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Discipling requires physical fitness

Every afternoon at 4:30 pm at the AIM office, about a dozen of our staff gather for hard workout according to the video Insanity. And I say “go for it.” I’m more of a runner, but maybe I’ll join them one of these days. Living in a sedentary world, we need to maintain our bodies in much the same w…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Every afternoon at 4:30 pm at the AIM office, about a dozen of our staff gather for hard workout according to the video Insanity. And I say “go for it.” I’m more of a runner, but maybe I’ll join them one of these days. Living in a sedentary world, we need to maintain our bodies in much the same way we maintain our cars. It needs to be a key part of our discipleship.
Discipling requires instruction about stewardship. One of the most important areas of stewardship you have is your physical body – your “earth suit” that carries around your spirit. If you believe that we are not human beings having temporary spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having a temporary human experience, then you understand the care of your body as a resource.
When we disciple people, we need to help them work through this issue. Too many of us have a self-image that is tied to our weight and so, often this issue never gets addressed in a discipling relationship. We need to set that aside and just look at our habits. Poor habits can result in poor stewardship and future pain.
Two recent discoveries are fascinating in this regard. The first, as explained in this article, shows at a cellular level how physical exercise helps increase your mental capacity. Exercise results in the production of a protein creatively named “Noggin” that inhibits the deterioration of neurons. We tend to think of intelligence in a limited way – ability to remember facts. Psychologist Howard Gardner tells there are seven different kinds of intelligence. You can sharpen each of them through exercise.
The second discovery as explained by David Shenk in the WSJ, explodes the notion that we’re born with a certain, pre-determined capacity. The vast majority of us do not come close to tapping what scientists
call our “unactualized potential.” As Shenk states, “Genes are not, as was originally thought, blueprints with fixed
instructions for eye color, thumb size, mathematical quickness, musical
sensitivity, etc. Instead, genes are more like volume knobs and switches
on a giant control board. Many of those knobs and switches can be
turned on and off at any time- by another gene or by any tiny
environmental input.” At a cellular level a lot of things impact the way DNA is transcribed into RNA – it is not a photocopying process.
The bottom line is, we need to get in touch with the control that God has given over our minds and our bodies. The decisions we make about lifestyle have enormous impact.
Now, let’s address the general trend. According to this article in the Amednews, the average American is 23 pounds overweight and “researchers found that obesity rates increased 37% between 1998 and 2006
and accounted for an 89% increase in obesity spending, or another $40
billion a year.”
All the extra weight is highly correlated to sickness.
And the answer is not complicated: Exercise more; stop eating sugars and starches, and especially stop drinking soda. As the article states, “Soft drinks may be among the largest
drivers of the obesity epidemic.” The sugar loads you up with extra calories that you can’t afford, and beyond that, it stresses your pancreas, which is the organ that enables your body to process sugar. Tax the pancreas too much and you get diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is soaring – it has doubled in the last decade.
Almost as bad are all carbs we take in, especially stuff made of white, processed flour. As Dr. Arthur Agatston explains, “Simple carbohydrates are converted by your body into sugar which causes a
spike in insulin which in turn enables the storage of fat. It also
wreaks havoc on your system as your body responds to sugar highs and
lows and cravings.”
If this hits close to home for you, you’ve got two options, change your diet and change the way you exercise. The South Beach Diet

gives you some good tools in changing your diet. Exercise is a more personal thing. It used to be a natural part of life for an agrarian and industrial society. But now that a majority of people have jobs that require little exercise, you have to make decisions about how you’re going to manage your body’s need for a good regular work-out. If you’re undisciplined or have self-image issues that keep you from addressing the matter head-on, I suggest you get help. And if you have a mesomorph body shape, you may find that half an hour or an hour of exercise a day is what you need.

The fact is, all of us face this issue of how to “perform regular maintenance” on our bodies. Nearly a decade ago, my doctor told me I was overweight and needed to make some changes. We all need to reflect on what it takes to be a good steward of the only physical body we’ll ever have.
For 20 specific steps to healthy living, read this blog post.

Comments (11)

  • This is very good counsel, Seth.
    Even better perhaps, than having regular workouts, may be making career choices that require us to work actively and include some physical duties among our more cerebral ones.

    I, for instance, am thankful to be a maintenance man who walks miles a day serving folks in the apartment complex where I work. I’m so happy to not be stuck at a desk or monitor all day.

    You also mentioned Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences, which is an excellent academic scope for viewing,in a secular way, the diversity of genetic aptitudes that our Lord has pre-written into his genetic code. The “intelligences” constitute a sort of DNA-enabled set of templates for His (the Lord’s) creative work among people.

    Most notable among those intelligences (or “gifts,” as I prefer to call them) is the kinesthetic intelligence which pertains directly to the physical world and our adept manipulation of it. There’s also what Gardner calls spatial intelligence, which is known among many folks across the world as common sense

  • It’s the solitude. Just you and the metronomic sounds of your breathing and the swoosh swoosh of your shoes hitting the road. Occasionally, you hear ambient sounds of surf, insects, birds. The sun moves a bit as you glide through the world of solitude. No phones, no wi-fi, no IM, no text messages, no nitnoy emails biting at your consciousness like chiggers on your skin.

    Your mind clears and settles and goes to a place it only goes when you run. You dispose of de minimis things and focus on what’s important. God speaks. You listen. Ideas skitter about like clouds before a summer storm. It is a special time to think, to listen. Running is a portal to the Almighty. You exist for the minute, stride by stride as you grapple with God like Jacob wrestling with the Angel. Afterward, He rewards with a rush of endorphins. It is well with your soul.

  • Rode 13 yesterday evening; ran with X-C guys this AM (knee’s still forcing me to go slow/short). 
    Will attach a file later today about intersection between fitness/spirituality. 
    My practice: Mondays I go out to a local Retreat Ctr. and walk/pray thru my list.  I call it Praycing; I’ve heard it nicknamed “peditation” but Something about walking/running/biking is really condusive to focused reflection and/or prayer for me. 

    Athletics requires intentionality, discipline, focus, perseverance,  –all qualities needed to succeed in spiritual disciplines.  It’s easier to generalize those behavior patterns when pre-established, like with athletics, or musicianship, or some other discipline. 
    Our chief problem, I think, is that we are indulgent & undisciplined -tyrannized by our impulses and appetites, which we’ve spent years sensitizing ourselves to, until they’ve grown to dominate our lives.  

    Additionally, we’re increasingly negligent about being proactive and strategic in relational development/maintenance (AEB: divorce rates, decreased team orientation [see book; “Bowling Alone”].

    So many people do the religion drill, but neglect developing/maintaining their relationship with Jesus.

  • Seth thanks for this and the data serving the point. I respect you and we have a 30 year “tenured” friendship which is why I am going to push back here.

    There is another side to it all which I offer as someone who was a cross country runner in high school, third in the AAU for Judo losing to a guy who went to the Olympics and having climbed a mountain or two. I also had an appointment to the Air Force Academy and turned it down to go to a little school outside of Chicago.

    Here is the point…

    Some of the most egotistical, narcissistic, judgmental people I know are “Christian exercise enthusiasts”.

    I know from direct experience that is not you or your family.

    But friend… D.L Moody, C.T. Studd, Jonathan Edwards and a host of the forefathers and foremothers of the Christian faith wouldn’t meet a Gold Gym qualifying body fat standard.

    How fast would Jesus or Peter have run a 5k?

    Just curious…

  • My newly wed husband and I are on our honeymoon straight from Africa in Paris — and just read your post.

    I’m not quite sure why the whole “eat right and exercise” moto is so offensive in the westernized church today. I don’t think that the biblical mandate of stewardship has anything to do with running a 5k, but on the basic principles of cause and effect relationship.

    When I graduated high school I weight 265 pounds — and left the morning after to be a fulltime missionary in Africa. A catholic nun who I barely knew dropped me off in the middle of the bush and said, “see ya”. That was the beginning of my journey.

    Was weight a hinderance and issue — YES.

    Did it disqualify me? NO

    After 3 years in Africa, I lost over a hundred pounds — began running and then was attacked and raped in Kenya.

    I came back to the states and was put on medicine that caused me to gain a little weight. Now back in Africa, my husband and I realized how much our bodies are racked in and out of the warzones that we find ourselves in.

    We are starting to run again and make an active effort at making sure that we can handle the crazy and sometimes insane surroundings God puts us in.

    Now that we are more in shape than before, yet still not where we want to be we have learned that perhaps God gave us the mandate to steward our bodies just because He knew that it would make life easier — not for another rule, but because He understands the relationship of cause and effect.

    Thanks Seth for the post — it’s challenged us to keep running after what God has for the nations but in the spirit and natural.

  • OUCH!

    Always right on target Seth! I loved what several of the comments have added to the mix.

    I HATE exercise but I will work hard all day. Perhaps the mandate is to be busy about the Father’s business. If that business doesn’t make you move then you are mandated to keep the temple pure and undefiled by the indulgence of sitting too much.

    I hear the call loud and clear. Time to ramp it up.

  • Good tips, Seth! Great stewardship article! I don’t recall you being anywhere near overweight 10 years ago- (I guess Peru was 9yrs- wow, has it been that long?)

    While I am all for the spiritual discipline of bodily exercise, (“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” -ITim. 4:8)

    I am more worried about exercising as a way to deal with, or ignore, a poor self-image. If a person has a problem with finding their identity in the way they look, I don’t believe that is going to change when they look like the guy on the Insanity cover- it will likely morph into a different kind, over-inflated, self-image problem.

    What the Bible calls us to is to find our identity and value in who we are in Christ, as children of God. [“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” -ITim. 4:9-10]

    A few months ago I wrote an article for my church’s blog talking about self-confidence, specifically relating it to my personal fear of public speaking. I think it explains my position on self-esteem pretty well.

    Here is the link if anyone is interested:


  • Good article, Matt. I like your point about identity as it relates to exercise.

    You’ve got a sharp memory. Actually, I lost the weight just prior to our Peru trip in the summer of 2002!

  • Honestly, this is my biggest sacrifice being in Haiti. Nonetheless, I know the benefits of serving Him here far outweigh the ‘costs.’

    Someone here has the Insanity workout I guess, but I’m out and about or working the few times it is pulled out. And though it’s not true for all, the 1st comment by Dave is true for me- so that op to just stretch my legs…I miss it.
    Seth Jr ran with me a few mornings one week when a trip participant wanted to run- but even a 6 a.m run before the streets are totally clogged is still filled with diesel fumes, garbage juice obstacles…. The four mornings I was able to run that week, twice people got injured. Now there’s no males here that want to run, so I don’t get to run.
    So, being here for months on end and not being able to run is definitely my offering to the Lord – as well as eating white rice and a carb diet here constantly- that too is an offering. Still, I’d rather be here doing what God has called me to do then being somewhere where I can run and eat right- but if the two could come together- that would be the dream.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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