“Strengthening Your Body Is Strengthening Your Soul”
“If we coddle laziness in one area of our lives, we’ll succumb to it in other areas too. Sins are, by nature, self-reproducing…Cultivating discipline in physical fitness can make us more apt to be disciplined in spiritual fitness.” (106)
It is not the New Year that has got me thinking of my physical health. I am looking toward a lonely three-month trip beginning in February, a deputation trip to states I have never visited before. Because the sad mixture of school, a sedentary job, sleeplessness, winter, and my wife’s pregnancy have all recently coalesced into the perfect storm of unhealthy weight gain, I have determined to return from my trip in April thinner than what I had been when I left. My wife, who will not be joining me this time, will certainly be able to judge in an instant whether or not I have attained that goal when I see her in the end, so I read this book as much for her as I did for myself.
We first read Gary Thomas together while engaged, for a friend had recommended to us his Sacred Marriage. It was a good introduction to the man, obviously a Christian counselor of sorts with plenty of ideas and a talent for making them sound great. I’ll honestly admit that I do not remember all that much of Sacred Marriage, but that has more to do with the fact that we had read it as an unmarried couple with lollipop dreams of what marriage might be in our minds, not reality, so any lessons we may have learned back them had been tainted by a false perception of what marriage in general. Nevertheless, I do remember enjoying Thomas’ writing, so when I came across this book on healthy living, I was glad to pick it up.
The main thrust of Every Body Matters is that slothful, gluttonous Christians need to recognize how their physical lives very often reflect the condition of their spiritual lives. If such people desire to see healthy growth in both of those areas, they can begin by committing themselves to self-discipline in both their eating and their exercise. Many obese Christians will retort: “You’ve got it backwards, Thomas! You can’t start with the physical and then expect to grow spiritually. You’re just creating a new god out of your own body that way!” Thomas, however, would emphasize his key verse, 2 Timothy 2:21 (“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”), and the fact that an apathetically obese Christian can never be fit for the Master’s use as he continues to cut his life short through unhealthy living. While it is true that not all obese believers are ungodly, and that not all physically fit believers are godly, there is a correlation between physical and spiritual self-control which simply cannot be ignored.
Thomas clearly describes in Chapter 14 that mortification of the flesh as described in such passages as 1 Timothy 6:11 is key to living a holy, godly life. “Some sins are extremely difficult to get rid of…We can manage them and gain mastery over them, but we may still be occasionally tripped up by them. How often we are tripped up, however, often depends on our vigilance and effort in fighting back” (177). This advice is as true physically as it is spiritually, and godly advances in one area will certainly translate into advances in the other.
Gary Thomas’ book has certainly encouraged me toward more healthy living, and I believe that much of his advice will come in handy while I am on the road and need to decide between a Culvers or a Subway; a side of fries or a salad; a lemonade or a water. It will also help in motivating me toward riding my bike for a mile or two when I take a rest from driving rather than resting from the drive by sitting in a coffee shop somewhere surfing the web. But as helpful as Thomas’ book is, I must add the caveat that he sure loves quoting the mystics throughout his book, almost in favor of Scripture itself! He states explicitly once that he is “not, by nature, a particularly mystical sort of person,” but you would never know that by reading the evidence of what is obviously his own diet of reading. For those who are wisely skeptical of this new influx of mystical Christianity into evangelicalism, beware of this point. Beyond this, I would recommend Every Body Matters to any believer looking to improve both his physical and spiritual health one step at a time.