God created us to be purpose driven. In other words, our natural inclination is to operate with an intent—a motive, so to speak.

The Bible gives us a number of examples of men and women who did extraordinary things (whether for good or evil) in order to fulfill a purpose or reach a goal. Jacob, for instance, worked 14 years for the deceitful Laban in order to marry the woman of his dreams (see Gen. 29). He had a motive (espousing the lovely Rachel), which served to motivate him to work an extra seven years to accomplish his objective.

It is human nature to operate with a purpose and not wander about aimlessly. The majority of things we set out to accomplish are done with a motive. This is how the Lord created us, and this attribute of mankind extends to every aspect of our living and influences our spiritual as well as our physical lives.

It applies even to weight loss. Most people who set out to lose weight have a specific motive for doing so. Maybe the class reunion is fast approaching and you're determined to be only 10 pounds heavier than when you graduated, not 50. Or you may have booked a Caribbean cruise and simply refuse to slip on a bathing suit without first firming up and slimming down.

Is there a wedding coming up? How about a family portrait? Whatever the case may be, all too often our motivation for losing weight is simply the desire to change our outward appearance.

But remember Proverbs 31:30 tells us "charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting" (NIV). So if your objective for losing weight is only to enhance your looks, please take my advice: reconsider your motive.

VANITY IS NOT A VIRTUE Don't misunderstand me--there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good. After all, Queen Esther received a year's worth of beauty treatments before going into the royal chambers to visit the king (see Esth. 2:12).

Our appearance is important, and first impressions (even second impressions) carry a tremendous impact. But there are a few reasons why appearance should not be the sole motivator for weight loss.

For starters, losing weight for cosmetic reasons is an entirely goal-oriented approach. We are determined to reach an arbitrary number on the scale or a certain size dress or suit.

Once the goal is reached (or once the vacation or the class reunion is over) we find ourselves without a motive, and we soon become unmotivated to continue doing those things we did to reach our goal in the first place--namely, eating right and exercising regularly. We have to shift our focus from the temporary to the permanent.

It's not about achieving the temporary goal of squeezing into a dress that was two sizes too small to begin with. It's about permanently establishing a brand-new way of living.

Ironically, another reason why appearance alone should not be the primary motivator is that many people are quite satisfied with their appearance. And because they are content with being "pleasingly plump," they have no real desire to lose weight--even when shedding a few pounds would improve their health.

I find this is especially common in African American and Hispanic women, who are not as inclined to strive for society's standard of an acceptable body weight as are Caucasian and Asian women.

But though this high level of self-satisfaction might guard against conditions such as anorexia nervosa, it can be a real problem when contentment leads to complacency.

In my years of medical practice I've encountered a number of patients with serious medical problems related to improper diet, inadequate exercise and excessive body weight. But despite being diagnosed with potentially life-threatening illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and despite the crippling pain of conditions such as osteoarthritis, they felt satisfied with their appearance (vanity).

They didn't want to lose weight, even when their health was at stake. I've had patients tell me they were afraid they would look "sick" if they lost 10 or 20 pounds, not realizing those extra pounds might just escort them into an early grave.

If you want to lose weight, don't allow yourself to be driven by vanity. Vanity is not a virtue; it is the cousin of pride, and "pride goes before destruction" (Prov. 16:18).

THE PROPER MOTIVE Adopting a healthier lifestyle requires discipline, moderation and self-control--character traits supported throughout the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, for example, Paul says: "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

"Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

"Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

Paul compares the Christian life to an athletic competition here and in other parts of the Bible (see 2 Tim. 4:7; Gal. 2:2). What a powerful word picture to emphasize the benefits of living a life of discipline, moderation and self-control.

These character traits are perfected through the Holy Spirit and are vital to us if we are to mature on this Christian journey. And even though the prize Paul speaks of is our heavenly reward, we can't ignore the importance of exercising these same qualities in our physical lives.

It's actually difficult (if not impossible) to separate these two aspects of our existence since spiritual maturation requires that we keep fleshly desires under subjection (including the desire to overeat), and that we become adept at resisting temptation (including the temptation to indulge ourselves with our favorite foods).

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