2017 has arrived and if Father Christmas has left you the gift of extra centimetres around your waist, then you’ll be thinking about joining many people in the race to get fitter.
Joining a gym or starting some sort of fitness regime again appear at the top of the list of most people’s New Year’s resolutions. Whatever your objective is – taking part in the London Marathon or simply regaining physical fitness, it’s important not to overdo it but resume sports activities regularly and in a very ordinary way.
In fact, if you weren’t really in shape before the festive season, running is a good starting point on the road to feeling better about yourself, especially in the open air or on the treadmill at the gym (it’s a real lifesaver for offloading negative energy and recharging the batteries).
During 2017 I’d like to set you a personal challenge to go and ‘make a positive difference’ in the community you live in and think about doing that through sport and play.
Every day in my ordinary conversations with people, I am encouraging them to look for and think about ways that they can use sport as an arena for mission.
I’m trying to empower volunteers to connect their passion for Jesus with their love of sport, which is providing fresh opportunities of ministry, opening new doors and developing new relationships with all kinds of people.
What is going on in your community; in the square mile that your church is in, the green spaces, recreation grounds and parks, at all-weather pitches and on the running tracks; the question is, would you like to know?
It is hard to find a village or city where there is no sport or play. Nelson Mandela once said that ‘Sport is a language that is understood, experienced and enjoyed’. So the challenge and opportunity is to raise up people to transform each village, town and city using sport.
Whether you are a child, a teenager, and older person, an armchair sports fan, a non sporty person, a coach, a parent, an official or a professional athlete – you all have a part to play in making disciples for Christ in sport and play – how exciting is that! What does that mean though?
Well, as you seek to serve the need in your community, in many cases, sport can help address ‘the need’, whether it be fatherlessness, broken homes, lack of leaders, boredom, community dislocation or addiction.
Sport has a unique way of bringing people together and through ordinary activity can provoke change in attitude, lifestyle and relationship.
A former leader of The Salvation Army, General John Gowans, once wrote some poetry that still remains true today ‘I believe in transformation, GOD CAN change the hearts of men’, and I believe he can do it through sport.
Recently I took part in my first Parkrun, having missed joining in for quite some time because of my hectic schedule. I’m a competitive runner and have a thirst for competition and winning.
It was a really cold, clear and crisp November morning, and whilst I was driving to my local park I had a real sense of excitement at what I was about to take part in.
It may sound silly but it was like that moment on Christmas morning when you wake up and think ‘yes it’s finally here, I can’t wait to get involved’, know what I mean?
Parkrun is such a simple concept: turn up every Saturday and run 5km, or if you’re a junior then 2km every Sunday. It doesn’t matter how fast you go. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. What matters is taking part, competing and getting involved.
When I arrived and was mingling with people pre-race, I could feel a real sense of community and togetherness. Some people were arriving tired, some were clearly very focused and in the zone and one group of lads were laughing at their mate who had turned up in Summer sports gear on what was definitely not a hot day, fortunately he saw the funny side!
The conversations pre and post the race were really great too at creating new relationships through the simple ‘have you had a good week’ to ‘how’s your weekend looking’ questions with runners. Equally there were volunteers making drinks and marshalling that weren’t runners but still wanted to be involved – going back to what I said earlier about us all having a part to play in making disciples through sport, not necessarily doing sport!
Parkrun is all about inclusiveness and wellbeing. They want as many people as possible to feel part of a real local community, as well as a global parkrun family.
That for me for was the single and most important thing, people from all walks of life, varying in age, ability, size and shape being ‘together’ and enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company in an ordinary park in beautiful Suffolk.
Then, as is often the case, in a concentrated moment whilst I was running, I could feel God’s presence, and my mind took me somewhere I didn’t expect to go, to the Chariots of Fire film.
Now, I wasn’t running on the beach with a large group of people, but in a leafy, muddy park, and it made me think of what Eric Liddell said in that film ‘I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure’.
In that moment for me I think I knew what he meant as I took that into my own race that morning. God made me me, and when I run, I feel the Holy Spirit flowing through me and at work in me. God, at work, in ordinary me.
So what does scripture have to say to us about keeping fit. 1 Timothy 4 from The Message paraphrase puts it like this ‘Exercise daily in God – no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. But what does that mean?
Well, just as we have bodily (physical) exercise to help build up our physical bodies, we have some spiritual exercises that builds up our spiritual body. The spiritual exercise that we have that builds up our spiritual bodies is called Godliness. Godliness means to live or exercise the life that God commanded you to do.
So there’s another challenge, are you willing to go and be those Godly people and listen or tune in to maybe what God is trying to have a conversation with you about, because it could be about sharing the Good news, through any sport, with the whosoever, in the very ordinary contexts that you find yourselves in.
Be warned though, this ‘sports stuff’ isn’t as easy as some people think it is, it’s takes long term commitment, it takes masses of energy, in fact it can take years for your visibility and action to have an impact, but within your community keep planting those seeds of hope through Sport, that could eventually bear kingdom fruit
So I finish with my New Year’s challenge – are you ready to go? Ready to go and do what I hear you say? Ready to go and change the world? Well, you can start to go and change the world bit by bit in your own ‘square mile’ through sport and play. So go make a positive difference in your community, I dare you!