into your mind starts to shape your thoughts, your thoughts shape your words, your words shape your actions, and your actions shape the type of person you become. 

 

Showing up

   A successful relationship with both fitness, and God, depend on us “showing up”. In the literal sense we must show up to the gym, box, track, or whichever, to achieve any sort of success in our chosen fitness activity. As Christians we are told in the Bible that we need to be a part of a church. Yes, I know, a church doesn’t save you, and isn’t what gets you into Heaven. But how serious can you really be in your relationship with God if you can’t even commit to going and learning more about him? Your church is your accountability group, your nourishment for your spiritual hunger, and where you go to hear the word. It’s an important part of your walk to show up and be a part of a church. If you don’t show up to the gym (or wherever) then you won’t become a better athlete. If you don’t show up to church regularly, then chances are good that you won’t become a better Christian.

   Figuratively you have to show up to get stronger, faster, better. In this case “showing up” means that your effort shows up with you. Even if you go to the gym etc. regularly but you don’t put everything you have into it, you won’t be anywhere close to achieving your potential. You have to show up ready to work and then prove that by your efforts. Just like as Christians we have to not only physically show up at the church building, but also to put the effort in. Think about it, the scribes and Pharisees showed up for church. But when Jesus himself was looking them in the face they didn’t recognize him for who he was. Showing up physically, while an important first step, is not enough:

‘Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”’

Mark 12:38-40

   The scribes were the uber religious. They were the “who’s who” when it came to the scripture and knowledge as far as the people of the time were concerned. Yet Jesus says “beware of the scribes” because while they may show up, and even talk the talk, they don’t do the real work. They don’t feed the hungry or help those in need. So if you show up, congratulations, that’s awesome and we’re happy to have you! Now pick a ministry and dive in! Don’t just come through the doors, even my two year old does that, make a difference. “Go unto all nations”.

 

Fundamental Change

   I choose to do fitness because I want to make a fundamental change in who I am physically. Not just superficially, although that’s certainly something I enjoy, but deeper than that. I want to live longer, have more energy, and avoid injuries later in life that plague many people. I want to be a healthier human. I have chosen to pursue my faith in order to fundamentally change who I am. I want to be wiser, have more patience (see my last post), find joy in everything, reach people for Christ, be a better husband, better father, and better leader to those around me. Both of these things will serve purposes greater than myself. Faith drives my fitness by allowing me a conduit to improve myself in a way that I can control that influences the rest of my life. It allows me to work my way closer to God and my goals. It allows me to better

Be The Rock

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Published by

Andy Johnson

Andy has a decade of Student Ministry experience and is now a school administrator in NE Texas.

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