So I used to be quite a bit overweight. There came a point about 2 1/2 years ago where I was pushing 250, was constantly worn down, and just unhealthy. By God’s grace, I’ve been able to lose the weight by eating healthy and working out pretty consistently. I’ve noticed over the past couple years of getting healthy just how similar sticking to a healthy lifestyle is to following Jesus (metaphorically, that is).
There are numerous passages in scripture that compare healthy eating and exercise to following Christ. Jesus tells us that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). Jesus also compares the act of faith with eating, saying that he is “the bread of life; whoever comes to [him] shall not hunger; whoever believes in [him] shall never thirst” (Jn 6:35). Paul compares growth in holiness and perseverance in the faith to a long marathon (2 Tim 4:7), and to an olympic athlete who finishes well (2 Tim 2:5).
Having used the scriptures to meditate on the similarities between following Christ and staying healthy, I’ve learned a lot of things about my own spiritual walk. Here are a few things eating healthy and exercising has taught me:
1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint:
In the past, whenever I tried to get healthy or lose a few pounds, I never gave a long-lasting effort. My attempts to become healthy were always these 1-2 month efforts that always ended with discouragement. And I think one thing that I always expected from these attempts was quick success. The reality is, if you want to lose weight and keep it off, you’re going to have to put your whole life into this thing, not just a couple months.
This principle is the same with spiritual growth. If we truly want to be more and more like Jesus, we need to be thinking in terms of years, decades, our entire life. Jesus tells us that if we would find our life, we must lose it (Mt 16:25). Our entire lives must be given to Jesus. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, said that his entire Christian life was like a long marathon (2 Tim 4:7). He was looking back on decades of faithful obedience to Christ.
2) Sometimes less is more:
When I first began to work out, I (embarrassingly) would work out for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I would start out running for 10 minutes, then do an hour of lifting, then do some more cardio. That was simply too much. I thought that the more activity and time I spent in the gym, the more I would benefit. The reality is, I was exerting too much energy and actually hindering my health in the end. In this case, less really is more — working out for longer than an hour actually hinders your progress.
It’s similar when following Christ. Many Christians are involved in too many Bible studies, too many church services, too many books, too many groups, and as a result, they are burning out. Keeping it simple allows for more focus, more time, and better commitment to Christ.
3) It’s (mainly) about quality, not quantity:
This is similar to #2, but a bit different. To make this point simple: it’s not so much about how long you work out, or how much you eat, but the quality of exercises and foods you eat. You can eat 2,000 calories in M&M’s, but that’s so unhealthy! In contrast, eating 2,000 calories in vegetables and proteins is so much better.
The same with following Christ. We are to make the most of our time, Paul says (Eph 5:16), and to spend our efforts on the things that truly matter. What this means is that we shouldn’t exert our efforts on things that will not bring more glory to Jesus. Rather, we should pour into things that benefit our walk with Christ.
4) Sticking to a schedule is seriously important:
Half of my success in losing weight has come by simply getting up when I plan on getting up, and showing up to the gym. Another part of my success is the fact that I go into the gym each time with a plan. I have a workout routine in my head before I even enter the building. And the reason is because I schedule the whens, whats, and wheres. I’ve learned that sticking to that schedule is incredibly beneficial.
Many people decry a structured time for prayer and Bible reading, but I’ve found that if I discipline myself to read at a certain time, and to plan what I’m reading, I benefit more than if I had never done that. Planning and discipline really helps if we want to read the scriptures on a consistent basis.
5) Rest is really important:
More important than working out and eating healthy, is getting sufficient rest, and allowing your body to recover. If you spend one hour in the gym a day, it takes 2 days for your muscles to recover from that single workout! I used to workout way too often, and it didn’t allow my muscles to recover. Now I know that sufficient rest, sleep, and recovery is just as important as the exercise part.
Likewise, as much as serving Christ and his people is important, we also need Sabbath. God himself took rest after the creation to model for his people the importance of rest. As much as ministry is crucial to the gospel and the lost, rest is important as well.
6) Having others by your side is so crucial:
This should be a given: working out and dieting with others is exponentially easier than doing it alone. You have the encouragement and accountability to continue to motivate you toward the goal. Also, working out with others is more fun than doing it alone.
Likewise, the Christian life was meant to be done in the context of community. We should be seeking encouragement and accountability, and also be looking to give it to others! This is the way God has ordained the Christian life be done: in the context of the body of Christ.
These are just a few things that exercise and healthy dieting has taught me. I’ve found that in the long run, sticking with a healthy lifestyle actually benefits me not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and more importantly, spiritually.