When the Coronavirus pandemic forced the world into lockdown, many people interested in health and fitness sought new ways to keep physically and mentally fit to combat the consequences of sedentary living and isolation; we saw a surge in sales of dumbbells, yoga mats, and online fitness programs, plus a boom in subscriptions of Zoom, Netflix, and online learning.
But the challenge of quarantine hasn’t been just physical and mental. In the face of uncertainty and death, according to recent polls, one in twenty people have started praying, a quarter of adults have watched an online religious service, and more than ever people are searching for hope. Why? Because humans are not just flesh and thoughts; we have an inbuilt desire for purpose, value, justice, truth, and life. In other words, we were built to be moral; we were built to be spiritual.
The Bible tells an amazing story of what it means to be human and why we are spiritual: the sovereign God of the universe is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (John 14). He spoke the world into existence and, as the pinnacle of His creation, made humans in His image and likeness to be spiritual creatures (Genesis 1) with His truth written on our hearts (Jer 31:33). As God’s image bearers, we have been given a body, mind, and spirit. (1 Thess 5:23).
Most people understand the importance of physical and mental health and fitness; we understand how when one strengthens or suffers, the other follows sooner or later. I’m a certified fitness professional; I even started a missional fitness community (called ‘Breakfit’) with a vision to see whole-person transformation in local communities and a desire to enable people of all ages to flourish in body, mind, and spirit. The parallels of training and the seamless conversational connection between physical and spiritual fitness are incredible to me. But why isn’t spiritual health and fitness taken seriously? We are in danger of neglecting what it means to be human as God intended; the spirit is not a fraction of our humanity – it is integral to our humanity.
The Bible teaches spiritual health and fitness starts with believing and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 10:9-13), and is sealed by immediately receiving the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing eternal life (Eph 1:14). From that point on, life is learning to trust Christ by keeping in step with the Spirit and seeking first His Kingdom in all our relationships, pursuits, and experiences. But like physical and mental fitness, that doesn’t just happen; spiritual fitness requires training.
“…train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8)
‘Godliness training’ literally means training to put God first in each and every area of life. To follow Christ in faith means we are called to put Him first in our families, work, art, finances, outlook, and relationships. But to put Him first, we first need to be immersed in who He is, what He has to say about the world, and the truth of His love, power, plans, and eternal purpose. In a world that is often hostile against Him and contains suffering of all kinds, our faith in God needs to be fed, inspired, and trained.
This food, inspiration, and training can only come by taking God’s Word, the Bible, seriously. To train in godliness means a steady diet of the Word of God; for God did not design humans to live on food alone, but by every word that comes from His mouth (Matt 4:4). God chose to specifically and authoritatively speak to us in His Son, through His Word and by His Spirit, so that we can know Him and mature into the likeness of Christ. We need God first in every fiber of our bodies, God first in every thought we think, and God first in every word we speak – Him first in our hearts, Him first in every breath of the day. Our habits do not change without God’s training; we need to intentionally get into the Word of God.
That’s why I am so passionate about WordGo. WordGo is a fully resourced group Bible study, powered by an app that is accessible, customizable, and designed to help people develop a regular rhythm of engaging directly with the text of the Bible – individually and especially in groups of friends. The mission of WordGo is spiritual health in the body of Christ: you, your friends, your church group, and your family reaching for the Word daily and growing in love of the Lord – for who He is and what He says. WordGo is solid scriptural food in bite sized meals, received in quiet time and digested in fellowship; God’s spiritual training comes alive in His Word, transforming how we live and live together.
I firmly believe we need a bigger purpose and story for human health and fitness. Particularly in response to tragedies like the Coronavirus pandemic, as people suffer from bereavement, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and loss of community. Under professional instruction and guidance, physical and mental fitness will certainly help us cope in times of difficulty – even the Bible teaches it has some value (1 Tim 4) – but by themselves, they don’t go far enough to satisfy our deepest longings and needs, answer our greatest fears, or fulfill our God-given eternal purpose and potential. We need spiritual fitness in Christ; for as Paul says to Timothy, it not only has immense value and impact on this life but also the next!
Seeking God’s training for fitness in body, mind, AND spirit is a greater, wholistic, and exciting vision for helping people not only to optimize the best and overcome the worst of this life, but also to prepare for a rich entrance into and experience of the next (1 Peter 1:11). As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, ‘Aim at heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”; aim at earth and you will get neither.’