Recreation and Exercise A Matter of Life and Death
He's having a heart attack! You know the man: big job, nice family, active in church. Engrossed in what he does. Pushing himself constantly. Always busy, with no time for physical, emotional, or mental refreshment. Over the years his weight got out of control. You were afraid he was headed for a blowup, a breakdown, or a burnout of some kind. And now he's having a heart attack!
Maybe you know his wife. She's hurting in different ways. She's stressed out and caving in from many burdens. With no "relief valves," she feels stale, sluggish, and sad. It's hard for her to pray, to study God's Word, and to persevere with Christian duties. Does her spiritual depression lead to her physical and emotional exhaustion – or the other way around? It's a vicious circle.
Do you know these people? Are you a little like them? What should you do about it?
Recreation Is essential, not Optional
Part of the remedy is recreation that "re-creates" a healthy mind and body – that refreshes, restores, and revives you. This includes having fun with your family, playing musical instruments, making quilts, working in the yard, reading biographies, or any other wholesome change of pace. The aim is to unwind and regain strength for serving Christ.
Paul Woolley writes that J. Gresham Machen loved life and "sometimes expressed his joy by playing in God's world as a child does" (The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today, page 6).
Woolley tells of Machen's "stunting," his mountain climbing, and his enthusiasm for steam locomotives and football – and the Checker Club. "Don't be a tightwad" was his constant exhortation. It sounded upside down, but everyone got the point: "Relax occasionally and take off the pressure" (page 32).
When the Lord commands, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13), he requires us to do everything possible to preserve our own life and not take foolish risks. Our church standards affirm that God's law requires a "sober use of recreations" and forbids "immoderate use of recreations" (Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 135 and 136). Our Presbyterian forefathers knew a great deal about the Bible and practical Christian living.
God is Concerned
We consist of soul and body, both made in the image of our Creator (Genesis 2:7). If we are believers, both our souls and our bodies have been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). And at his second coming, the Savior "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20, 21). With that end in view, Christ commands us, "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God" (Romans 12:1). As the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are told to "honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20). Likewise, the Scriptures teach, "physical training is of some value" (1 Timothy 4:8). Bodily exercise is worth less than training in godliness, but it is not worthless!
The Scriptures don't speak about "getting exercise," because in biblical times people got plenty of it! Most people were farmers, fishermen, merchants, tradesmen, and shepherds. Everyday life kept them physically fit. Housework was hard work. So it was in the days of the Puritans, too. Hearts and lungs and limbs got a daily workout chopping wood, pumping water, and gathering food from field and garden. Minds, as well as bodies, received enormous benefits from the many hours spent outdoors. Not until this century, when office workers became so numerous, did a need for wholesome recreation became so acute!
We are Fragile Creatures
We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). But we are also "frail children of dust and feeble as frail" (from Robert Grant's hymn, "O Worship the King"). God calls us "jars of clay" (2 Corinthians 4:7), reminding us that we're not supermen or superwomen. We nick, crack, and break easily. And yet, these fragile bodies are our tools for praying and parenting, for showing hospitality and helping others. And, generally, better health enables us to serve the Lord better.
We're not to pamper our bodies, but we are to be prudent about our own physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Be careful because God cares. If we are careless about recreation, we sin against the Lord who loves us and gave himself for us.
We Need Balanced Christian Living
We need a rhythm of worship, work, and witness. And we need one of recreation, relaxation, and rest to be healthy. We need to be like our Savior. His schedule was extremely demanding, but he made time for weddings and banquets, for enjoying children, and for special friendships with Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control, but a lopsided, mismanaged life grieves the Spirit. My children watch me like hawks and follow in my footsteps. Will they see disciplined, moderate, and sensible Christian living in me – or the opposite? A balanced life is also a great advertisement for the gospel. By God's grace, we can reflect a little of his perfect balance to unbelieving friends.
Make Time for Recreation
You say you can't afford time for recreation? You can't afford not to! Automobiles are ruined by constant driving, without regular maintenance. So are people! Neglect may cost you more time later, recuperating from a stress-related illness. Wholesome recreation is never wasted time. In the long run, it gains you time and productivity in serving Christ.
Sadly, some of us have to have heart attacks or ulcers before we get serious about physical exercise. If we're too "busy" to obey God in this matter, we are doing things he doesn't want us to do. Beware the tyranny of the urgent that leaves important duties undone.
Use Recreations, don't Abuse them
I know both workaholics and leisure "addicts." The latter are obsessed with play and pleasure. They seek happiness before holiness. They refuse to grow up and they run from one sporting event or amusement to the next. They dodge work, family, and church responsibilities. Spurgeon wisely advises, "Play, but do not play the fool."
A Suggestion: Walking
Fitness experts say that brisk walking (at least 30 minutes, four days a week) provides the same benefits as jogging. That means lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, lower body weight, and a lower risk of heart disease and premature death. The aim is not to get bodies that attract the attention of others. Rather, we want to be fit to serve the Lord. At work, I spend hours reading, writing, and talking – behind a desk! An evening walk not only benefits me physically, but also clears my head of the day's concerns, gladdens my heart, stimulates creative thinking, and helps me to sleep better.