BY JOHN WESTON
Republished with permission from Faith Today, Jul/Aug 2018. Photo by Razvan Chisu (Shutterstock.com).
"When I run I feel God’s pleasure."
So said Eric Liddell in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire, one of the most memorable and oft-quoted lines in film history.
It’s easy to understand the pleasure felt by an elite athlete in performing well. But does God think about our taking care of our bodies? That’s a key question for any Christian. Having invested much of my life inside and outside Parliament promoting health and fitness, that question forced me to ask what fitness had to do with my faith.
So is there any special responsibility for a Christian to care about personal physical fitness? I believe the answer is a resounding yes.
We are created in God’s image. Genesis 1:26–28 says so, although it doesn’t clearly suggest our physical bodies are the key reflective aspect of the Sovereign of the Universe. That passage is a good start to justify the importance of the human body, and there are even more persuasive reasons.
Scripture also instructs us to keep our bodies holy. Key among these is 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, where Paul encourages responsible sexual relationships. He writes, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your bodies."
This verse effectively encourages us to do what health care professionals commonly advise – avoid negative influences that hurt us physically. We oppose pollution of the Earth because God made us caretakers of it. We oppose polluting our bodies because God made us caretakers of the bodies He gave us.
We think about what we don’t do to hurt our bodies, but we can also focus on what positively to do to honour God in our bodies. Paul himself acknowledges, "Physical training is of some value" (1 Timothy 4:8), though he lauds godliness as holding even greater value. Paul uses physical exercise metaphors elsewhere, exhorting us to "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1). He acknowledges the discipline of athletes in 1 Corinthians 9, all the while comparing perishable things of earth, such as our physical bodies, against unperishable, eternal things.
My son Jake, a 19-year-old elite runner on the track team at the University of British Columbia, puts it this way. "God gave us gifts, including our bodies. So isn’t it clear we ought to take good care of our bodies like we take care of other assets, as part of our duty to God?"
Apart from the physical benefits of fitness, the emotional and psychological benefits are well documented. It’s hard to feel angry and grateful at the same time. I’ve learned a brisk run is one of my best antidotes when I’m experiencing some negative emotion.
The great commandment to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30 and see Luke 10:27) echoes Deuteronomy 6:5. Both Jews and Christians consider this a sacred commandment. If there is any clue as to the integrated nature of our bodies with our souls, minds and every other aspect of our being, this is it. Need to improve your heart health? Go for a walk. Feeling emotionally down? Hop on your bike. Your heart, soul, mind and strength are related to one another. We are called to steward them well.
For the Christian leader, taking care of your health is not only your duty to God and yourself, it is an outward sign of your leadership. You are a role model to others. Taking care of yourself fulfils a duty to God, a responsibility to others and a healthy aspect of loving yourself.
I guarantee you do not have to be an Olympian or Eric Liddell to feel God’s pleasure when you run.
How did an MP end up fighting for health and fitness?
I served as Member of Parliament for the riding West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country from 2008 to 2015. During that time Canada hosted the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, most of which occurred in the riding I represented. That gargantuan sports extravaganza forced the question, "What should be the legacy of the Games?" I concluded the most valuable legacy would be improving the health and fitness of average Canadians.
I created the Parliamentary Fitness Initiative (www.NHFD.can), an uncharacteristically nonpartisan activity on Parliament Hill that brought MPs and senators of all parties to run together Tuesday mornings, swim together Thursdays and leverage their influence as national leaders to encourage Canadians to become more physically active.
The Parliamentary Fitness Initiative led to the passing of Bill S-211, the National Health and Fitness Day Act. The first Saturday of June is the day when First Nations, provinces and local governments are encouraged to get Canadians more involved in using athletic and recreational facilities. Over 330 cities have already proclaimed the day.
I also created the National Health & Fitness Foundation. Our mission? "Make Canada the fittest nation on Earth."
Practical tips to get started
- Find a buddy. There is no substitute for the motivation provided by accountability. If it’s social, it’s more likely to be fun. Running with friends, I run faster than I would have on my own.
- Benefit as well from exercising alone. You won’t always have someone to run, bike or swim with. This can be your best prayer time. It also helps with thinking and working through problems. My most creative times occur while I’m exercising.
- Do no harm. Right, this is the physicians’ Hippocratic Oath. But it also applies to picking up a fitness routine. Increase gradually your intensity, frequency or distance.
- Set a goal. To have nothing as your goal means you will hit it every time.
- Vary your physical activity routines. Mixing things up helps you avoid injury and retain interest.
- Be consistent. Decide on your routines. Put them in your calendar and follow through within reason.
- Read great books about fitness. Younger Next Year by Chris Cowley and Henry Lodge (Workman Publishing, 2005), "prescribed" to me by my family doctor, and Spark! by John Ratey (Little Brown, 2008) about the effect of physical fitness on mental acuity, a good place to start.
John Weston is a lawyer practising in government relations and Indigenous affairs, volunteer president of the National Health and Fitness Foundation, and author of On! Achieving Excellence in Leadership (2017, www.JohnWeston.ca). Read more articles like these with a subscription to the EFC magazine Faith Today.
Author: John Weston