Just yesterday I had the opportunity to briefly open my heart to my fellow pastors at a unique luncheon provided by our Wellness Ministry. In it I simply laid out for them two root reasons to give our physical health more than a passing thought.
Before I share them here, let me preface it by saying that these two reasons aren’t randomly selected. They are drawn from my own experience. That’s right — the experience of a somewhat short, pretty much bald, and more-or-less average kind of guy who preaches and teaches as a pastor in Iowa. I’m no health whiz, fitnesss expert, or nutitional guru. I’m just your regular pastor who has found that trying to stay in somewhat decent health through eating less (and better) and exercising more has really paid off for me in the last 12+ years.
You see, headed into the infamous Y2K, I was over 200 pounds and moving up the scale. And for guy who’s barely a centimeter over 5’9″, well, lets just say I wasn’t equipped to carry that excess baggage well. It was affecting me in a myriad of ways and in a variety of arenas.
Remember — From my perspective, my spiritual “health” wasn’t the issue, at least not at first glance. I’d often “cop out” on any responsibility to seriously address the physical by quoting 1 Timothy 4:8. Lines like “This is what comes with getting older”, “That’s just the nature of a desk job”, or “At least I’m focused on what matters most” were too easily used to excuse an out of control appetite.
And granted – Paul affirmed that disciplined godliness has a far greater and longer lasting impact than mere physical training. But he did at least admit that bodily exercise profits some, though not much in comparison to the eternal benefit of spiritual health. It seemed I was even avoiding the “some.”
So in December of 1999, around the Christmas tree, I committed, in front of my wife and four kids, to a new lifestyle of exercise and diet. It wasn’t a huge leap into the world of total nutrition or 3-hour workouts, but rather a commitment to simply limiting my intake (food) and upping my outgo (sweat). While I won’t go into more detail here as that isn’t the point of this blog, let me simply give you the bottom line: It worked!
Was I glad to weigh a good bit less externally? You bet! Did it help my heart internally? Sure! And there were a number of other benefits produced that helped me as a husband and father. What I didn’t expect to see were the “occupational” benefits that accompanied this lifestyle change of less food and more sweat, things that were actually very helpful to my role as a pastor. That is the point of this blog, so let me share the most surprising two with you.
1. I watched my stamina increase. Before this lifestyle change, I would tire after a single Sunday service, found it hard to stay focused for appointments afterwards, and often felt like I was wrung out before the day fully ended. I’d dream about multiple services, various campuses, and other various avenues of follow-up and impact. Yet, I could hardly lug around my weight for the current duties. What was I going to do when and if it really did get more demanding? And I got older?
As the weight came off and my cardiovascular system increased its capacity, I found myself unexpectedly vibrant well into Sunday night, even as I got older. And when Monday came, there wasn’t the usual “let down.” Monday even became my second favorite day of the week! The ability to stay focused, alert, and attentive was substantially improved.
Looking back, I am convinced much of that effect was due to a simple health equation: less weight + more oxygen equals longer stamina.
2. I sensed my credibility rise. Like it or not, people watch us more than they listen to us. And as I begin to exhibit a willingness to deal with my physical health, people with their own appetite issues began to ask questions about their situations. What’s even better is this — they were more apt to listen to what I taught from the Bible about their spiritual health!
It appears that perhaps they reasoned if I could attack my own struggles, maybe I could help them attack theirs. They reasoned this, not because of what they heard, but because of what they saw.
Please don’t read this like I’m some CrossFit junkie or a P90X poster pastor. Not at all! I simply know that when I began to evaluate my health a few years back, it was one of the best decisions I ever made, not only for me, but also for those I’m called to lead. After all, leadership requires my energy and my example, and addressing my own weight/appetite shortcomings enabled both to grow in ways I never expected.