When the coronavirus pandemic forced the UK into lockdown, many people sought new ways to keep physically and mentally fit to combat the consequences of sedentary living and isolation. That caused a surge in sales of dumbbells, yoga mats and online fitness programs; and a boom in subscriptions of Zoom, Netflix and online learning.
But the challenge of quarantine hasn't just been physical and mental. In the face of uncertainty and death, according to recent polls: one in twenty people have started praying, a quarter of adults have watched an online religious service, and more than ever people are searching for hope. Why? Because humans are not just flesh and thoughts; we have an inbuilt desire for purpose, value, justice, truth and life. In other words, we are moral human beings. We are spiritual.
The Bible tells an amazing story of what it means to be human and why we are spiritual: the sovereign God of the universe is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 14). He spoke the world into existence and the pinnacle of His creation was making humans in His image and likeness (Genesis 1). As God's image bearers, we have a body, mind and spirit (1 Thess 5:23). Now most people understand the importance of physical and mental health and fitness (e.g. the popularity of 'P.E with Joe 'and the campaign 'Britain Get Talking'); and we get how if one strengthens or suffers, the other sooner or later follows. But why isn't spiritual health and fitness taken seriously? We are in danger of neglecting a third of what it means to be human.
The Bible teaches that spiritual fitness starts with believing and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-13), which is sealed by immediately receiving the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing eternal life (Ephesians 1:14).From that point on, life is a journey of learning to trust Christ, by keeping in step with the Spirit, and seeking first His Kingdom in all our relationships, pursuits and experiences. But just like physical and mental fitness, that doesn't just happen.
Spiritual fitness requires training:
'...train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.' 1 Timothy 4:7b-8
'Godliness training' literally means training to put God first in each and every area of life. For following Christ in a world that is often hostile against Him and contains suffering of all kinds, means our faith in God (i.e. putting Him first) needs fed, trained and inspired. That only comes by taking God's Word, the Bible, seriously. For God did not design humans to live on food alone, but by every word that comes from His mouth (Matthew 5). God chose to specifically and authoritatively speak to us in His Son, through His Word, by His Spirit, so that we can know Him and mature into the likeness of Christ.
That's why I am so passionate about WordGo - a fully resourced group Bible study, powered by an app; which is accessible, customisable and designed to help people develop a regular rhythm of engaging directly with the text of the Bible both individually and especially in groups of friends.
It's also why I am a certified fitness professional and started a missional fitness community called BreakFit, with a vision to see whole-person transformation in local communities, enabling people of all ages to flourish in body, mind and spirit. The parallels of training and the seamless conversational connection between physical and spiritual fitness are incredible.
I firmly believe we need a bigger purpose and story for human health and fitness. Particularly in response to tragedies like the coronavirus pandemic as people suffer from bereavement, loneliness, anxiety, fear and loss of community. Physical and mental fitness, under professional instruction and guidance, will certainly help us cope in times of difficulty; even the Bible teaches it has some value (1 Tim 4). But by themselves they don't go far enough to satisfy our deepest longings and needs, answer our greatest fears, nor fulfill our God-given eternal purpose and potential. We need spiritual fitness in Christ, for as Paul says to Timothy, it not only has immense value and impact on this life, but also the next!
Training for fitness in body, mind AND spirit is a greater, wholistic, exciting vision and solution for helping people not only optimise the best and overcome the worst of this life, but to prepare for a rich entrance and experience of the next (1 Peter 1:11). As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity: 'Aim at heaven and you will get earth "thrown in": aim at earth and you will get neither.'
Simon Lennox is Director of WordGo, a Bible study app developed in partnership with the Bible Study Fellowship.