Working Out and Following Jesus – Part 1

May 12th, 2009

I work out a lot. I love physical activity and being outdoors and active, or in the gym lifting weights or getting in a good cardio session.

I also love God. I love learning more about him, growing in faith and love, and trying to be like him.

I’ve always been aware that there are a lot of similarities between the physical and spiritual, but recently I just seem to be more aware and doing more comparisons. My physical life is becoming a source of better understanding for my spiritual life. Which is why I’m going to start a series of posts on the subject.

I read this in a fitness magazine the other day while I was on the stair machine: “Many people think we need to motivate ourselves before we take action, but the opposite is also true – by acting we can motivate ourselves,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D. “If you can force yourself to just get up and start moving, within minutes it’ll get easier and your attitude will change.”

It struck me that these same sentences could be inserted into a spiritual formation book and be talking about the Christian life. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve read things very similar to them in various books.

If you read enough fitness magazines, articles, etc, everyone says that when you don’t feel like working out, just say you’ll go for 5 or 10 minutes. Put your clothes on, get out the door, and do the 5 or 10 minutes. The majority of the time, once you’ve started you’ll gain motivation, start to enjoy it, and end up doing a longer workout. Generally I’m pretty motivated to work out (probably because I’m also very motivated to eat!), but some days it’s just hard. “I should swim today…but I don’t want to, I’m too tired. But I really should. Ok, 20 minutes. I’ll just do a good 20 minute swim and then be done.” I’ve done that with runs, weights, elliptical machines, bike rides, etc. Most of the time, those days when I’m most tired and least motivated are the days I end up not only completing the 20 minutes, but getting so into and enjoying the endorphins so much that I go 40, 45, 60 minutes…just never quite ready to stop. And of course, am SO glad that I chose to just do it.

Similarly, there are many weeks I don’t feel like going out to participate in ministry on the streets of Hollywood. I feel tired, lazy, sleepy, unfocused, etc. But I go anyway, thinking maybe I can leave early, maybe I can just talk to the ‘regulars’ that won’t take as much energy, etc. Ususally those are the nights that I end up in amazing conversations that require great energy, and it’s always there. Sometimes I even end the night energized and excited. Once I’m there, I enjoy it. It’s just getting there that’s hard. Or days that I see a homeless person on the side of the freeway that I want to pass up…but decide to stop and talk to, or give water to or whatever I have. And once I do, the conversation is really not so hard; and I’m happy I stopped, knowing I chose God over me (although I wish I could say that happens more than it does).

On a broader scale, many Christians often wonder ‘what’s God’s will for me? Where does he want me? What ministry should I be doing?’ I know I wondered that for a while, waiting for something to stir my heart and lead me to something. I participated in some things at church and heard about ministries that excited me. But nothing ever quite clicked. I just waited. Then I went to New Orleans. Not necessarily out of desire, but more just the thought that I had to do something (related to a break-up, so not entirely selfless). And God moved me. He stirred something in me that didn’t really come to fruition until I was back and working on our church newspaper that led me to a story about a ministry in Hollywood. Again, the Holy Spirit gripped my heart and I never looked back. That’s where most of my life and passion is dedicated now.

God helped me, he nudged me in the right directions. So, not exactly huge leaps of faith. But neither of those came from a ‘wow, I really want to do this, God told me to do this!’ kind of passion and feeling. But after I made a choice about something, then God did big things. I went, then he changed me and gave me direction. I didn’t wait for motivation to strike, but went, feeling a big, “bleh”, and came back with clarity and drive, glad that I’d gone. Just like when I say, “ugh, I guess I’ll go to the gym for like 20 minutes. But that’s all, then I’m outta there” and then stay for an hour….”Ok, I’ll go to New Orleans….I’ll go write this story, but that’s it, then I’m outta there.”…and still haven’t left.

Not that it has to be that big. I joined a Life Group at church knowing I should, not because I love big groups of people and going to bed late. Now I love my Life Group and the community that is growing there.

Sure, I still wonder what God’s will for me is in ministry or life in general…but I’m learning more often than not, whether at the gym or in my spiritual life, when I just go and do what I know I should, it almost always turns out much better than I could have hoped and God blesses the act of faith.

Don’t look before you leap. Just leap. Then look back to see how God miraculously saved you from falling.

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