About a year ago, hunting took on a new amplitude. I began to realize that my 32 year old body no longer had the 20 year old energy or motivation to hunt like I did before. It bothered me terribly. So, a goal was set. By 35 I wanted to be in the best shape of my life. I needed a serious transformation. I’m 33 now and am on my way to that goal, but something else surprising happened not long after my training began.
Just like I let my weight slip and I was feeling the effects of age, I had no idea how I had let my relationship with Jesus disintegrate. No excuses, just neglect. I couldn’t sense him in my life anymore. I had spent so much time crafting sermons, counseling church members, and putting out ministry fires, that I no longer knew how to simply remember he was with me. I couldn’t even enjoy time in his word anymore. My Bible sat dormant for months.
By way of my over-busyness and youthful negligence, I had become completely ineffective both physically and spiritually. I found myself only wanting the bare minimum in everything I did. The easy hunt, the shortest church service, the shortcuts were everywhere. I also became remarkably selfish with my time and energy, only doing what I wanted rather than what was best for me and my family.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Paul gives two clear petitions in Romans 12:1-2. First, we are to present our bodies to God as holy living sacrifices. Second, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our mind.
As my mind and body were slowly slipping away by a lack of self-control and ignorance, they were also being conformed to the “pattern of the world”. It was a pattern of unwise, frivolous, self-absorbed, undiscerning hastiness. These things lead to severe spiritual malnourishment. My whole person did not look like Paul’s description.
Presenting Our Bodies As Living Sacrifices.
Old Testament Hebrews were to bring animal sacrifices to the altar that were not sickly or malnourished. (Exodus 12:5; Deuteronomy 15:21) To bring an animal for sacrifice was considered evil. (Malachi 1:8) God used this as a reminder to the people of their need for a perfect atonement, as insufficient as it may have been, and as a means for a time of gathering to eat the flesh of the animal and to worship God properly.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul is telling them to reject offering their bodies up to the idols of the world. The natural consequences of worldly and sinful behavior on a mortal body are expedited when unhealthy behaviors persist. Rather, Paul says, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God as an act of our spiritual worship. That means, we are to care for ourselves in a way that leaves us pure and acceptable for the altar of God for his use of our lives. God wants his people to be physically and spiritually healthy for the sake of his good purposes.
Be Transformed By the Renewal of the Mind.
Paul’s second application deals with the mind. Paul writes to his understudy Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:8, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and the life to come.” Paul is not contradicting himself. The reality is, our bodies need strength and health internally and externally in order for us to simply meet the physical demands of being faithful to God’s call in our lives. But, physical strength, left without renewal of the mind, does not lead to the type of transformation Paul is talking about.
Renewal of the mind of a Christian is a necessary and continual work of the Holy Spirit.(Titus 3:4-6) He carries this renewal out by way of God’s word. (Eph. 5:25-27) Therefore, the transformation I needed could only come through submission to the authority of God’s word and the work of God’s spirit in me.
The Moment of Revitalization
In tandem with my daily lunchtime lifting, I began trail running at the local state park. My trail of choice was a rugged,curvy, uneven series of steps, carved from the natural rock heading straight up the side of a steep hardwood ridge. Falling on the jagged stone was inevitable. So was the probability of coming into contact with an unfriendly copperhead. The trip down wasn’t safe either. After my thighs were burning viciously from the ascent, the continuous pounding as I descended made my knees want to hyper-extend under my body weight. When all of this was over, the trail opened up into about a mile long river bottom of sand and waist high grass. Invigorating? Not so much. Grueling is a better word. But this was where my hard heart began to soften.
Late one evening, at the highest peak of the trail, I came across a small pavilion perched on the bluff overlooking the same river bottom. For the first time in too long, I took out my headphones and began to pray. The evening breeze cooled my soaked shirt, causing a chill to rip through my body. Then I broke. Matthew 28:20 seemed to thunder through my mind like a shotgun blast. “I am with you always.”
Jesus was there. He had always been there. He was with me as I wallowed in the things I thought were hidden from everyone. He was there as I struggled with the motivation to do the right things. He was there even as I had no idea where my life was going, and he still is.
Growing up in the Ozarks teaches you more than you could ever remember in one lifetime. One thing I will be sure to never forget is how important physical condition is to hunting success. Do you have to be in top physical condition to kill a gobbler? No. Does that whitetail buck require you to run five miles a day to be able to hang him on the wall? No. But more importantly than all of this, do you have to be a well-conditioned hunter to be a faithful Christian? No. But it seems to make sense that if you care for all of the systems God has blessed you with, physical,mental,emotional,and spiritual your effectiveness will increase dramatically when you are called upon to be faithful…that means always.