For the past 5 weeks, I have been doing serious weight training four days a week. My employer has decided to move our start time to later in the day. For a couple of months prior to this decision I had been joking with a couple of co-workers/friends about lifting weights and getting ‘ripped’. It honestly started a joke among friends. However, as the day approached where we’d begin to start work later in the day, I suggested the joke become a reality. I was developing the “Dad Bod” and some of my clothes were beginning to be a little tight. So, as I was in the midst of another Exodus 90 season with the discipline of intense exercise, I desired to reverse the current trend in my life. Naturally, the suggestion of making the joke a reality was met with some reservation at first because; well, my two friends were indeed only joking.
So, let’s take a ride in my DeLorean to about 20 years ago, it may surprise many of the writers and readers of Missio Dei that I was somewhat of a competent athlete. I primary played basketball and football. And from 6th to 11th grade, I probably would have been considered a ‘jock’ in school. I lived and breathed sports; however, in a sense that they were games and fun. I knew with my physical stature there would be no collegiate or professional sports in my future. During my junior year, my high school hired new football coaches for the program, and they emphasized off season programs such as weightlifting. I lacked patience in my youth, so at 17 years of age, I found weightlifting to be boring and unrewarding. I did get stronger, but I didn’t look any different—so what was the point?
The coaches didn’t diversify the weightlifting, they basically put all the kids on the football teams into a basic program: bench press, squats, and deadlifting—that’s it. There was no direction with other types of exercises and the sets that work the same muscles. There was also no emphasis on nutrition, muscle recovery and growth. The result? My interest in weightlifting died. I did continue to enjoy sports throughout college though. I played intramurals at the college REC center, but after graduation with the lack of the proximity of the local students I stopped participating in sports and exercise until recently.
Why is exercise important for living a life of holiness?
St. Paul writes, “19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.”
The context of the periscope from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians deals primarily with sexual immorality; however, the foundation of Paul’s argument is a premise that is against both the idea of the unlimited freedom stemming from hedonism and Gnosticism that exists today in our contemporary society, respectively. Humanity defined under Christian understanding is rooted in the Aristotelean concept of hylomorphism introduced by both Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. Man is defined as a compound of both body and soul. The concept indicates an important understanding of why we profess in the Nicene Creed the belief in the resurrection of the body. When we die and our souls are separated from our bodies, in a sense, we’re incomplete until the moment of the resurrection of the dead. In fact, it is the principle of hylomorphism being grafted into Christianity which naturally sets Christianity against gender ideology movements—the physical body matters, not just the consciousness or how one feels. The body matters because it is a vital part of who and what God intended to create us as individuals. Therefore, it is important for us to take care of our bodies both morally and physically.
Beginning my journey into the land of weightlifting, I felt what I would describe as a natural desire to apply my intellect; thus, my soul and my faith, into what I was doing physically at this stage of my life. I did a basic search for Bible quotes for weightlifters, which is where I found a reference to the passage from St. Paul that I quoted earlier in this essay. Nonetheless, the search didn’t turn up the passage I was looking for that I had prayed so many times during the Liturgy of the Hours, “He trains my hands for war.”
The phrase is found in Ps. 144, Ps. 18 which the text is nearly identical to David’s hymn of thanksgiving found in 2 Samuel 22. Dianne Bergant opines that believers who view Christianity only in the context of love and peace will find themselves troubled by the military metaphors found in these texts about training for battle. It must be stated that the culture in which these texts were written were typically violent periods of human history—and let’s face it; largely still exist in the present. Nonetheless, a spiritual application on nearly all the renditions of the text in which “He trains my hands for war,” is a reminder of humbling oneself before the power and glory of God no matter our abilities physically and mentally—they are but graces given to us from God. It is a reliance on God during hard times in our lives that gives us inner spiritual peace. Kraus writes, “In Psalm 144 the king appears in the splendor of his position before Yahweh. He is included in the protective power of God, is himself instructed by Yahweh for war, and experiences the subjugation of nations under his powerful rule. But this very king in his glory and alliance with God is at the same time one who is weak and helpless. He is always dependent on Yahweh’s aid.”
It is important to examine Ps. 18 and Ps. 144 in the context of 2 Samuel 22 which is nearly a duplicate of the Psalm. Feidhlimidh T. Magennis writes, “the psalmist is overwhelmed by death and despair, and does the only thing possible for a person of faith: “I called out: Lord!” (22:7). In response, God “heard my voice.” This is the fundamental relationship of Israel’s faith experience.” Our identity as children of God must always be rooted in prayer—our conversation with God. We must understand that it is this conversation with God helping us to walk in divine friendship with Him which is essential to live a life of holiness in accord to His will.
St. Paul reminds us in the contexts of physical and worldly successes, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
Paul’s sentiment is addressed here in the contexts of David’s hymn of thanksgiving. Feidhlimidh T. Magennis explains, “there is success on the battlefield, but constantly this personal success is attributed to the Lord. The celebration of “I” gives way to thanks to “You.” And this brings us into the debate of the separation of Nature and Grace within the Scholastic understanding and the Grace dominate understanding that exists in the theologians of the Nouvelle théologie. But for simpler minds like myself, let us give thanksgiving to our Lord in all that we accomplish, let us put our accomplishments on the altar of thanksgiving as our best to offer Him who has given us so much in our lives.
It’s important to be reminded that our relationship with God is a journey while on this side of the eschaton. It takes training—the building of habits of virtue—to climb that mountain of nature and grace, but let us be reminded the nature of a covenantal relationship. God give to us freely; we only have to continue to be willing to extend our hand to Him especially when we feel like giving up. God will save us.
 1 Co 6:19–20.
 Dianne Bergant, Psalms, ed. Daniel Durken, vol. 1, The New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2013), 37.
 Hans-Joachim Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Psalms 60–150 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 544.
 Feidhlimidh T. Magennis, First and Second Samuel, ed. Daniel Durken, vol. 8, The New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 153.
 1 Co 10:31.
 Feidhlimidh T. Magennis, First and Second Samuel, ed. Daniel Durken, vol. 8, The New Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 154.
My deadlift used to be around 700, squats over 450 and bench 400. After a severe knee injury, a dislocated and a broken ankle... all in a 2 yr period... I'm not sure I'll even try to get back to that place. Have you ever tried Indian Clubs? It is an old fashioned workout - popular around 1900. I really enjoy it and actually do get pretty ripped when I do it 5 days a week!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. There’s a healing movement starting in our city and it feels absolutely natural to combine advanced exercise with advanced prayer. It’s like the whole system needs to work together. As you quoted 2 Samuel, “trained my hands for war” it reminded me of the spiritual warfare battle.