Ah, exercise. We all know we should do it, but it’s so hard to get motivated.
We ‘know’ all about the physical and mental benefits, so I’m not going to get into that here. But why is it so hard? And what would make it easier?
Honestly, I think we aim way too low – and short-term – when we think about why we should exercise. (I’m certainly not above vanity as one of my reasons). If we think about that at all.
So today, I want to share 3 longer-term benefits to exercise that are helping me stay motivated when I’d rather sit around, surf the net, and eat a piece of flourless chocolate cake [insert your favorite dessert]. When we get specific on what exercise will mean for our future, it can help us exercise today. Here are 3 ways we can do that; I think they’ll resonate with you, too.
First, A Little Transparency
Before we jump in, though, I want to be transparent with you. I don’t exercise as much as I want to. And honestly, I don’t even like it very much. So I just want to let you know I’m not killing it here or (basically) saying ‘be like me’.
Having said that, making consistent choices to do something hard – like exercising – when we don’t want to builds our character and makes other hard choices easier, too. Like eating well, spending time with God, helping our kids when we’re exhausted, or hanging in there and being present at work when we’d rather pack it in.
So, when I’m faced with whether or not to go out on a run, I try not to think of it as simply a choice to ‘go on a run’, but as an investment in my character. Every day, one choice at a time, we’re becoming who we are.
If we don’t get out to the gym one day, no big deal. It’s the bigger picture that sets the direction for our lives.
But while exercise benefits us tremendously, it’s not just – or even mainly – about us. And that’s where it starts to get really exciting.
When We Exercise, We’re Loving God
I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:17, 19-20:
‘He who becomes joined to the Lord becomes one in spirit with him… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body’.
He’s not talking about exercise here, of course. He’s talking about being sexually pure.
But the implications of what Paul is saying are staggering. Notice that he’s referring to the Old Testament temple that Israel built. It was magnificent, full of gold, silver, and beautiful workmanship. But the most awesome thing about the temple is that God Himself lived there. His presence made it unique – and, dangerous. In fact, because the people were not holy like God, only the priests could enter the two innermost rooms. Still, the temple complex is where Israel came to receive forgiveness for sins and experience intimacy with God in a special way.
Now that Jesus has come, Paul is saying that – get this – every Christian’s body is a temple where God lives. You may need to re-read that and let it sink in. I know you ‘know’ that and have heard it before. But has it sunk in?
One of the ways we demonstrate that we understand that is by taking good care of our bodies. If a holy God has graciously and mysteriously chosen to live in my body through his Spirit, then shouldn’t we do our best to take decent care of it? This is part of what it means to love God with all of who we are.
And Others, Too
It’s interesting, though. ‘Loving God’ can seem so incredibly abstract. I’m not sure about you, but things that stay abstract for me usually don’t make any difference in my life.
But here’s the thing. Most of the time, loving God = loving others. To take just one example, John tells us that ‘And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother’. (1 John 4:21)
So to tie that into our theme, if we want to love God well… we need to love others well… which means we need to take care of ourselves physically.
And this is where it helps to get specific… to think about the real people we love and how staying in shape might matter for them very practically into the future.
Let’s take some quick examples:
- our spouses – this is especially relevant for men, who on average live about 4 years less than women. I can think of countless examples of guys who wind up being cared for, or, a burden to, their wives in later years. It can’t be avoided in many cases, but in many it could, or at least alleviated. I never want to put my wife in a position where my choices make life difficult for her, especially at a time where she might have her own physical challenges. If God allows, I’d rather be like Stuart & Jill Briscoe, who we met at a recent marriage conference. They’re actively serving others well into their 80s!
- our kids and grandkids – when we get older and less resilient, this is where the effects of our physical condition really start to become evident. If we do our best to stay physically healthy, we’ll have the best shot of being involved with our kids, their kids, and – just maybe – some of our great-grandkids. Personally, my informal goal is to be as engaged with my youngest child’s children as I am with those of my oldest (there’s a ten-year age gap between them).
- the people we serve – whether it’s our neighbors, people in our small group, our extended family, or people at work, being physically fit gives us an opportunity to serve real people better and longer. I’ve been inspired by one of my neighbors who, in his late 70s, consistently went over to our much older neighbor to help him out. Obviously there are a lot of factors involved, but one of them is that he’s taken good care of himself and is in a position to do that. (He quipped that he’s ‘aged like fine wine’.)
So when we invest in our physical health through exercise, we’re investing in our character, which also allows us to do the two most important things in the world: love God and love others in tangible, everyday ways.
Of course, there are no guarantees that going to the gym, running or whatever will prevent us from getting sick or injured as we age. (And if you’re struggling with something like that, my heart truly goes out to you). But God has shown us that he wants us to care for our bodies so that we have the best chance at living a life that matters for the long haul.
When we remember that, getting out for that next run, swim, or pickup basketball game might just be a little bit easier.
Let’s Live It Out: What would staying in shape make possible for you now and as you get older? Take a few minutes and get really specific about it!