For me, exercise has been encouraging in more ways than one. I’m always going to be encouraged to push myself further in my exercise routine and in my everyday routine when I exercise. It’s a natural energizer because it’s working to keep my body healthy. But I’ve also found that it can help me spiritually.
Although I’ve never worked out in the traditional sense of the term, I’ve done some running and I’ve practiced yoga for around three years. Both of these routines were big steps for me because:
1) I didn’t care about intentional exercise for a long time.
2) I’d never done either of them before (outside of that mile run in middle school that I mostly walked).
It didn’t quite hit me until just this week that not only are there Bible correlations with running, but any type of exercise can be or lead to spiritual discipline. A lot of yoga classes I’ve attended incorporate setting an intention at the beginning of the practice; this could be anything from a physical component you need to focus on or mindset you’d like to achieve. At the end of my practice on Monday, my instructor (online – I’ve been using FitStar Yoga) said, “Now go back to that intention you set at the beginning.” I don’t usually set one just because I’m focusing on the poses, not any one aspect of the practice. (I realize this could sound fluffy and a little bit out there, so stick with me.)
But as soon as she said that I realized how I could be using my time during my yoga practice to focus my mind on things above (Colossians 3:2). Instead of setting an earthly intention like a better stretch or getting a tough pose or grace when you fall out of a pose, I decided the next time to set my mind on a Biblical virtue. So, during my next practice, I set my mind on patience. I chose to be patient with myself and with the practice, and to be fully there while I was exercising my body. Then I thought about patience with others, and as I was holding poses thought of situations in which I would need to practice patience. Not only did this help get me through the yoga practice, but I also felt that I’d grown.
The same is true with running. While you’re giving yourself grace and pushing yourself to just run through that pain, you’re also training your mind. Because in a lot of ways these types of exercises are teaching you tools you also need to fight as a Christian.
Through exercising, we can learn patience and grace and perseverance and strength and so many other things. The writer of Hebrews says, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” in chapter 12, verse 1. And in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, the same type of analogy is given as a lesson about discipline and perseverance toward the “imperishable crown”:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
I realize that Paul is talking here about spiritual discipline, and he isn’t even saying that we all need to spiritually discipline ourselves while we’re exercising, but in the Bible, both parables and analogies are given that will increase understanding because people can relate to the topic – or are at least familiar with it.He’s talking about fully disciplining our spiritual bodies to strive toward an eternal home with God. If learning some type of discipline during exercise weren’t relevant, this wouldn’t have been written.
It takes self-control, perseverance, and confidence to get through a tough exercise. And it takes self-control, perseverance, and confidence to get through this tough life.
That’s why the time we spend exercising, which is usually a big chunk of time, can also be a spiritual discipline, even if we aren’t specifically “setting an intention” during that yoga practice or those two miles or during every weight-lift. It can teach us lessons about our minds and bodies that will help us learn physical and spiritual discipline. We can apply the same mindset to our spiritual walk through this life because that perseverance is the same perseverance that will help us reach a heavenly goal.