In my "Body Power" column I have been extolling Bill Phillips' "Body for Life" program. One important component of that program is a "new attitude" - one geared to overcoming temptations.
While Bill Phillips' column in the most recent issue of his magazine, Muscle Media, makes it clear that Bill himself is not basing his worldview on the Bible, his book is based on the practical experiences of tens of thousands of people who have taken his Body for Life Transformation Challenge. Thus, when he points out that many Challenge contestants find that the discipline of their new nutrition and exercise program "spills over" into other areas of their lives, he is simply reporting a fact. Contestants have reported overcoming besetting sins, rekindling marital relationships, and surmounting challenges that had always blocked them before, all of which they attributed directly to having more discipline and hope in their lives.
Now, as a Christian I know that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is our hope, being "born again" means getting saved rather than improving your physique, and that lasting spiritual transformation isn't possible through willpower alone. Still, I feel we can learn some important lessons from these budding bodybuilders.
Important Lesson Number One is that your body affects your mind and spirit. The Bible recognizes this, which is why it endorses fasting as a spiritual discipline and certain bodily positions (kneeling, lying prostrate, and standing with uplifted hands) for formal prayer. Consistent exercise, though it is only of physical value while we live in these unregenerated bodies, helps to show us the kind of spiritual discipline God requires (I Cor 9:25-26).
Important Lesson Number Two is that we are supposed to fill our minds with positive thoughts. These are not New Age mantras about how wonderful, successful, and brilliant you are, which are supposed to magically alter reality through many earnest repetitions, but rather, "Whatsoever things are true . . . honest . . . just, whatsoever things are pure . . . lovely . . . of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think about such things" (Phil 4:8). If you're filled with feelings of hopelessness, it's very hard to persevere. That's why God never encourages us to despair. No sir! Our Father may chide and chasten us for an action or a cossetted thought pattern, but he does not reject His own children. Such thoughts may initially drive us to seek God, but once we have found Him, He is at work building our character, not tearing us down.
Important Lesson Number Three is that faithfulness in one area does spill over into another. As the Bible has it, "He who is faithful in little is faithful in much" (Luke 16:10). Here we start to discover why those who have made a serious commitment to an effective disciplined plan of diet and exercise are able to report transformations in their moral character and relationships as well. The practice of telling yourself the truth about something as trivial as your physical shape leads to greater honesty in your relationships. The discipline of enduring and persevering through the physical pain of intense workouts (followed by the post-workout glow of well-being) teaches greater stick-to-itiveness in other areas as well. This is why coaches have been telling us for decades that "sports build character." The discipline, honesty, and teamwork required by sports really do affect the players on more than a physical level.
Important Lesson Number Four is that the best way to beat temptation is to avoid it completely and to have a plan to face it if you can't avoid it. People who are successful in physique transformation do not pick up their meals by accident. They don't hang out in junk-food joints or bring home bags of chips from the supermarket. They do plan their meals, and if they eat out, it's either on an allowed "binge" day or they select very carefully what they will eat, regardless of what the restaurant plunks before them. That bread basket may look good, but if you've already determined you won't eat bread when you eat out, you can leave it alone. Is there a lesson here for an area of struggle in your life, or your children's lives?
Important Lesson Number Five is that you can beat temptation by repenting and turning back to the right direction. Ever hear the old saying, "You can't beat something with nothing"? Part of being strong against temptation is being strong for the good things you should be doing. If a bad day makes you feel like pounding the kids and climbing the walls, try hugging the kids and cleaning the walls instead! Even if you lose it and start screaming (when you know you should be patient), remember God is more interested in your future than your past. Nothing is broken that He can't fix. Make whatever right that you can, then go back to the right direction. Body builders and dieters learn this - missing an exercise day or going on a binge is no excuse for giving up.
Overcoming temptation and building character are connected. Both are sides of the same coin. And a good way to start may just be with a few push-ups!
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