Exercise Does More than Build Your Body

Consider this popular complaint about male gymnasium enthusiasts:  “Roughly half of a man’s workout consists of admiring his muscles in the gym mirror.”

True, a lot of us go to the gym to improve our image.  We want results, so we commit ourselves to a workout routine.  While I admire the commitment it requires, I want to focus on what exercise, in itself, actually is. Notice that the act of working out is not the act of growing muscles.  We might feel our muscles fill with blood and expand during use, but the resulting growth we expect is just that — a result.  Ignoring all ends and results, the actual experience of working out is naturally not image focused, but pain focused.  The actual activity of exercise centers more on pain felt than muscle growth experienced.  The pain we feel signals muscle tissue breaking down, not becoming better and stronger.

So what is working out really all about, if the growth so often correlated with it concerns more the outcome than the actual activity?

This semester I am taking a rigorous weight lifting class in which my coach has addressed this very question.  Whenever everyone in the room is absolutely exhausted, struggling to keep up with the pace of the workout, the coach says, “Keep it up, men.  Remember, we’re doing this for Christ.”

I initially reacted adversely to these words of encouragement.  We aren’t exercising for Christ.  Christ does not command us to exercise.  Neither does our workout take the form of undergoing persecution for Christ’s sake.  How on earth can we be exercising for Christ?

However, upon further reflection on Christ as a man who walked this earth, I realized he was a ripped guy.  He was a practicing carpenter for years and years which, back in the days before the invention of power tools, meant that he must have been really buff.  But he was also ripped in a very different way, ripped by the Roman scourge, and thereby bearing the excruciating pain reserved for us.  Christ uses the human experience of pain he knows so well to bring His church together as well as the meaningful tastes of pain we experience to remind us of Himself.

Exercise presents an opportunity to worship Christ for the small taste of His sacrificial pain we can partake of.  That’s probably what my coach meant when he reminded us that we are exercising “for Christ:” not that Christ somehow needs us to lift weights for Him, but that we offer up our hard work and painful experience to Him in praise.  Exercise is a form of praise both because we get to exert ourselves bodily and because we get to taste of his sacrificial suffering and, realizing our pain is but a meager taste of His pain, praise Him all the more for the pain he underwent on our account.  For Christians, a difficult workout is a time of meaningful Communion, in remembrance of Him.

It is also a unique way to taste how Christ builds up His church in that exercise isn’t an activity for loners.  It is extremely unwise and dangerous to do it alone.  Conventional wisdom tells long-distance runners to bring a buddy.  Weight lifters always weight train with a spotter, a friend who can safely disengage the weights when the lifter’s own strength fails him.  Both runners and weight lifters can push themselves further and with greater confidence in the company of others than would have been possible in isolation. In this way, it is unique from most other pain.  Hitting myself in the thumb while nailing together my wooden fence does not reflect Christ’s pain because it is self-absorbed:  I look for any way to ease the throbbing pain I feel.  Experiencing the pain of exercise, however, challenges me not to seek ease, but to look beyond myself and rely on others in order to arrive beyond my own pain.  They help me bear my burden, and we all increase in unity, coordination, and strength.

The centrality of community in painful exercises like lifting weights illustrates the building up and strengthening of the Church.  We experience pain together and we depend on the light Christ shines through the hearts of our fellow Christians in order to be raised up beyond the isolation our pain tempts us to seek.  We find not short-lived, haphazard ease from our pain, but a refocused comfort beyond it.  Building the body of Christ by tasting Christ’s pain together deepens and strengthens our relationships in unfathomable ways just as the pain of Christ we taste is itself unfathomable.

As Romans 12:1 says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is spiritual worship.”

More than anything, exercise is an opportunity to commune with Christ, build up the Church, build up our bodies, and lift it all up to the praise of His glorious name.  Exercise does more than build your body; it builds Christ’s.  At the end of such a workout we are exhausted, but surprisingly fulfilled, know it is Christ’s work we have tasted, it is Him we have adored, and it is His body we have tended.

We don’t go to the gym to contrive an image; we go there to be conformed to the image of His Son.  We experience both the way he builds us up into His glorious body and the meaningful pain he suffered, that we might praise him all the more as his return approaches.

Following Christ Into the Night: A Reflection on the Fear of the Unknown

I often feel very alone when I think of the uncertainty of my future. Sometimes at night a sense of desolation follows me and shakes me awake before my morning alarm. I wake up with fears of insignificance, rejection, and isolation. My mind and heart say maybe your fears are real. Maybe you are truly alone.

My response to these fears is often rationalization–convincing myself through logical analysis that I’m not alone. I have a caring family, good friends, and challenging mentors. I have a community that makes the feeling of isolation ludicrous. Furthermore my mentors always bring me back to Scripture. They quote I will never leave you or forsake you, and nothing can separate us from the love of God.

What happens then? The lack of evidence for reasons to be in despair only invites it back into my mind and heart.  I feel a sinking feeling in my stomach; like I’m walking a tightrope and all the assuring voices point me to the safety nets below. But nothing prepares me for the fall.


I wonder if that same feeling was in the mind of Jesus’ disciples. I suspect it wasn’t easy following the God man. There must have been confusion, uncertainty, and perhaps despair that trailed them on the roads of Galilee and Judea. They lived with a man who spoke like the Torah and the prophets all at once; who pronounced woes and wept over cities; who killed fig trees and resurrected dead men; who pacified zealots and cleansed the Temple with a whip.

They followed a man who was seen, even by member of his own family, as insane, and he was scandalous in his association with prostitutes and Samaritans. They followed him with bread-and miracle-seeking crowds who would disown him in a moment.  The disciples were cut off with Jesus in his offences. They were left alone with his person.

I think about Jesus prophesying his death. Of all the hard words of Jesus, this might have seemed the most ridiculous and possibly the cruelest. They had followed Christ, had been associated and threatened with him, and now he says he will die by the hands of their leaders. To their minds the fear of the unknown might have been the unspeakable thought of life without him. They would be mistaken and condemned men, submerged in the wake of another false messiah. I want to say I would have thought and acted differently from the disciples, but they faced a fear that I can’t comprehend. If all I had was Jesus and he told me he was going to die, I don’t know if I would have listened to him either.

I follow Christ into the unknown, and I strategize like the disciples did. I can be passionate like Peter and make big promises, prioritize the reign of the Messiah, and zealously cut off ears. I enjoy the grad attempts at control in the face of Christ’s unsettling prophecies.

I’ve often read Peter’s denial of Christ as an act of self preservation—saving his own skin. But what if Peter was afraid of the implications of Jesus’ death more than the loss of his own life? If he was trying to save himself, why would he follow Christ into the midst of the enemy? It seems like Peter was trailing Jesus to spring him from the situation—he was thinking like a revolutionary. But the plan of saving him meant Peter had to deny his relationship with his friend and God.

I follow Jesus into darkness. He could tell me exactly what I need do, who I’ll be, and where I’ll go, but he just says “Follow me.” So, like Peter after Gethsemane, I often follow him to upset his plans. I garnish his commands with my own schemes because I rely on evidence. I deny him to save him. I weep bitterly.

I want to see God, but he is invisible. I want to consolidate and organize his ways, but they are mysterious. Why doesn’t he remove my fears of insignificance and of hurting others? Why is the imminent future so unknown? Why am I haunted by loneliness when he says he’ll never leave me? Why does he allow Satan to sift me like wheat?

My faith is small and capricious. There are days when the Son of God is revealed and I, like Peter, fervently spew “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” There are other days when I would trade his Name for his Kingdom, and still other days I would trade it for peace of mind.


After the resurrection, Peter and the disciples are faced again with Christ on the verge of leaving them. He comes to Peter and asks “Simon, son of John do you love me?” and Peter says “Lord you know everything, you know I love you.” And Jesus answers “Feed my sheep.”

It’s here, in the ashes of Peter’s denial, in the fallout of faithless doubt, and in face of the unknown that Christ lays the foundation of his Church.

I am the son of Peter; inheriting all of the bad habits and fears of my father.

I’m the son of Peter; redeemed and empowered by the Christ who brings life from death and revelation from the unknown.