Spiritually Fit, but Physically Flabby?

Extremes describe my life.  I have often said, “I wasn’t given the gift of moderation..and anything worth doing is worth over doing!”  Over the last 10 years I transitioned from the life of a Navy SEAL to the life of a pastor.  There have been many positives with this transition, but one negative snuck up on me–the decline of my physical fitness.  When it comes to fitness, I can hardly think of two extremes more polarizing that the fitness level of your average Navy SEAL to the of your average Southern Baptist pastor!  Unfortunately, about 6 months ago, I was feeling like I felt into the later category and I was miserable.

There are many who seem to quote 1 Timothy 4:8, “…for bodily discipline is only of little profit…” as a justification for poor physical fitness.  I think the average application of this passage is a little off.  First, the context of this passage was written during a time when life required to work physically hard in contrast the the sedentary life of many today.  Second, this passage does say bodily discipline has profit!

The area of physical fitness, or general health, may be one of the first things to go for the average church-planter or pastor.  Many have suffered medically for slacking in this area.  Mark Driscoll, Rick Warren, and many others suffered a major health crisis early in their journeys of pastoring that required them to make a radical change in order for them to run the race for the long term.  Their hard lessons resonated with me.  I felt like I was heading down that path and it would only be a matter of time before I suffered the same problems.  I was feeling some of the side effects of the pastor’s life–free floating anxiety, difficulty focusing, discouragement, and difficulty sleeping well.

My health surfaced through an unusual circumstance.  As a chaplain I serve with a SWAT team and one particular morning in July I found myself playing a bad guy.  The SEAL in me came out, but my body failed me.  I ended up with some bruised ribs.  It was extremely painful.  I hurt bad–Vicodin bad.  A few nights later my cell phone batter died and the phone beeped.  It was about 3am and I jumped up…thinking there was a SWAT call out.  I moaned in agony jumping up only to sigh with disappointment to discover that it was only a dead battery.  My wife did not find this amusing.  She said something like, “Really?  You want to respond to a SWAT call out right now?”  The answer seems obvious to me.  She however thought it was time for me to start hitting the gym as she gracefully reminded me that I was no longer a 25 year-old SEAL, but was a much older pastor.  Her point was well made…I knew I needed to get more faithful at the gym.

Long story short, I was blessed with a membership to a CrossFit gym in my community a few months after this incident.  I have been disciplined in working out since then 3-5 times per week.  I have been sore for much of the last six months, but I feel so much better as a whole.  By getting back into a regular exercise routine my stress levels are down, my ability to focus is much better, and I am just in an all around better mood!  It is funny how so often the thing we need to do is actually the thing we put off.  I am so thankful for this opportunity that was given to me and I see now how bad my health had become-right under my nose.

This is a simple thought, but giving time to physical exercise daily is critical for for pastors over the long haul of their life.  Our calling places unique demands on us.  These demands often require  much of our time…legitimately so.  Our personal health is an area that requires our attention if we desire to go the distance in our calling.  I encourage my brothers to cut out time for their physical fitness.  You’ll be glad you did. What things have helped, or hurt, you in your attempts to stay healthy?


7 replies
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    What things have hurt? Apathy. Indifference. Complacency.

    When I was in the military, nothing as extreme as Navy SEALs by any stretch, I went to the gym regularly with some of the guys I worked with, training with them. They were bigger and stronger than me, so though I couldn’t lift the weights they did, I kept pace… if they went up 5lbs, I went up 5 lbs and that motivated me beyond my limitations. I gained better fitness and strength than if I was left to my own limits (motivational/strength).

    How it’s hurt? When looking for that same thing, spiritually speaking, just can’t find it. Everyone is ‘happy with where they are, fine with where I am’… The whole iron sharpens iron has taken on new meaning because it’s easier to agree to disagree… than put effort in to resolving issues.

    Instead of training with men stronger in the Lord than I am and pushed beyond my limits because of it, finding no one to ‘work out with’, I tend to quit because… ‘who really cares, anyway?’ Going through some really hard times and find the doubts loud and forceful… and if I can’t stand in such minor trials as these, how can I hope to stand in more severe ones when family and community count on it?

    In the fire department, physical fitness was helpful, it wasn’t essential, as I assume, it was in the SEALs… so not everyone thought it necessary to work out. Point is, I’d rather train with the one who faced the giant with only a sling and staff than stand at a distance with the many others shouting the battle cry, terrified to venture down into the fight… which is where I find myself. I’d rather be armed, trained with the strength of David, physically fit to carry a full suit of armor.

    So, yes, it profits… and I’d really love to get back in shape… but being as we walk in the flesh, but don’t fight according to the flesh, I’d rather get in shape spiritually by training with David first… finding out what he knew/understood… and then physically. It’s just unfortunate not being able to find either, in this day and age, to train with.

    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      I’ve been a martial artist for many years and I love sparring with people who are both better than me, or not nearly as far along in their training. For that matter, people equally as skilled are a joy too. In such an arena, I have found that I can learn from people who are less skilled and challenge and instruct those more advanced. When you’re not trying to win that is.

      That you cannot find people anyone to “work out with” on spiritual issues may be in indication that you’re trying to win, and not sharpen…?..

      Just thinking out loud.

    • Greg
      Greg says:

      I’ve always said that I’d rather be corrected by a friend than by an enemy, as a friend in the ring is only trying to show my weaknesses/vulnerabilities help me get stronger, so that an enemy won’t be able to exploit them.

      Isn’t there a different intensity between those training for an advancement different than one training to face life and death situations (just as Navy SEAL training is orders of magnitude more intense than the training regular military goes through)? One could be seen not taking it seriously enough while the other too seriously.

      Yet, in this promo for Krav Maga ( http://bit.ly/HDzcd9 ) I watched yesterday, even they pull punches, go at 2/3’s speed/impact, if that… how does that prepare someone for reality? Kendo is the closest thing to full speed, full impact I’ve seen, but nothing close to it, iron sharpening iron – wise, in the body… well, in the States, anyway.

      Thank you for thinking out loud.

  2. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    After 30 years of migraines, I recently tried a gluten free diet, and am migraine free.
    We need to pay attention to what we eat.

    Also, seeing obese Senior Pastors is a deterrent to many. Right, wrong, or otherwise, I think that is true. What does that say about a disciplined lifestyle?

  3. Bill Walden
    Bill Walden says:

    After 30 years of migraines, I recently tried a gluten free diet, and am migraine free. The brain fog is gone, and I am functioning more like a normal person.

    We need to pay attention to what we eat.

    Also, seeing obese Senior Pastors is a deterrent to many. Right, wrong, or otherwise, I think that is true. What does that say about a disciplined lifestyle?

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