The other day, I was pondering the parallels between Physical Fitness and Spiritual Fitness.  (Such parallels are hinted at, several times, in the New Testament.)

With regard to straightforward Physical Fitness, the first thought that came to me was the very obvious one that there are two keys to success in that area: 1) Taking the right kind of exercise and 2) Eating the right kind of food.

It is not essential, of course, for exercise to be formal and organised (e.g. in a gym); it can be informal, and in the normal course of life (e.g. walking to work).  However, there does need to be activity – and it needs to be the right kind of activity, not just activity for activity’s sake.  In much the same way, eating needs to be the right kind of eating – not just consumption for its own sake.  Most normal people are aware that to neglect the right kind of exercise, and to neglect the right kind of food, is not conducive to Physical Health and Fitness.

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What then – with regard to a Christian’s Spiritual Health and Fitness – constitutes “the right kind of exercise”, and “the right kind of food”?

So far as “exercise” or “activity” is concerned, I believe that the phrase in Galatians 5:25 that is translated “Keep in step with the Spirit” or ”Walk in the Spirit” gives us a clue.  Activity for activity’s sake is not to be commended. It is vital for all Christians, in everything they do, to be in tune with the Spirit, and to be prompted and guided by Him.

There is a danger, within the “Organised Church”, of this important truth being overlooked, and of believers becoming caught up in a whirlwind of church activity that leaves little or no time for responding to the promptings of the Spirit. I am not, by any means, saying that all churchgoers are distracted in this way, but, sadly, it does often happen. For many of us who are now operating outside the Organised Church (including myself) that issue was a major motivation in our leaving Institutionalised Christianity – there was so much activity, that there was little real opportunity to “walk in the Spirit”.

However, we “outsiders” should understand that an equally serious danger threatens our spiritual fitness!  By shying away from constant activity, we can be tempted to go to the other extreme, and hardly engage in any worthwhile activity at all!  The antidote to this is to be proactive in Walking in the Spirit – frequently asking Him, even within a single day: “What is the next step I should take?  Is there something I can be doing for Jesus?  Is there something I can be doing for others, in Jesus’ name?”  Those fellow-Christians who, admittedly (albeit with good intentions) criticise our way-of-life, often seem to think that it is absolutely inevitable that our Christian Service will dwindle away to nothing, and we will become “spiritual couch-potatoes”.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  I believe (and have quite a lot of proof that) Service for the Lord, outside the usual structures, can be greatly effective – but only if we positively seek the Spirit’s step-by-step leading and guiding.

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Now, what about “Eating the Right Kind of Food”?  Over and over again, the Scriptures teach that the Bible itself contains the “daily bread” for believers – even “mother’s milk” for very young believers.  Let me give you just a few of the many relevant passages of Scripture that underline that this is so.  Back in the Old Testament we find Job saying: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread” (Job 23:12.)  Jesus Himself made a point of quoting Deuteronomy 8:3: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Matthew 4:4.).  Peter writes: “As new-born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow up” (1 Pet. 2:2), while the writer to the Hebrews reminds his readers that the Scriptures, as well as containing “milk”, also contain “solid food” that we should fairly quickly reach the stage of consuming. (Heb. 5:12-13.)  Paul uses a very quaint phrase: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” (Colossians 3:16.) What does he mean by “dwell in you richly”?  I suggest he means: “Let it be fully digested, and totally assimilated, within you”.  I am sure he is urging regular consumption of the Written Word!

Once again, one of the reasons that many of us quit the Institutional Church was that, within its ranks, this was often taken to extremes.  Many of us were subjected to a massive overload of Scriptural Teaching! Every Sunday (usually twice in the day), and sometimes once more during the week, we were expected to listen to Bible-based sermons that were frequently very long.  At the same time, there was pressure to attend numerous bible-studies, conferences, and extra teaching sessions that were arranged.  I’m not surprised that many keen Christians re-acted negatively to the “spiritual indigestion” that this brought about.

I plead with you, however, my dear “fellow-outsiders”, don’t go to the other extreme!  Don’t react so violently that you forget about your “spiritual daily bread”. I don’t at all accept the criticism that occasionally comes up (again, well-intentioned): that our “out of normal church” way-of-life produces “spiritual anorexics” – people who so neglect a normal daily intake of appropriate food that they become weaker and weaker!  This stems from the mistaken idea that a believer can only get increasingly familiar with the Word of God through church-based channels.  Nevertheless, even though the jibe is over-the-top, reacting to “scriptural overload” can all too easily lead to becoming spiritually “undernourished”.  We need to get the balance right, between overeating and under-nourishment!

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At the beginning of this article, I pointed out that some people take their exercise formally, in a Gym, and others find it more satisfactory take it informally, in the course of life.  By the same token, most Christians (at the moment) engage in Christian activity largely through church-organised projects, while those of us who are “outside the camp” prefer to serve Him mainly in more informal ways, as the Spirit leads.

Then, with regard to eating, some people major (in some countries more than others) on eating out in establishments like restaurants and cafes, while others prefer to eat mainly at home, or in the homes of friends. So far as “spiritual food” is concerned, a high proportion of believers (at present, anyway) get most of their sustenance at church services, or church meetings of one kind or another. We “outsiders”, on the other hand, get it most often through what we see as the less institutionalised channels of personal bible-reading, bible-teaching in books or on the internet, and gathering together, informally, to encourage one another.

My prayer is that all Christians – however they operate – will “engage in the right kind of exercise” (Spirit-led Activity) and “have a regular intake the right kind of food” (the Written Word-of-God).  I am convinced that this is the only way to maintain the Spiritual Fitness and Health that the Lord wants for all His People.