“for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).
I have heard this verse so often used to talk about how much more important it is to study your Bible than to exercise and while I wholeheartedly agree with that, I think that we often neglect the benefits that exercise has upon our soul.
So often Christians have this idea that their soul is independent of their body – that how they use (or abuse) their body doesn’t really have much to do with their spirituality. Although this is true to an extent, it’s failing to acknowledge the fact that our body and soul, at least for now, are intrinsically linked. How we use our body affects our soul. Our bodies were given to us to use for the Lord’s glory.
And though bodily exercise is inferior to spiritual exercise (and if you were to have to choose one, you’d choose the latter), it is undeniable that it is of far greater benefit to us than just the effect it has on how our body looks and feels.
Here are five ways that exercise can actually benefit your soul.
1 | IT MAKES YOU A HAPPIER PERSON
I read once that “Exercise is the most underused antidepressant,” and experientially have found this to be the truth. Exercise releases endorphins (“feel-good” hormones) into your body that give you a boost of happiness that can last up to (and some even say beyond) 24 hours. Have you ever experiences that post workout euphoria? It’s not just because of the thought that you did something good for yourself – it’s the hormonal effect of the endorphins coursing throughout your body.
Joyfulness helps us to fight off any discouragements we come across as we run the Christian race. Since it has been proven that exercise helps fight off depression and boost your mood (which leads to greater feelings of peace and greater chances of self-mastery), we are really doing ourselves a disservice if we aren’t dedicating at least a bit of time to moving our bodies every week. It’s just one way we can make it easier for ourselves to obey the command to “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4).
2 | IT GIVES YOU ONE MORE REASON TO PRAISE
How amazing is the human body? When we exercise our bodies and test their limits we see just how amazing of a creation they really are. God is the Ultimate Designer, and exercise helps us recognise that and rejoice in the temple that the Lord has given us. It gives us an opportunity to thank Him. Remember that if you can move, you are very blessed – and use your time of exercise as a time for praise and glorification of God.
As well as giving us an opportunity for us to thank him for our bodies, exercise can also get us outside to appreciate God’s creation – bringing us closer to Him. God was wise when He designed us to need the light for vitamin D – a need that drives us outside and lets us observe His handiwork. Personally, I find that walking outside helps me to be more prayerful and thoughtful.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1)
3 | IT HELPS YOU TO GAIN SELF-MASTERY
It creates a culture of self-mastery and control. So, while some may argue that it is less important than spiritual pursuits (which it most certainly is), many take it a step further and say it actually hinders our spiritual pursuits. Unless you are a fitness nut who lives and breathes fitness to the neglect of your walk with God – this is simply not true. Consider the words of Duhigg:
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
― Charles Duhigg,
You see, when we think of exercise as actually helping us in our spiritual self-mastery, exercise becomes a friend to our Christianity rather than a stumbling block. Non-obsessive exercise actually can help us to grow in the fruit of the spirit, rather than just being something that keeps us from what is really important.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23)
4 | IT CAN ALLOW YOU TO SERVE A LONGER AND/OR MORE EFFECTIVE MINISTRY
When we think of our bodies as a resource to use for the Lord’s service in the same way we look at our money, time, and talents – we realise that the best thing we can do for the Lord with them is to maintain them the best we can. And while it is true that on this earth “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong… but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11) and sometimes even the healthiest of lives is ended abruptly, it is also true that the ministries of others are cut short or hindered because of the poor management of their bodies.
I’m not saying you have to become a fitness junkie and never eat ice cream again. That’s not what I want for you (let’s face it – giving up ice cream is just ridiculous) or what I believe God wants for you, and honestly, you don’t have to in order to feel the benefits! Get enough sleep, get out and move at least 3 times a week, eat less junk, and eat more whole foods. When you look after yourself, you feel better – and when you feel better, you can do more for the Lord with more enthusiasm.
5 | IT TEACHES THE IMPORTANCE OF CONSISTENCY AND PERSISTENCE
The Christian race is… well, a race. It’s a discipline, a marathon, a test of our strength and persistence.
There’s a reason that Paul used the example of exercise to parallel the discipline required to run the Christian race on more than one occasion. It teaches us how discipline, pain, obstacles, hard work, and persistence can help us towards a goal. Self-control is a fruit of the spirit – and exercise can help us to develop it (see point 3).
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
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Exercise has so many benefits. We need to decide to stop making it about how skinny we are, how much weight we can lose, how many muscles we have, and how many calories we burn a day. Instead, really start looking at how exercise can benefit your entire life positively: giving you more energy, making you happier, and allowing you to serve better with more enthusiasm. This is about being more effective for His kingdom. Exercising for these benefits will allow to to actually enjoy and stick to your exercise regime, rather than give up when you don’t see the results you want.
And who knows, when you stick to it for the spiritual reasons and be consistent, maybe you’ll see the external results you were looking for in the first place.
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