When my alarm goes off early in the morning, it awakens me to the one thing I often dread: Working Out. I am so tempted to just hit the snooze button or roll over and forget about it altogether. But now that Letty is my accountability partner in exercise, I just can’t do that anymore. I know that working out is a good thing for me, but – like eating Brussell Sprouts – it doesn’t mean I have to like it.
The other day when I met with one of my spiritual friendship groups, we shared about how we best connect with God. One of the members, my good friend and colleague Jeanne, shared about how she connects with God through exercise. She’s a cyclist and her best times with God is when she is on the road – gears a’grinding, wheels a’spinning, heart a’pumping, body a’sweating, and her soul a’praising and a’praying. She experiences a sense of joy, peace and grace when she connects with God while working out. There is a special convergence and communion that happens when our physical bodies operate alongside our souls. As Olympic medalist and devout Christ-follower, Eric Liddell, once said, “God created me to run. When I run, it gives God pleasure.”
There is a great word that describes when the spiritual reality converges with physical reality: “Incarnation.” Nowadays, incarnation is a word used in Christian ministry circles to denote acts of justice and compassion (which is good because there isn’t enough of that happening!) But incarnation is more than that. It is the intentional act of putting a physical expression to spiritual movement. The ultimate act of incarnation happened when the Son became “flesh” and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This inspires us to smaller acts of incarnation where the ways of the Spirit lead our souls to express them in physical reality. These include acts of compassion and justice, but it also includes aligning our actions with God’s commandments, spiritual disciplines (like fasting and giving), singing/clapping/lifting hands to God in worship, and working out with our bodies and souls. And whenever we do this, it gives God great pleasure!
So I tried out Jeanne’s idea yesterday morning. I woke up in my typical grumpy state, but I was determined to let God be the focus as I did my 30 minute workout on the elliptical. Instead of starting off my workout to the pace-making music of Chicago, Boz Scaggs and the Doobie Brothers, I began with the Jesus Prayer followed by Silent Prayer. At first it was hard as both my body and soul rebelled against this change of routine. But as my soul centered on God, my body settled into a comfortable rhythm: Muscles moving, deep breathing, sweat pouring out. After ten minutes of silence, I started the iPhone with my praise and worship play list. Although I’ve heard those songs hundreds of times before without noticing anything, this time the lyrics popped in my mind like fireworks! “Every day, Lord, I’ll learn to stand upon Your Word.” “Praises to the Lamb who saved us.” “Happy day, You’ve washed my sins away.” The combination of the physical and spiritual opened the way to soulful worship to God. My 30 minute workout – which always seems 29 minutes too long – went by easily. In fact, I could have gone on longer (but I didn’t – gotta save some for tomorrow).
Thanks to Jeanne, I was inspired to connect with God in this way!
Two takeaways from this Whole Life Worship lesson:
1. It is good to get physical with God. Too often we leave the “spiritual” in the head or in the prayer closet. God created us in our bodies. We don’t just have a body; we are a body. When we use our bodies in ways that glorify Him – whether that is serving, reaching out, helping others, or worshiping – it brings pleasure to both Him and us.
2. We can learn new ways with God through spiritual friendships. The sharing of ideas help us; not only to understand how others are different, but also to inspire us to new things in our walk with God. We are meant to share the journey of faith together. Since we are the “Body of Christ,” spiritual friendships help us exercise the Body – in the larger sense!
How can you put a physical expression to your spiritual life?
Do you have spiritual friendships that encourage you towards greater connection with God? What things have helped you in these spiritual friendships?