I’ve worked in the fitness and exercise field for a long time. While scientists and professionals are correct to say that exercise is good for your physical health, I’ve learned from experience that there is so much more to the story: We were born to move.
God has a plan for our lives, and it requires the movement of our bodies. Of course, there is a place for contemplation. We could probably do better at observing the Sabbath, but we shouldn’t forget that God also made us for a life of activity. Scripture speaks of fighting, traveling, loving, conquering, and living. Jacob wrestles with God. The Israelites are constantly journeying or being displaced. Idleness is punished and often leads to sin.
Our bodies and their limitations remind us that we can’t be “anything we want to be.” They have a purpose. To fulfill that purpose is the ultimate source of all joy and happiness. In 1 Corinthians, Paul asks: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:19–20).
How might we glorify God in our bodies? Physical activities can be similar to prayer, insofar as they both require care and attention. To worship is to be attentive; our bodies and minds are directed toward glorifying the Lord. Similarly, physical activities—such as gardening, cooking, woodworking, hunting, or fishing, for example—by demanding our concentration and the full engagement of our bodies, can resemble an act of worship. They, too, can glorify the Lord.
They also bring us closer to being who we were meant to be, to being fully human. A life of activity pushes us to try new things, to meet new challenges. The more we move, the more we are spurred toward greatness. And the more we use our bodies well, the more we also “move” spiritually closer to God.
But we have to want it. Life is like a dojo, to use a martial arts metaphor. If we show up and then keep showing up, we’ll one day be stronger, physically and spiritually. Our relationship with God is strengthened when we seek him out, in our bodies and in our hearts.
What we do with our bodies counts. We often forget that our bodies and souls are one. We see this in Scripture, where the spiritual life is often described with active, physical imagery: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Caring for one benefits the other.
So here’s some practical advice I would like to offer to all Christians. Pastors should encourage their congregations not only to pray more, but also to challenge themselves physically, to turn off the screens and engage with the world in a tangible way, to move. An absence of challenges degrades the best of the best. We weren’t all built to be great athletes, but we can all get up and do something worthwhile. Most importantly, we can all live an active life of faith. As Christ said: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Matt. 9:37).
Recently, at my aunt and uncle’s fiftieth anniversary party, the two dazzled and surprised over a hundred of us with a choreographed dance they’d studied on YouTube and perfected at home in their small house in rural Alabama. I found out later that it took months of daily practice to get it just right. It was one of the best things I’d ever seen. They were moving with purpose.
Christianity has been called “the way” for a reason; we’re supposed to move toward something. Movement is a gift. Our bodies and the physical world are a gift, and they remind us that the God in whom we “breathe and move and have our being” has given us this gift and the ability to act—to move closer to him. “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” (1 Cor. 9:24).
Scott Godwin writes from Atlanta, Georgia.
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