In the Bible, the heart is often made synonymous with the soul. Hebrews 4:12 reads: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In this passage, there is clear reference being made to the physical body, but also to the heart in spiritual terms. Just as a spiritually strong heart will lead to heavenly glory, so does a trained, fit heart lead to victory in the physical realm. Here are four ways to incorporate your life as an athlete into your faith:
SACRIFICE: The act of giving up a luxury or possession as an offering for God has been a spiritual discipline for centuries. Sacrificing is an act of obedience to God, and can be performed through the rigors of consistent training. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul says “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable (25).” When one exhibits sacrifice to God in spiritual terms, by way of regular devotion, praise, and well-doing then the heart (as the center of our spirit), and our relationship with God, is strengthened. Likewise, as the athlete gives up time, energy and leisure to train for an event, they are lead to victory after a consistent and focused training regimen. Offer your training sessions as a sacrifice to the Lord.
RITUAL: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control” Paul says. The ritual, regimentation and repetition of regular cardiovascular endurance training can provide a vehicle for finding the silence-most commonly achieved by meditation-required to “hear” God and allow Him to enter our hearts. In the physical realm, the rewards of winning a race or achieving a PR is a temporary accomplishment. However, spiritual “running” can lead to a victory in one’s eternal, spiritual life. Allow the ceremoniousness of your training sessions to serve as a reminder of your desire for spiritual growth.
HEART STRENGTH: A well-known quote from Deuteronomy 6:5 reads as follows: “Love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Just as the spiritual athlete must work towards building and nurturing a pure heart in an effort to grow closer to God, the competitive athlete must continually train the heart through cardiovascular exercise via an ongoing adaptation to progressive overload. Cardiovascular fitness is the cornerstone of athletic training and benefits every athlete. Similarly, the spiritual athlete who exhibits ongoing self-control, discipline and graciousness from the heart, will ultimately reach their goal of being one with God.
UNITY: The spiritual benefits of synergy and interdependence can be attained by working out with one or more training partners. Working towards a common goal, and discovering the limitlessness of human potential with another person can be a transformative experience. According to the authors of Working Out, Working Within, “Creating a successful team is essentially a spiritual act, one that requires all participants to forego self-indulgence for the greater good of the team.”
Taoist expert Sun Tzu taught that “Triumph is the result of unity of purpose and heart.” Be mindful of the many parallels and benefits of having self-discipline in our lives as athletes and children of God. Seek to unify both the physical and spiritual desires of the heart, and discover an increased faith and feeling of oneness with the Holy Spirit.
Physiology of Sport and Exercise, 5th ed. Kenney, Wilmore, Costill