George Bowers Sr.: Abs of steel, necks of iron
How enjoyable it was to watch the Summer Olympic Games as athletes from all over the globe competed for top honors in hundreds of different categories. Of course the convincing success of American competitors helped to make it even more exciting for me, but the sheer force of human will to rise above obstacles and perform at the peak of one’s ability is always inspiring, no matter the nationality.
While most of us were watching Michael Phelps add to his gold reserve and the American girls clean up the gymnastic mats, other athletes were contending in other events. One of those was weightlifting. Although the USA was nearly shut out of the honors in all 14 classes, Sarah Elizabeth Robles hoisted a massive 278 pounds in the snatch and 353 in the clean and jerk to earn a bronze medal. For a 316 pound woman, that’s pretty impressive even though it was bested by two of her competitors who weighed even less than she did.
I remember as a boy leafing through Guinness’ book to find the heaviest weight ever lifted and dreaming of one day surpassing it. Paul Anderson still owns that honor for the 6,270 pounds he backlifted in the 1957 Melbourne Olympics. That’s over 3 tons and roughly equivalent to two VW Beetles! I certainly pose no threat to his long standing record.
Many Americans are consumed today with health and fitness. Personal trainers, home gyms, and fitness clubs all cooperate to produce strong and healthy citizens. And that’s a good thing. As stewards of our bodies, we have an obligation to take good care of what God has entrusted to us. Christians have an even higher standard to uphold as the Bible informs us that our bodies are temples in which God lives through his Holy Spirit.
With all the focus on tone and development, however, we must be cautious of losing our flexibility in one muscle in particular: the ones in our necks. Over two millennia ago, God spoke to the Israelites through his prophet, Isaiah and said, “I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze (Is 48:4).” God’s concern was not for their physical bodies but for their souls and this statement indicated that they refused to humble themselves and bow their heads before their Lord and maker. Although we all want abs of steel, we must avoid necks of iron.
His verdict came to them long ago, but the same problem persists today. Our overbearing pride and arrogance can easily harden our neck muscles until we lose our ability to bend and submit ourselves before God. This is very dangerous, for if we read the rest of Israel’s story, we find that they paid a very high price for their insolence. When we refuse to bend our necks, God is sometimes forced to break them.
Perhaps our Olympic athletes can help us prevent this. As their muscles become thicker and stronger, they also become more rigid and firm. Although this may enable them to lift more, swim faster, and jump higher, it can also limit the range of motion necessary for other tasks. So in addition to strength training, most of them also complete additional exercises to maintain their flexibility.
As we grow stronger in our careers, finances, and relationships, we can easily become proud of these accomplishments and develop spiritual rigidity. To prevent this, we must maintain our flexibility in the same way professional athletes do, by regular intentional exercise. Spiritually, this involves bowing daily before the Heavenly Father in quiet prayer and meditation to maintain a healthy humility. In this way, we have the strength needed to stand with and for our fellow humans while submitting to our Lord and master. The more often we do this, the stronger and the more flexible we become.
So go ahead and work on your abs of steel, pecs of titanium, and biceps of stone. It’s even OK to develop the neck of an NFL lineman. Just be sure it’s always flexible enough to humbly bow before the strongest one of all.
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.