Fitness and Exercise is a major industry in the United States since for the most part Americans know they need and want to be fit. What researchers in the field have discovered however is that we do not want to make the long term commitment necessary to get and stay in shape. We understand our need to create a “lifestyle” of fitness yet refuse to change unhealthy habits in order to produce a fit and active lifestyle. Most often getting in and going out of shape is cyclical. We get motivated and spend money to get fit, then after a few weeks or months we quit because we have tired of the grind. It costs us too much in time, money, and effort. Each cycle triggers a reinvestment of money because we need to redo club memberships and have often sold or given away our exercise equipment and special clothing. This simple equation has resulted into a multi-billion dollar fitness and exercise industry in the United States as companies worldwide compete to help Americans work-out with less work. In other words, we want more for less.
This creates a substantial challenge for companies to successfully create and market their products to a continually new and changing audience, who want what they want- NOW! Hospitals and insurance companies have joined the competition by adding incentives for people to join clubs and work-out regularly in an effort to keep people healthy. Terminology is even being changed from fitness and weight rooms to “Wellness” centers so as to “entice” people who might not like the thought of sweating, or shall we say “perspiring”! The fitness and exercise industry is doing everything it can to make exercise more appealing to even the least motivated people.
It is impossible to estimate the total amount of money spent on fitness and exercise in America because it depends on what is included in the whole arena. But according to the latest reports club memberships along with fitness classes and professional trainers has equated into a multi-billion dollar industry by itself. Fitness apparel, shoes, and equipment is another multi-billion dollar industry all of its own. With the rise in popularity of more “recreational” sports such as golf, bowling, tennis, biking, running, and volleyball, equipment costs have sky-rocketed not to mention the cost of actual participation. With the inclusion of home exercise equipment it is difficult to imagine the exorbitant amount of American’s variable income spent on fitness and exercise.
People add vitamins and supplements to their diets in an effort to be healthy but also in an attempt to optimize their exercise regime. If we add these to the total for fitness and exercise the cost gets even more outlandish. It is easily estimated Americans spend at least twenty-three billion dollars per year on vitamins and supplements equating to almost one third as much money as is spent on prescription drugs. In 2009, Americans were spending an estimated thirty-four billion dollars on alternative treatment including supplements, chiropractic care, acupuncturists, yoga/meditation, and homeopathic specialists.
As Christians we find a simple and profound truth in John 10:14, 27 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Following Jesus keeps us in shape because He exercises our whole beings. Following the shepherd means going in and out of the fold, getting exercise as He leads and as we follow. Verse 9 puts it this way. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” Psalm 23:3, 5 “…He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” Some people might choose to apply this Scripture only to their spiritual lives but God is “whole” and is concerned about our entire being. We get exercise when we follow in the paths of righteousness and we are fit when we eat what He prepares for us. Because we are the sheep of His pasture we can apply sheep truths to our lives as Christians even in the area of fitness and exercise.
In order for sheep to remain in healthy condition they need exercise. Whenever lambs are not nursing or resting they romp and play and as they get older activity must continue. A roomy pen or pasture allows mature ewes and rams to move around as much as needed to maintain good condition. It is estimated that ideally sheep should walk at least a mile a day in order to maintain perfect weight and firm muscles.
Keeping our bodies fit as Christians allows us to more effectively do Kingdom work. Exercising and being in good condition gives us the strength, energy, flexibility, and endurance necessary to do the things God has called us to do. Even though fitness and exercise has become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States, exercise can still be free! We do not need to join a club or have lots of equipment at home in order to exercise. But whatever route we choose to take in order to stay fit we do well to make it a lifestyle because it is so much easier to do what God has called us to do when we are in good shape.
1 Timothy 4:8 says “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” Fitness and exercise need not take a majority of our time and effort if we simply make it part of our lives. Because it does profit us even a little, if we faithfully exercise our bodies in proportion to our ability and endurance at any given time we get stronger and our ability to exercise will increase almost daily. For example; if we walk one mile a day for several days we soon discover it is not enough to fill our need so we build up to two miles a day. The same thing happens again after a few weeks and we find ourselves wanting and able to do more. We have profited from our faithfulness by getting stronger and increasing our endurance.
But godliness is profitable for all things so obviously we need to spend more time getting spiritually fit. Romans 12:6 “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them…in proportion to our faith….” We have been given gifts, we have been given grace, and we have been given faith! All we have to do is use the gifts and exercise our faith continually. If it is good for sheep to walk one mile a day should we not exercise mile high faith daily? Just as faithfulness in physical workouts makes us stronger and increases endurance, exercising our faith makes us naturally and supernaturally stronger and increases our stamina. Acts 16:5 “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.”
Sheep not only need exercise but they need the proper amount of exercise because excessive activity is not healthy any more than no activity. If sheep get overly stressed or stimulated they run too much thus forgetting to eat and drink properly. This wears their bodies down and reduces their natural ability to fight off germs and other disease. Shepherds keep a close watch on their sheep to assure they are not threatened or experience too much stress, get daily exercise and proper rest, and have proper intake of food and water. Without a shepherd, sheep tend to wander and “forget” what they need to do in order to stay healthy and fit.
Christians are like sheep. We can get so passionate and even over stimulated in one area of serving the Lord that we literally wear ourselves out forgetting we need proper rest, nutrition, and fresh fillings from the Spirit of God. This reduces our ability to discern, stand in faith, submit to God, and resist the devil. We tend to wander and do our own thing, forgetting God has established order in the Church for our protection not entrapment.
It would be wonderful if Christians acknowledge and embrace the truth we need pastors; someone who oversees, teaches, leads and guides us in the paths of righteousness. Living under their watchful eyes assures us of living under the protection of Almighty God since Jesus is the One who appoints pastors. Ephesians 4:11 “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Many Christians complain about the pastor not meeting their needs or being there for them, pointing out all the faults they see in their pastor. The problem with this scenario is that people have “perceived” needs which do not necessarily fall under the auspices of the pastor’s care. Just like Americans wanting what we want when we want it, Christians have the same expectations of their pastors and churches. But we should want what Jesus wants and He chooses for us to be equipped by pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets, and evangelists. When we want these leaders to do what we want and they do not meet our expectations we tend to get angry and bitter, and far too many Christians have determined they “will not” follow their pastor because of this and they follow other voices or choose to go it alone with God and other people. This is a vulnerable position to place oneself in to be sure.
When we recognize the privilege of living in submission and cooperation with pastors and other leaders we will grab hold of as much revelation from them as possible and let it transform our lives. They are given to equip us for ministry and to edify us so when they preach the Word, they are bringing His will to us. In fact, another interesting thing about sheep we should emulate is that they spend about a third of their life ruminating – that is eight hours a day! This means they regurgitate partially digested food (cud) and chew on it again. Ruminating is the actual process of re-chewing the cud to further break down food and stimulate digestion. No, I am not saying Christians should throw up their food and re-chew it – But – Oh, how we do need to embrace a spiritual understanding of ruminating!
As human beings to ruminate means to mull something over or to think carefully and at length about something after once receiving it. Christians have the privilege of being taught the things of God. When we are fed the pure Word of God, we need to eat and drink deeply, then regurgitate it and eat it again. Once is not enough. Now this is Godly exercise that will profit us for all things! What a beautiful similarity between sheep and Christians. We should digest as much as possible at any given time then allow it to be broken down further and digested more fully as we ruminate, thinking long and hard on His Word. If sheep spend eight hours a day ruminating, how much are we willing to ponder and digest the Word of God in a twenty-four hour period? Unfortunately many people stop eating or do not want what their pastor prepares for them so they choose to prepare their own meal and get full on what they have prepared, ruminating on their own belief systems. Let this not be said of us! Instead, let us trust in the Lord and His plan in putting us in a church with pastors to oversee, inspect, lead, guide, exercise, and feed us.
Fitness! Exercise! Ruminate! They are all here to stay! What are we going to spend our time, money, and effort doing? What lifestyle are we going to create for ourselves in Christ? We can have it all! But let us do it His way and not our way!