The Arnold is this weekend. I couldn’t be in Columbus for this amazing event, but I was able to get out of my house and go to the gym to lift. Even though I have a torn achilles tendon I’m not going to allow that to knock me off my discipline routine and schedule which leaves room for a workout on an almost daily basis. Sure, I’d love an opportunity to watch Stefanie Cohen break another world record, or to see Thor Bjornson pull 1100 pounds, but considering the circumstances of the past month I’m just thrilled to be able to get to the gym and do some flyes and curls. The Arnold being this weekend, though, I have had some time to consider why I am so into weightlifting, and how the sport has helped me as an evangelical Christian. Before I give you the three biggest reasons let me just provide a bio…
I began weightlifting out of necessity when I was a football player in High School. I was trying to earn a starting job on my HS football team, but there was a huge problem! I was wayyyy too skinny for my position. I was a natural linebacker, but only weighed about 160 lbs, so there was no chance of me starting on a varsity football team. Between my sophomore and junior years I began taking weightlifting very seriously and I went from 160-180, and my lifts jumped up from being able to lift barely more than my sister to being able to bench 225 multiple times, squat 315 multiple times, and clean 185 a couple of times. The next season I jumped from about 180-200 and my lifts increased dramatically! By the start of my senior year of football, my lifts jumped to about a 315 bench max, 400 squat max, 465 deadlift max, and a 235 clean max. Weightlifting transformed my body. Moving into adulthood, I continued with my weightlifting programs with the goal of not putting on weight, and especially not body fat. Before my injury, I was able to post PR’s in the past year on every major lift at a bodyweight of 210 at age 27. So, considering my experience in weightlifting, how is it that weightlifting has paralleled my spiritual life? What are some helpful truths for me as a weightlifter who is a Christian?
3 things stand out in particular:
- Weightlifting teaches you not to live for instant gratification.
- Weightlifting is a microcosm of progressive sanctification.
- Weightlifting, like any hobby, is a platform for evangelism.
What does it mean that weightlifting teaches you not to live for instant gratification? Well, our entire culture is counter to weightlifting, which might be why so few people take up such a hobby. We live in a society that grants you “What you want and when you want it,” but that is just not at all the case with weightlifting. When you lift weights you see how unbelievably inadequate you are naturally to meet a certain goal. Then, you make lesser goals that will lead you to your ultimate goal. Once you meet your ultimate goal, you choose another ultimate goal that is higher, and then you once again choose lesser goals to lead you to the ultimate goal, and so on and so forth. Literally, the cycle of setting goals, working towards them, and setting PR’s never stops in the field of weightlifting! So, if you are somebody just looking for instant gratification then you won’t last more than a couple months in weightlifting. In the Christian life, you also cannot live for instant gratification! Yes, you are instantly justified by the blood Jesus the very moment you come to faith, but although you already live in that reality you are not yet fully experiencing the Kingdom of heaven until Christ returns or calls you home! Yes, the penalty of sin is already removed, but the power of sin still remains in some effect until Christ casts Satan into the lake of fire. Weightlifting can help teach you the truth of living in the already/not yet tension as a Christian who “awaits the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who will transform you lowly body to be like his glorious body by the power that enables him to subject all things to himself.”
What does it mean that weightlifting is a microcosm of progressive sanctification? It means that you literally learn these two processes in similar fashions. Think about it, in weightlifting you have to equip yourself, you have to work very hard to meet a goal, you have pulled muscles and physical trials you deal with as you try and meet your goals, you are tempted to not do reps or even full sets, some days you want to go and some you don’t. Well, in your spiritual walk with Christ don’t you need to equip yourself with the full armor of God? Don’t you need to work very hard as you work out your own salvation with fear and trembling? Don’t you have physical trials and difficulties like the apostle Paul did? Don’t you experience temptation to give into Satan and your own flesh? Aren’t there some days that are very easy to pray and read your Bible, and then other days that just aren’t so easy? Weightlifting taught me about sanctification in a similar way that baking muffins teaches you patience. When you bake muffins you know it’s going to take some money, work, and time, but in the end it’s all worth it; well when you lift weights consistently and over time you know it’s going to take preparation, a toll on your body, and perseverance, but in the end it’s all worth it.
What does it mean that weightlifting is a platform for evangelism? Well, we are commanded to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that (he has) commanded you.” This means that we go and live as God has equipped us to live and as we do we “make disciples of any and all nations, we baptize them in the name of the Triune God, and we teach them to obey the commands of the Lord. This means that God has ordained different “platforms” for us to have opportunities to decisively obey Matthew 28:19, otherwise known as the Great Commission. For some people, their platform is at their work, for others their platform is with a neighborhood bible study, for some it’s through a skill God has given them, but for weightlifters why can’t their platform be through weightlifting? I don’t know how many times I’ve shared my faith with somebody I met through weightlifting, but it’s been occasional and persistent since I became a Christian. The people at my gym know I’m a pastor, and I don’t shy away from talking about my faith. I see the gym, and weightlifting in particular, as a means by which I can “let my light shine before ALL men so they may see your good deeds and glorify your God in heaven.” The “ALL men,” means all kinds of men, weightlifters included. God has equipped me to lift weights, and so I share my faith with weightlifters. If God has equipped you to do math then you should share your faith with math doers; if He has equipped you to sow then you should share your faith with sewers; if He has equipped you to sing or dance then you should share your faith with singers or dancers. God has equipped you in some way, shape, or form with a talent or ability, and regardless of what that talent or ability is you should submit yourself to use it underneath the word of God for the sake of testifying to the truth of the Gospel and helping believers to grow in their faith.