(I wrote the following article on April 2, 2013. It proved to be a very popular post so I’ll make it available again.)
I went out on a bike ride yesterday and enjoyed a little more than four hours of prayer and reflection. As I rode down the Withlacoochee Bike Trail in central Florida, I was captivated by God’s creation and by my growing ability to enjoy it on a bike.
You see, yesterday’s bike ride was 57.72 miles long! A few years ago, a ride this long would have been unthinkable! Yet, after a few years of focusing on physical fitness, my body was able to manage that kind of mileage. I have worked hard at getting physically fit. Yesterday, I enjoyed the benefits of being physically fit.
Not too long ago, I was overweight, I was under-motivated, my ability to think clearly was hampered, my stress level was high, etc. Then, I began to focus on walking about six years ago and then biking and running almost 2 years ago. I feel certain that the benefits I am experiencing as a result of improved fitness will keep me motivated to exercise well into my senior years.
As I write this specifically to pastors, let me assure my brothers in the ministry that the thoughts I am about to share are meant to encourage you. I am a fellow pastor who has discovered the benefits of exercise and I want to encourage you to enjoy those same benefits.
The results are in and we all know that exercise is good and something we should do. The problem is that most of us simply lack the motivation to get started. Let me share with you just a few of the benefits I have discovered in hopes that something I saw will motivate you to get started and experience the joys of exercise.
In the Old Testament, the omnipresent God dwelt in the tabernacle and then the temple. Even though He resided completely everywhere at all times, in a very special way He resided among His people in their place of worship.
In the New Testament, the temple/building was done away with. God came to dwell inside the bodies of those who were followers of Christ.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Think about that. Our body is where God is living right now. If we pursue physical fitness, we can do so with the desire to honor God by giving Him a body/temple that is in shape. The only other option is to show Him dishonor by providing Him a body that is uncared for.
Benefit #2: To follow Jesus more completely
How did Jesus get from one place to another? He didn’t have a car or truck. He didn’t take the train or plane. In fact, except for the time He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey’s colt, we are led to believe that He walked everywhere He went.
If you track Jesus’ ministry and His journey from city to city, you realize that He would’ve logged many, many miles in His lifetime. He would’ve called it “traveling” rather than “exercising” but the results were the same. Jesus would have been slim and trim from the exercise.
If we are to become more and more like Jesus, we must not only develop a godly mind and godly behaviors but also a fit body.
Number #3: To better handle the demands of ministry
Simply put, the stresses of ministry got me walking and running! Whether it is the daily stresses of phone calls, counseling, confronting those in sin (including struggles with my own sin), hospital visits, preparing for sermons, the feeling that you are never truly “off the clock,” trying to lead and inspire volunteers, (etc., etc., etc.) or whether it is a major storm that you have to navigate your congregation through, pastoring a stressful!
If we don’t have some way of getting rid of that stress, we may increase our risk of heart disease, cancer and many other illnesses. We’ve simply got to find a way of releasing the tension in a creative, constructive way.
For me, going out for a bike ride or run often does the trick. I may pray during the exercise or I may just try to focus on the scenery around me. Either way, after I have significantly elevated my heart rate for about 30 or more minutes, I feel MUCH better.
Benefit #4: To have a lift in attitude
I’m not a negative person but if my personality has a tendency, it more naturally moves toward melancholia than I would like. Not only is that undesirable for me as an individual, it is completely anathema in regard to my role as a pastor. As I relate to others, I need to have an aura of joy. Anything less will inhibit the vitality of the church God has called me to lead.
Exercising (specifically aerobic exercise that elevates the heart rate for about 30 or more minutes at a time) helps to lift the mood. Just do an Internet search on the relationship that exercise has with the release of endorphins into your brain. Runners, bikers, swimmers, and others usually aren’t “glass-half-empty” sort of folks. Regular exercise tends to keep their attitudes positive and healthy.
There have been plenty of times when I have been confronted with a problem that I could not resolve. Sometimes the problem had to do with an issue that was going to create some friction on a business meeting floor. Other times, I simply could not develop the outline and points of a sermon as Sunday approached. On many of those occasions, I spent time in prayer and yet the problem remained.
Then, I took off for a run or went for a bike ride. As I got my mind off the problem, elevated my heart rate and allowed the endorphins to do their trick, the solution came to mind. I thanked the Lord and then used the rest of my exercise time to solidify the solution in my mind.
Benefit #6: To have more energy!
I used to feel pretty sluggish as I went about my daily activities. I just didn’t have the energy that I used to have and assumed that there wasn’t much that I could do about it. I thought that it was due to the fact that I was just growing older and not much could be done about it.
Then, I realized that God made our body with the ability to create the energy it needs. Simply put, if the “couch potato” is told that he must run a marathon the next day, he may give it a try but in just a few minutes, only a few yards from the start line, he will give out. Why? Because he hasn’t trained. He hasn’t convinced his body that he needs that much energy. He’s been telling his body that he hardly needs any energy at all. So, his body provides him with the amount of energy needs … hardly any at all.
Yet, when a marathoner approaches race day, they know they will have the energy required because they have been training. The training has been conveying to their body that they need much more energy than the average person. So, their body complied. Their body produced the energy as they train harder and longer. But, that energy isn’t only accessible during a race. It is available to them at any time during the day.
We need energy to be a pastor. We won’t get the energy we need by sitting behind a desk reading a book or typing on a computer. The way to increase our energy is to exercise and convince our body that we need more. After only a few weeks, we will begin to notice the difference.
Pastoring is leading in its purest form. Most of the people we lead aren’t paid. We can’t coerce them. We can’t threaten to fire them if they don’t do their job. They are volunteers and our ability to lead them depends upon many elements – one of which is integrity.
We know that people these days are more skeptical of leaders. Many of them will size us up for a period of time to see if we are someone they believe they can listen to and follow. I am convinced that one of the first things they notice is our waistline. If it’s too large, they may assume we are self-indulgent and lack personal discipline. Maybe our overweight problem is due to some medical issue but my point is that our outer appearance speaks loud and clear to those who are observing us. If our waistline shows that we overindulge in the area of food, they may wonder what other areas we overindulge in.
If we want to lead people, we must convince them that we are a self-disciplined man of integrity. This requires many specific actions but those actions must include exercise and proper diet. Besides, if our bodies testify to the fact that we are honoring God’s temple, we just might motivate others to take care of their bodies as well. This is no small matter in a society that is getting lazy, self-indulgent, and much heavier.
I enjoy setting goals and then working with a team to accomplish those goals. Pastoring enables us to do that. Yet, there are going to be times when, for one reason or another, our goals aren’t going to be achieved. Maybe we’re working with a lethargic congregation that just doesn’t see the need in reaching the goal. Maybe the problem is our own lack of leadership competency.
While we still must work to lead our congregation, we can satisfy our desire for goal-setting and achieving rewards by leading ourselves. The whole process of going from walking to running and then to racing in local 5K races (or longer races) is exhilarating to say the least. And further, I’ve noticed that if I become more effective at leading myself, it is much easier to lead others.
These are just a few of the benefits that came to mind during yesterday’s bike ride. I hope that if you aren’t presently in an exercise program, that at least one of the above mentioned benefits will motivate you to take care of God’s temple as you “Get Fit for Here and Heaven.”