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21 December 2015

Fit for God

Fit for God

Working in the education sector, I find myself regularly talking with children about health. Whether that is encouraging them in sports, to avoid smoking, to choose a healthy break-time snack or reminding them that they need enough sleep and water to keep their brains working well. It hits home again to me.

Life these days is all about convenience and time-saving. Our lifestyles can, all too easily and quickly, become imbalanced and unhealthy. We know, of course, that poor diet, stress, lack of sleep and exercise are key factors that cause health problems. We have the right to do anything, but not everything is beneficial, as explored in 1 Corinthians 10:23. However, despite this knowledge, many of us have a tendency to neglect ourselves and fail to keep our mind, soul and body as healthy as possible.

We indulge in excessive sugary or fatty foods, opt for the convenient and easy way to do things like driving short distances. Cars, remotes, internet shopping and machines, mean we are used to convenience. Now we have to add movement back in to our lives again. As Christians, shouldn't we see restoring a healthy balance as a priority?

Attending a Fitfish retreat, I spent a weekend learning from trainers who are encouraging Christians how to do just that: restore balance and become healthier people who are fit for God's purposes. In idyllic country barns, people of all ages, fitness levels and abilities gathered to get equipped to lead healthier lifestyles, with a focus on God at the heart. Fitfish, a unique Christian fitness organisation, urges people to link physical, spiritual and emotional fitness together and to let God lead them on a holistic fitness journey.

It was such an encouraging and loving atmosphere, giving us time to stop and reflect, be spiritually re-energised and to address our exercise and eating habits with a positive attitude. Usually hating runs, I was encouraged and coached along by trainer Dave Elliott and felt a massive sense of achievement and hope.

Fuelled with tasty, yet natural and wholesome foods, participants received Bible teaching, worship and space for developing friendships, listening prayer or counselling. A Fitfish weekend retreat also offers a chance to try out new and fun forms of exercise in a non- judgemental environment, such as praise aerobics or a boxing class. The weekend offered excellent nutritional advice, emotional health sessions, massage and a health check with a GP. It's not about seeing a sudden transformation, but inspiring people and encouraging little changes in lives that begin or encourage them on their journey to wholeness and health.

The vision of Gaynor van der Burton, director of Fitfish, is to see Christians throwing off limitations and stepping into full freedom by living healthier lifestyles that enable them to serve God to the full; to be fit for more. Gaynor had gained weight in her early 20s and realised that food had control over her. She began to discover true freedom as she regained a healthy balance and control and now is passionate to see others address their health and put God first.

"To serve God to our full ability we need to be balanced and equipped physically, spiritually and emotionally. God has given every person a purpose and He has given us a body to look after. He has provided us with food that gives us the all the correct nutrients, so I think He is sad when we ignore natural and healthy foods and pile our bodies with refined and man-made products, which actually reverse what He intended."

"It's not about looks, but I believe God cares about our health, weight and wellbeing and if our inactivity is putting pressure on our heart. We are not able to lengthen the days of our life, but I do believe we can shorten them by making bad choices. God won't keep overriding our free will." 

So much of church life centres on food and meals. Of course, Jesus shared meals and celebrated with food. However, Gaynor warns that the Church needs to be careful and lead by example. 

"The Church needs to wake up. In the Church, if people were known to struggle with alcohol then it wouldn't be free-flowing, but there are many people who struggle with all kinds of issues surrounding food and yet we are bombarded with sugar and fatty foods all the time. Proper meals are fine, but often it's buffet food. Foods like doughnuts are used to attract people in, but wouldn't it be better to use God's foods that nourish their body as well as nourish their soul? Let's focus on the people, not the food."

There's a lot of recent research proving that all the time we spend sitting down is damaging our health. Gaynor adds: "We are meant to move and stand. The Church doesn't help people who have been sitting down at work all day by having more sitdown meetings. Let's move a bit, go on a walk and build fellowship that way."

It's the small changes like walking or cycling to church and resisting the temptation to jump in the lift that make the difference.

Of course, change won't happen overnight, but it's vital to realise the need for change, work at it and be prayerful and patient. I have realised myself that I regularly need to hand over control to God. If we don't let God be the master of our body then we give in to cravings, greed, addiction, temptation, or eating due to pressure or for comfort.

People leave the Fitfish weekend with more knowledge and inspiration to let God renew their thinking. They are discovering that diets don't work, but that a lifestyle change, empowered by the Holy Spirit, can bring freedom.

Maggie is one such story of transformation. Suffering from reduced mobility, weight gain and using a scooter, she began by making small changes when she was 51 years old. Her diet changed gradually and exercise increased enabling her to lose one and a half stone. "I got a renewed sense of hope," she said. "Back then I couldn't swim a length and now, 20 years on, I can do 60 lengths no problem. Don't give up. I got new life. Thank you God."

Dave Elliott, now a Fitfish fitness trainer, had a life that was out of balance in his 30s. He worked too much and ate and drank all the wrong things. On realising God wanted him to change, he began running. When he discovered a balance in his life, he found that his spiritual life also aligned and then began training others to run. "My Christian walk and healthy living go together," said Dave. "I'm no different to anyone else, I struggle with eating and excercising and giving my time to the Lord, but it always seems impossible until it's done. Just take that first step."So I have committed to little changes and have just enough motivation to begin the journey to a healthier me. Fitfish provide retreats, personalised healthy eating programmes, online and local resources. 

To find out more about what Fitfish offer, visit the website fit- fish.co.uk.


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