Getting In Spiritual Shape in 2018

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TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)

‘Tis the season for resolutions.

Traditionally, the segue of the calendar from the old year to the new year is the time when, looking back on the mistakes of the past 12 months, many of us make plans to do better over the next 365 days. The tradition dates back to the Babylonians and their promises to their gods to make amends for past missteps, and to the Romans making promises to Janus, their god of old endings and new beginnings.

Of course, one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight and get in shape. In one nationwide survey from 2015, almost 40 percent of those quizzed said that “staying fit and healthy” was their top resolution for the coming year. Another 32 percent listed “losing weight” as a high priority.

Admittedly, in my 32 years as an adult, I have lost count of how many times I have crafted a goal of getting in better shape at the start of a new year, only to lose focus and return to my old habits within a very few weeks. Even with the best of intentions, I get lazy and complacent and fall way short of my target. I will confess that once again this late December, I have put into place well-intentioned plans to make 2018 the year I finally attain my best health ever.

There are thousands of weight-loss programs offered in the open marketplace. Even Christian leaders have gotten in on the market. Rick Warren, founder of the massive Saddleback Church in California, co-authored a 2013 book called The Daniel Plan in which the authors outlined a 40-day plan for healthy living. Just this year, former megachurch pastor Perry Noble, who once led a 30,000-member congregation here in South Carolina, released a weight loss plan called I Can Win With Weight, and is even selling nutritional supplements on a companion website.

Whatever your personal opinion on such weight-loss ventures by faith leaders, the Bible is pretty clear on one thing: God wants us to take care of our earthly bodies.

In the Book of Romans, of course, the Apostle Paul urges Christ followers to offer their bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God.” (Romans 12:1, NIV) In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul also writes, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NLT) In that passage, the apostle is talking more about sin than fitness, but the basic take-home is very much the same: our bodies belong to God, and we should treat them with respect.

I will confess that I have struggled with my weight all of my life. I grew up surrounded by rich foods, and I was a lazy kid who who wanted to spend more time with my nose buried in a book than outside running around. Nearly five decades of abuse to God’s “temple” certainly have taken their toll on my health, but I also believe “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) I hope to lose 170 pounds by June 2019.

I have no idea what the next 18 months will hold for me, but I did take some proactive steps this week. I focused on a plan of more healthful eating, and just today I joined a local fitness center a few short miles from Hopeful Cottage. I also bought a cheap electronic fitness wristband, and after fussing for a while with a less-than-reliable smartphone app and ultimately upgrading to a higher-priced tracker, I logged 3,400 steps in my first half-day on the program.

That’s less than half the recommended number of daily steps, according to the American Heart Association, but it’s a start. It’s also a great metaphor for how we, as Christ followers, can go about making great gains in our relationship with God. To grow closer to Him and to walk in the light of His perfect plan for our lives, we have to start somewhere.

The quest for spiritual maturity is a lot like trying to get in shape after years of a sedentary lifestyle eating fatty foods. Bringing our lives into “spiritual fitness” – where we are loving God and other people, serving God and those in need, practicing the daily disciplines of Bible study, prayer and worship – takes focus, hard work and commitment. It takes hours of sweat and energy invested in attaining the final goal: a God-honoring earthly life and eternity in Heaven with God. We know from the Scriptures that the end result will be well worth the labor.

So, whatever New Year’s promises you whisper to yourself this week as you look ahead to the coming year, do yourself a favor: Make the commitment to focus as much energy on your spiritual health as your physical health. If you do, God surely will open up all kinds of opportunities that will totally eclipse running that first 5K or buying that new pair of jeans.

Living every day as a “living sacrifice to God” is the ultimate adrenaline rush. Go for it!

 

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