Daniel did not make healthy lifestyle choices; he made holy lifestyle choices. We noted in our previous blog that he chose to suffer the deprivation of only eating organic veggies rather than make himself unholy by eating meat contaminated by demons. Having seen Daniel's approach to food we now turn to his approach to exercise. We shall see again - he was more interested in holiness than healthiness.

Exercise programs are big business. In a fiercely competitive market, they each make their claims to be more effective than their rivals. And just as there are so-called Christian diets, there are also so-called Christian exercise programs.

How are we amateurs to assess the claims they make? Having seen the number of injuries sustained over the years by some of my friends in the course of their work-out programs, I want to know which ones do more harm than good before I get off my couch. Wouldn't it be great if we had an objectively trustworthy comparative evaluation of all the various exercise programs so we could know which one to sign up for?

The good news is that we do! Even better, the evaluation is absolutely true because it is in the Bible. The Bible gives an evaluation of all the exercise programs out there. And this is its final and definitive verdict: "Bodily exercise profits little" (1Tim 4:8 [AKJV]). So why do we spend so much time and money on it? The verse really is a comparative evaluation of the different kinds of exercise programs out there. The English Standard Version puts it in a little more positive light: "Bodily training is of some value." But as it compares the different kinds of training programs we might sign up for, its concluding evaluation is: "Bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way".

Paul, our life coach, is not saying that we should not take care of our bodies, any more than Daniel is telling us that we should only eat vegetables. But his assertion comes as a shock to a culture that has placed great stock in physical exercise programs.As our personal trainer, his instruction is "Rather, train yourself for godliness" (v.7).

Think of it this way: if in comparing two exercise programs offered in two different gyms, you were authoritatively told that one program led to marginal improvement, and the other led to massive improvement, which one would you choose? That would be a no-brainer.

I concede that Paul is not offering us an either/or choice here: it's not a multiple choice quiz where we have to choose one out of two options as the best answer - physical training or training in godliness. We really can do both! But Paul, like us, lived in a culture that worshiped the shape of the human body and idolized its Olympic athletes, and he is asking us to evaluate our priorities. We see our priorities in the amount of time and money and energy we devote to different pursuits. What do our lifestyle choices say about whether we really see that there is, at best, marginal benefit from bodily exercise, but massive gain from the blood, sweat and tears pursuit of godliness? So which training program have we signed up for?

In Paul's day, the perfect body was understood in terms of symmetry - the perfect balance of all the muscles, every part of the body as finely tuned as every other part. Modern exercise programs pursue the same goals. Cross training, it is called. But Paul had a different kind of cross training in mind: the exercise of carrying a cross. It produces, in Paul's words in 1Tim 4:8, results that are "of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come". He had just warned us to "have nothing to do with silly myths. Rather, train yourself for godliness", One of the 'silly myths' of our day is the pursuit of the perfect body or of perfect health, and meanwhile many Christians live in a state of spiritual atrophy, lifting weights but never carrying their cross.

We have no idea whether Daniel ever went to the gym in Babylon. We don't know that he did not work out regularly; but we do know that if he did, he did not consider it important enough to include in his autobiography. But he left us a glimpse of what he considered to be his really important exercise program. It has more to do with prayer and fasting than push-ups and jogging. He prayed with a discipline seen today only by those who will never be late for the gym. People could set their watch by the regularity of his spiritual exercises. If he was looking for a long and healthy life, it was not a good program because it led to being thrown in the lion's den. But then his exercise had the life to come in mind as much as this life. As it turned out, the lions had no appetite for taking a bite out of such a man trained in godliness. They might have quite enjoyed a fat-free specimen straight from the gym!