There is a great upsurge of interest in physical fitness today. Fifty mile hikes, isometrics, bicycle riding, athletic games, and such like, occupy the attention of the general public. The high percentage of men rejected by the military because of physical deficiencies has been the major motivation for this renewed interest. The nation’s populace, especially the youth, has become soft and indifferent towards work and bodily exercise. Most people have become like wheelbarrows; they stand still unless pushed. Or, like one person said, “No matter how busy I am, I’m never too busy to stop and talk about how busy I am.”
If this need of physical fitness is apparent, how much more apparent is the need of spiritual strengthening. The apostle Paul wrote to the young man Timothy and said, “For bodily exercise profiteth little; but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.”
God’s plan for spiritual fitness is designed for those who have been saved through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. A person must have believed the gospel of God’s grace concerning His Son who loved us and gave Himself for us. A real, genuine acceptance of the work of Christ at Calvary is necessary before a person can work for God (Eph. 2:8-10). After a person has been redeemed from sin and self, he can enter God’s program by, trusting in the Lord with humility for spiritual fitness.
Trusting the Lord with Humility
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones” (Prov. 3:5-8)
Verse 8 of the above quotation is especially significant. The “navel” is a figure of speech referring to the whole body or person. A deep sense of humility and childlike trusting in God brings emotional stability and helps the “nerves.” This contrasts sharply with the world’s “pills for our ills” formula. We are urged to take tranquilizers to slow us down and “pep” pills to speed us up. Someone has suggested a surefire formula for success—think up a product that costs a dime, sells for a dollar, and is habit forming! Surely, we should all agree that the portion of God’s Word recorded in Philippians 4:5-7 is still most effective for spiritual fitness.
“Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Work is Necessary
In God’s program we must realize that work is necessary for spiritual fitness. No one has ever found a substitute for work. Machines have not relieved man of the necessity to toil. There was a time when we wore out machines, now machines are wearing us out. Some people are afraid of work. Others can lie down beside it and go to sleep. Some people work themselves to death trying to get out of working. Whatever the case may be, work continues in some form or manner. Good, honest, physical labor is an aid to physical fitness. Again, there is no comparison as to how much spiritual good is derived from working for the Lord.
Jesus said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:26). This expression is both vivid and descriptive. Pitiful protests and excuses precede this utterance of our Lord. People are always trying to get out of working for God, not realizing they are perishing spiritually.
Work may be divided into two categories, mental and manual. Both are equally necessary. Both take effort. The need for the use of mind and heart for spiritual health is taught in Proverbs 16:22-24:
“Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it; but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.”
Verse 22 of the above quotation is especially significant. The expression “understanding is a wellspring of life,” refers to that which is deep, abiding. and refreshing. Remember the Lord’s discourse with the woman at Jacob’s well in John’s gospel?
“And let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.”
A Healthy Heart is Necessary
It is generally recognized that a good sound heart is necessary to physical fitness. There are many and varied diseases that attack the human body. Some are well known, others mysterious, but all are too little understood. Problems of the heart provide much concern for the medical profession and general public. Heart trouble seems to be more prevalent among men than women, yet it seems to be increasing among women as they enter the “man’s world.”
This is possibly what gave rise to a father’s plea as he paced the floor with a wailing baby while his wife lay snugly In bed, “No one ever asks me how I manage to combine marriage and a career.” Proverbs 14:30 says,
“A sound heart is the life of the flesh; but envy the rottenness of the bones.”
How may we keep our hearts spiritually healthy? One way is to exercise them. An enlarged heart may be dangerous in a physical sense, but the opposite is true in the spiritual sense. Paul passionately wrote to the Corinthians,
“O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, and our heart is enlarged. Now for a recompense in the same, be ye also enlarged.” (2 Cor. 6:11-13).
We can keep our hearts healthy by letting them be loving, kind, understanding, generous hearts. Another way is to be happy and joyful in the Lord. This creates a right attitude toward life. Quoting from Proverbs again,
“A merry heart doeth good like a medicine; but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” (Prov. 15:15)
Our hearts need to remain in a tender, soft, pliable condition. When this is true, we are sensitive and conscious of the needs of others. We can be touched with the infirmities of others, and God can make an impression on our hearts.
The danger signal of this dreaded disease of heart failure Is when the heart becomes “hardened.” What causes this condition? Unbelief is a major cause (Heb. 3:13). Straying from God’s way or erring in the faith is harmful to the heart (Heb. 3:10). Many more could be cited. In any event, it behooves the child of God to take care of his heart. Let the Great Physician prescribe ways to keep the heart spiritually healthy.
Exercise is Necessary
Muscles can atrophy from lack of use; so can the mind and spirit. An arm placed in a sling for an extended period will waste away. In like manner failure to use, or willful neglect of our spiritual faculties leads to a wasting away.
At all ages and all stages of life, we should stay alert and exercise our senses. Someone has said, “youngsters at four and seventeen are at their mental peaks. At four they know all the questions and at seventeen they know all the answers.” The old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is simply not true and has been disproven long ago. The writer of Hebrews says:
“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb. 5:14)
From this we learn that we need our “senses exercised” in order to make proper judgments. Paul prayed that the saints would “abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment.” We need to be spiritually awake at all times and making proper use of that which God has so graciously given to us. “People who wake up famous, haven’t been asleep all the time.”
To have a strong will for God, a person must have a strong mind for God. A man must not spend the majority of his time in shallow and trivial matters. Lightly, someone described strength of mind as being able to eat only one salted peanut. Well, this may be true, but the person who desires to serve God will have to withstand far greater temptations and trials. We can only withstand in direct proportion to the amount of strength we possess spiritually . Strength for God demands strength in the things of God. We need to “exercise ourselves rather unto godliness.” Prayer, study, and service will keep us spiritually strong and fit.
It was stated at the beginning of this lesson that there was a great upsurge of interest in physical fitness. We should earnestly hope for and desire an upsurge of spiritual fitness in God’s children. This is the urgent need of our nation and all peoples of the earth.
Just as an avalanche begins with one small pebble, and a great journey with the first step, your life of spiritual fitness may be a great impetus for God and good.