The Battle for a Healthier Life Starts in the Mind

The shocking reality of the fitness industry is that it has a 92 percent failure rate. Today, Gary Wilkerson and guest speaker David Bush discuss why so many fitness and weight-loss goals fall through. Could this problem be related to a much deeper issue in our lives? God desires for our spiritual lives to have an impact on our physical wellbeing. If we are willing to let him address our hearts, we will often find answers to our problems with fitness and health.

Gary Wilkerson: Hey, Gary Wilkerson here with David Bush. David, welcome. Glad you're here with us today. Thanks for coming.

David Bush: It's my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.

Gary Wilkerson: So one of the things we do at World Challenge is we talk about eight cylinders of your faith, your friends, your family and the two of them are food and fitness, and obviously you in your book and in your ministry you deal with a lot of these issues and one of the things we talk about is if one cylinder, like in your car, if you have eight cylinders, and one cylinder is not working, the rest of it it's going to be negatively impacted and stuff. But you’re talking about faith, food, fitness.

If a group of people were sitting around the table here with us today and they said, "David, I think I got it. I think I'm catching this vision of the pure motive of the heart of God for my life. Okay, now what do I do?" Can you give some practical steps? Say somebody who's more of like maybe the traditional Christian who tends to go out to eat after every service and overeat and not moving like ... how would you get somebody started?

David Bush: Right. Well I think it'd be important to start out with a good theology of the body and to get your motivation squared away. Because that's what's going to have to-

Gary Wilkerson: That's cool I've never heard anybody say that.

David Bush: Theology of the body, the body gospel, understand what that is and get your motivation squared away because that's what's going to be driving the process. And our culture has all kinds of bad ideas and impure motives that will derail you every time. So, start with the software, start with where our heart is at and why we would pursue it and under-- and get that hardwired into the gospel. And that's where some of my resources can help. Because that's what I bring to the table. I'm not a gym owner. I'm not trying to-- I'm not pushing a Les Mills workout that they're supposed to follow. I want to get people's heads and hearts engaged in doing this for the right reason.

Gary Wilkerson: Sorry for interrupting. I've been very rude. I keep interrupting, but I'm so excited about what you're talking about.

David Bush: Well, you've got good questions.

Gary Wilkerson: The theology of the body, sometimes when we hear the word theology, I love the word theology, but a lot of people here go like-

David Bush: Recoil.

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah. Four years of seminary and whatever. Is that how I'm going to finally come up with ... can you give us a 60 second theology of the body?

David Bush: Yeah.

Gary Wilkerson: 90 seconds--

David Bush: Hitting on some of the misunderstandings is that yes, God knows when we're going to die, our bodies are going to die, and God knows the date. That doesn't mean we become fatalistic and say, since God knows when I'm going to die, I will treat my body like a rental and just go with the culture. In fact, because heaven is God's goal for me, at least that's what I was told when I prayed this prayer. If I die early, then all the better. No, that's not right. Transformation to the likeness of Christ is God's goal for me.

So, with theology, the Bible says, of our bodies, says, yes, God knows when it is, we're going to die. We don't know. The Bible commands us to steward our bodies the greatest trust he will give to us, that we're ambassadors of His and that we represent Him to a lost world looking for answers and is going to unfairly at times judge what they see from us as to whether our life is under control or whether there are other things driving our life other than Jesus.

And that the gospel of redemption applies to our body. That God is not just redeeming our spirits, redeeming our finances, redeeming our relationships, redeeming our thought-life. Yeah, he's doing all of that, but he's also redeeming our bodies, and the fact that we're getting a new body should not mean that we junk this one and trash this one. The fact that we're getting a new body should give us every reason to say, "Someday I get a new body. What can I do now to align that reality with the present and make the most of what God's given me in the capacity he's given me physiologically to show forth the redemptive power of the gospel?"

Nobody would say, “In heaven, we're not going to be cussing and my speech will be perfect. So, while I got a chance now, I'm going to be as profane as can get, as all get out because someday it's going to get all sanctified” or “Someday my relationships in heaven will be perfect because Jesus will be there. So now I'm going to trash my relationships because I got an opportunity to do that.”

Someday we're going to get a new body. Why would I treat this one like a rental because of that reality? No, I'm going to align myself, acknowledging I'm going to die, acknowledging that God knows I'm going to die. Acknowledging that sin happens, and it infects my body and I will degrade and become less functional over time. I'm going to fight against that because death was Satan's idea. Death wasn't God's idea. And I'm going to fight against that and show forth the reality of the gospel of redemption in my physical body to say, "Hey, you know what? Christians get new bodies and they're perfect and they don't have cancer and they don't have chronic disease and they don't have this stuff.

And as much as it depends on me, I'm going to align myself with a reality to show forth that the gospel redeems it in the here and now as much as I can influence that. Acknowledging that God's sovereign. But I'm not going to use God's sovereignty as an excuse for my bad behavior.

Gary Wilkerson: Right. If we can capture that we were going to ... it's going to take us into the next things we need, which would be ... so you determine a healthy, biblical understanding. Where to go from there then?

David Bush: Then you get to the practical, okay?

Gary Wilkerson: Okay.

David Bush: 80% of our journey toward better health is going to happen with our knife and fork.

Gary Wilkerson: 80%?

David Bush: 80% of it. So, while our culture again is going to say, "You need to join a health club, get with a personal trainer and get a part of this fitness regimen." That's all well and good. I'm not coming against that, but there's money to be made there. Okay? There's money to be saved frankly, in getting our appetites under control and seeking to shop the perimeters of the grocery store where abundant fresh fruits and fresh vegetables and lean meats and great dairy products and whole grains are abundantly available. Avoid the inner or the pre-made stuff in the middle and all the snacks and try to live your life on that perimeter and attack that nutritional area of your life.

Eating healthy fats, proteins, whole grain carbohydrates, and starting to fuel your body differently. Get more sleep. Go to bed at a good time. Get up earlier, make time for devotions, make time for prayer. Get your schedule in order. And don't be sitting on a computer with blue light hurting your ability to even go to sleep and all that.

So, get your sleep in order, get your diet in order, get your schedule in order, drink more water, stop, ditch the pop, ditch the Gatorade, the “healthy” drinks, drink water. That's what your body's really wanting. That's the 80% that's going to start seeing some real physiological transformation happen. At the same time as you're able, begin to gradually do more physically. And for you, that might be water aerobics. You may be obese, and your joints are shot, and it really hurts to move right now, well get into a water exercise class where some of the gravitational pull is taken away and then start walking, then start walking fast and further.

Then add some resistance training into muscles are where calories go to die. That's where the furnace that is burning those and it's going to get to make your body more resilient and flexible and make your bones stronger too. So, begin adding those things. And if you need coaching along the way, bring in that expertise to do that. But none of those things are going to work toward transformation if you don't have a theology of your body and if your motivations are skewed from the get-go. You're going to self-sabotage and the counseling and accountability and discipleship that I do with people in their physiological area shows all kinds of self-sabotage. They'll get to a certain area and then they'll bail because of issues of the motivation. And so, you've got to get that foundation right.

Gary Wilkerson: I want to come to that in just a moment, your work with individuals and what kind of conversations you're having and what kind of miracles you're seeing take place in people's lives through one-on-one, through your book, through your lectures. Before we move there though just a little more on this process. You hit on something that I think is so important for people listening. Because sometimes, the 80, 20 thing is like ... I think that's kind of unknown to a large degree. And so, we think it's like 80% exercise and I can eat whatever I want.

David Bush: Yeah. And you see that manifested in whatever. I know that you tend to do CrossFit stuff and that's a little bit of a different group. Okay?

Gary Wilkerson: Yeah.

David Bush: But in the average gym, if anybody's seeing the same people I'm seeing in their gym, and I bet it's the same, I've watched the same people who need to lose 75 or more pounds, work up a lather on the treadmill and on the elliptical and go and even lift weights and their physiology has never changed. They're burning 500, 600 calories at a swack. And then they're going home and eating 650 and justifying it because they have worked out like crazy.

Gary Wilkerson: So that might even be the motive for working out. I want to have that whole pint of Haagen-Dazs.

David Bush: That's widespread. That kind of trade off in our minds. But you're not going to get healthier until you address the consumption end. That has to be addressed. That's where the discipline and self-control come in. That's hard.

Gary Wilkerson: That's where I've had so many fails thinking that it starts in the brisk walk or the jog or the swim. Because if your body ... if you're full of sugar and toxins in your body and you go to the gym, you're just going to ... it's going to be miserable. So, for me, one of the great joys was finally starting with the eating first. How I eat. Taking in more vegetables and not drinking soda. Those were the two big shifts, vegetables and no soda for me. And then just that alone-

David Bush: You see a dramatic change just from that.

Gary Wilkerson: I might go to the gym, and then I got there, and I was like, I actually kind of like this. I used to hate it now I like it. And so, there is that important thing of ... and that's why I think it's so crucial that you're saying that the refrigerator holds the key more than anything else. And it's one of the things that always throws me off too. This is just a personal pet peeve is when I'm in the gym not so much the CrossFit gym, but the kind of where they have the universal machines and stuff, is these guys would be like huge biceps and chest, but then their bellies like still sticking way out there.

David Bush: There's a tale there.

Gary Wilkerson: Right.

David Bush: There's a story behind that.

Gary Wilkerson: Something is out of whack there, right?

David Bush: Yeah.

Gary Wilkerson: So, I say all of that. I want to go back because this is so important. You're dealing with people through referrals. Kind of like you're telling me this earlier you're on Zoom. Is that what you called it?

David Bush: Zoom Conferencing.

Gary Wilkerson: Zoom Conferencing.

David Bush: Distance conferencing where it's like Skype.

Gary Wilkerson: With individuals, and these are people that are coming to you, wanting this kind of information and more personal, like what's happening in their life that they would come and want to talk? Not that anybody wouldn’t want to talk to you, but-

David Bush: Where do people go? And what do they do when ... here we're hitting that season again of over consumption and then the regret that comes after and we're yet another five pounds heavier than we were at this time last year. Do we repeat insanity again and sign up for the gym and sign up for those classes, thinking it's going to be different this time? Some people finally realize “It's not going to be different this time until I have a different motivation, until I have accountability and until somebody can personally help me through this” because they even start to recognize—maybe consciously, maybe not—that there are issues at play with their health and their ability to enjoy good health that have to do with their relationship with God and their family relationships, their schedule, the anxiety and the worry that they have in their life, that these things need to get sorted out, and they're looking for somebody they can trust to go to who will take them to the word of God and help counsel them through this area of their life.

And I found because it's hard to get in the front door of the church to address people, God has been, without my really pursuing it, developing a ministry where pastors, church leaders and lay people are coming to me and saying, "I recognize that this is beyond me and out of my hands and I need to surrender myself to a different kind of a process." Because just signing up with a personal trainer again this year, I've been there and done that and I don't want to go that direction anymore. There's some work that needs to be done. I need somebody to hold me accountable. I need a process and I want somebody who can tell me what to eat and help me that tell me some exercises to do.

But start first and focus on some issues in my life that I need to find a worthy motivation. I need to understand biblically what's going on in my life.

And so I'm providing a service and a ministry to people, a pastor-- a physiological discipleship ministry where people across the country are able to work with me in a one-on-one discipleship counseling relationship where we work through the body gospel, Fit For The King, some of the workshop materials and motivation things that I put together to get them to understand how did we get here, what's going on, what does the Bible say about it? How do we adopt worthy motivations and gospel-centered motivations?

And then when it is appropriate, start to bring in those nutritional pieces and then start to bring in the that workout piece. But our world will flip that completely on its head and say, not only do you maybe not need accountability because you're a free spirit, but all you need to do is get a health club membership and that in and of itself will probably take care of the problem.

That's why we have $9.95 health club memberships, a cynical view that says, "We'll get a lot of people to sign up because there's nothing vested in it. They'll let us keep charging them $10 a month and they'll never come. And we can have 7,000 members for this club that would never fit in here if they all came. But they'll never use it. And they'll pat themselves on the back that they are pursuing better health, because they're paying $10 a month to do nothing.”

Gary Wilkerson: [inaudible] gym Wow.

David Bush: That's not working.

Gary Wilkerson: Right. So, when these people, your new friends that you're ministering to through this discipleship process, when they start hearing your heart, hearing your vision they're kind of coming like that 80, 20, 80% of my problem is food, 20% is lack of exercise. But you're finding that there's something else going on. It's not just the 80, 20.

David Bush: Yeah. And that is why the accountability discipleship counseling aspect is so critical. We were created as holistic beings and we can't just treat ourselves as a piece of meat that's going and getting conditioned, divorcing it from all the issues in our life. And here's a couple of examples from counseling.

What if you're a woman who has struggled to get at a healthy weight and through talking through these issues and looking deep and asking for the Spirit's guidance and revelation of things that are going on in your life, it surfaces that every time you fail and you head into the convenience store for the candy bar instead of what we talked about doing and fueling yourself differently, you have such a feeling of shame and guilt because you've gone off program and maybe that's even a sin for you because you're not at a healthy weight and you have no business fueling yourself that way.

Because you have an understanding of God that says right now he's really disappointed in me. His arms are crossed, he's shaking his head, his eyes are closed, and he's saying, “I'm sick of your games. I'm so tired of your disobedience. This is the ... how many times we'll be down this road? And one more time." So a bad understanding of the gospel that God's disappointed as if He expected better behavior. And that's why he saved us, right? Because we were so commendable, and our behavior was so good.

A misunderstanding of the gospel that He loved us in spite of us and he standing ready to let that one mistake be one mistake and not metastasize and snowball into a week of mistakes where you show up saying, "I've been off program for a whole week because of the guilt and shame over that first mistake. I didn't understand the gospel enough to be able to say, ‘I'm sorry,’ and I can come, and my identity is in Christ He's not disappointed with me. He knows me better than I know myself and my weaknesses. I confess it to you and I'm getting back on the program and not let one mistake become 15 mistakes."

Helping them get out of shame when they fail. But how about this? Maybe they were abused, maybe they were sexually abused as a kid. And a fear many women frankly have is if I become attractive again, physically, I set myself up as a target for abuse. So I will self-sabotage and I will keep myself in an unhealthy place because I cannot let myself become attractive, or what if there is not a lot of intimacy in the marriage and that intimacy began to fall apart when their weight and stuff, they became less aesthetically pleasing.

If you are a woman and you are thinking about getting to a place where you might be more attractive but the prospect that your husband might still reject you when you got there, that might be a bigger issue than you want to face. Because now they're not just rejecting your aesthetics, they're rejecting you as a person. Better to self-sabotage and remain where I am than to actually follow through and become healthy.

Or maybe you're a pastor and you know you need to get healthier, but every time you start focusing on health, your wife who's been a little imbalanced in this before maybe extreme, tends to double down and make it an idol in her life. Maybe even taken her to an area of unhealth.

What do I do if I start really pursuing this passionately and getting my own life in order? There's a possibility in my wife might follow me and become unhealthy with obsession. These are things that come up. This is where people are living. Your personal trainer isn't going to have an answer for this, okay? But the gospel does. And God's given me enough time and skill and working with people and a passion to help them and working through my own issues where I can take them to scripture as any good counselor will and say, "This is what the Bible says about what you're thinking. The wrong thinking that's leading to shame.” The wrong motivation that says, "I'm doing this so that my husband will be interested in me or I'll be more attractive." You need to find a better motivation than that so that you can push through those barriers and enjoy more of God because that's really your core motivation. Or how can you do this in a way that brings your spouse along in a way that both of you can enjoy good health because you're doing this as a team.

Gary Wilkerson: Wow.

David Bush: That takes maybe a counselor, that takes maybe a pastor.

Gary Wilkerson: That's so powerful that you're doing that because you're ... my mind was going towards freedom from and freedom to. Your freedom from shame of your past, freedom to be healed from the memories of abuse, freedom to get rid of the fear of relational difficulties if you change the trajectory of your life together, it's freedom from, and then remember to, freedom to a more vigor, vitality and an encouraged lifestyle. You wake up, you feel happy about it. So, there's this escaping from, that's a biblical theology as well. Can you come out of Egypt? But then you go into the promise land and I think sometimes people just trying to get out of overweight or lack of ... but they're not looking I want to get into something.

And also, I was also reminded, not reminded but thought of I almost saw this math in my head, which is very rare. I almost never think of math, but you're talking about 80, 20, 80% of it has to do with what you take into your body, food wise and drink wise. And then 20% is the exercise, the fitness. But under that, really, you're talking about almost like that 80-20 isn't even 50% of the battle. Really its-

David Bush: No, it's the battle of the mind.

Gary Wilkerson: The soul and the mind underneath that's your victory is kind of won, not necessarily in the food in that, but it's before that even right. So, when you're counseling people, you're kind of almost like ... we'll talk about that, but we're also going to get into some deeper issues is really what are they?

David Bush: Yes. And that's why Fit for The King, the first book, was the sections were divvied up Demolition, Foundation, Transformations. Until we demolished the wrongheaded thinking and the wrong motivations we possessed before entering this process, all we're doing is building on a foundation of sand and that is doing us no good. So, we have to have our wrong thoughts about God, our wrong thoughts about us, demolished in biblical truth brought to bear on those issues and taken-- carted away to the landfill and then have a new biblical gospel centered foundation laid. And then on top of that, we can talk about our 80, 20s, then we'll address those other things.

But again, our world and our culture is, they address physiological things. There's no demolition. They're throwing kerosene on a fire that says it's all about you. Be the best narcissist possible. Let's get a selfie and put it on Instagram. You're nothing if you don't fit into this size. It's all about the objective aesthetics and none of it has to do with dismantling the wrong thinking that we have from the get-go, that's going to sabotage our ultimate success in this.

Nobody talks about the 92% failure rate that the fitness industry has. People who go in thinking they're going to reach a goal, 92% fail. Would World Challenge be in existence if 92% of your goals failed, would Apple be in business, would anybody be in business in 92% failure rate? And yet this perpetuates, because it's such a strongly held delusion and frankly the church has never spoken about it. There isn't a biblical truth coming against that to say there's a better way than that kind of a number.

Gary Wilkerson: You're very unique being able to encapsulate all of that theology, philosophy, soul care, pastoral ministry, and then actually be able to talk to people about fitness and health, that combination is very rarely seen. And only a certain number of people can come get your phone number and become a client or whatever you might want to call it, somebody that your counseling ministry to. A little off-shoot question: Do you still have room for other people who are listening and want to?

David Bush: Yeah. Sure. This is a new burgeoning area that as I have grown weary of trying to get in the front door and I've spent years trying to do it, I finally kind of bailed on that. And without my even trying, God has said, "I've got something different and new for you. What I'm going to do is I'm going to take your pastoral and biblical counseling experience and training and your passion for these things and your conversations and experiences with people in this area and I'm going to bring people to you who you can help one-on-one in this area." So, people that go to website, they will see a way to contact me and we can talk about what that means. But that's an area of growth for me.

Gary Wilkerson: Good. Well, I would encourage people to do that and I would encourage you, I've never done this on our podcast before. I've never actually challenged somebody to do something, but I want to challenge you to not only do this yourself, I would love for you to train other people to do this because there's so few people doing it and you're kind of a one stop shop for holistic health of including the spirit and faith element, bearing maybe that's not, that's a capacity issue and a time issue.

While that is transpiring, would you say that somebody could deal with all that you're talking about with maybe two or three different people like have somebody that can help you with the food and fitness but then have a counselor as well? Could you do all that together? I mean, it can do with you. It's all inclusive, but can you piecemeal that out a little bit?

David Bush: Well, sure. If somebody knows that there is a believing nutritionist or dietician who has a balanced approach to that, that they want to be in accountability and relationship with. Great. If there's a personal trainer that they know they need help because they walk into the gym and they're just intimidated because they don't know what to do and they feel out of place, well then, they probably need to learn how to lift correctly and not do damage. So, there's value in those things.

What I'm saying is that to do those things first as the first primary triage point of people's lives and not to address the other is perpetuating something that has been shown statistically doesn't work. You're going to have to, as a follower of Christ, see how this can get hardwired to your faith walk and your sanctification, your transformation and so that you will have a worthy motive that will carry you through this because it's not going to be easy. This will be hard. Changing your diet and saying no to what the world offers is going to come at a cost.

Putting yourself through painful things in working out that won't be comfortable. You'll be out of breath, your muscles might hurt, whatever. It's good hurt, but that will be painful. You're going to have a why that's big enough to carry you through all those reasons to quit and see it through to its end.

But it's not rocket science. Most people know what healthy food and unhealthy food is. If I told you Gary is going to the donut shop for breakfast a better option or it'd be better to have some avocado, spinach and scrambled eggs, which is the better choice? Well, I know you can answer that. Would it be better to move more today and take the stairs and park further from your office and walk in? Or would it be better to take the escalator and sit all day? You know the answer to that. I don't need a personal trainer or a dietician to tell me that. But beyond that, yes, access these things as you're able and you have the finances to do it. If that's what you want to do.

Gary Wilkerson: And if you've tried that shift so many times and you're still not able to do it, maybe there's an issue like that you're dealing, that you were talking about with some of these illustrations you gave were so powerful. There might be something behind the scenes under the engine that needs to be taken a look at. That’s where that Christian counselor, that pastor, that small group that you could belong to.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • What is a ‘theology of the body’ or ‘body stewardship’?
  • What are some of the deeper issues of the heart that prevent people from living a healthy lifestyle?
  • How can I start to live a healthier life?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

The gospel of redemption applies to our body. That God is not just redeeming our spirits, redeeming our finances, redeeming our relationships, redeeming our thought-life. Yeah, he's doing all of that, but he's also redeeming our bodies, and the fact that we're getting a new body should not mean that we junk this one and trash this one. – David Bush

Nobody would say, “In heaven, we're not going to be cussing and my speech will be perfect. So, while I got a chance now, I'm going to be as profane as can get, as all get out because someday it's going to get all sanctified” or “Someday my relationships in heaven will be perfect because Jesus will be there. So now I'm going to trash my relationships because I got an opportunity to do that.” Someday we're going to get a new body. Why would I treat this one like a rental because of that reality? – David Bush

80% of it has to do with what you take into your body, food wise and drink wise. And then 20% is the exercise, the fitness. But under that, really, you're talking about almost like that 80-20 isn't even 50% of the battle. Really, it’s in your soul and the mind, underneath, that your victory is won. – Gary Wilkerson

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About David Bush

David Bush is a singer, songwriter, and worship pastor whose music has been heard in concerts and on radio across North America. His passion for fitness began as a teenager and continues today through his growing understanding of worship. A southern California native, David has spent most of his adult years in Des Moines, Iowa, where he lives with his wife Beth and their four boys.

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About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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