Imagine if your job was to look great on a fitness magazine cover, and another, and another. Picture after picture you represent true health, great success, the ultimate in male aspirations, extreme wealth, unbelievable strength… everything that every man wants to be. Now imagine you actually have the body to do that job. At what point would you buy into the thinking that you’re a self-made man and that you can achieve whatever you desire. When would you start believing that your determination, your hard work, your positive attitude and your sacrifice are all that you need?
For about 2 hours each day James Ellis does what you’d expect a fitness model to do – he busts his butt in the gym. His real workout happens during the other 22 hours of each day. For those 22 hours, like you and me, his form isn’t perfect, he gets tired and he isn’t sure of himself. You call that confidence? Well yes, in the ultimate way --- confidence in Jesus Christ.
Not just the Bible version but the James Ellis fitness model version. It is the workout that gives every man the ability to model true spiritual fitness:
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Briefly describe your journey into modeling and how you got to the position of being, "One of the most well-published fitness models in the world".
James Ellis: My journey into modeling was actually sort of random and unexpected journey. I went to Indiana State University with a major in Elementary Education and a minor in Physical Education. So the plan was to be an Elementary school Physical Education teacher. While in college I really began to take an interest in weight training as I had some roommates that were really into bodybuilding. They knew what they were doing so that helped me to get some great results fairly quickly. Before I knew it I had become sort of an addict to the gym and was really studying the anatomy of the muscle and how to train for the best possible results in the gym.
Three years later during my senior year of college I decided to compete in both the Mr. Indiana State University and Mr. Wabash bodybuilding shows. I was blessed with a win in both. That led to shooting a portfolio with a local photographer. Several people loved the photos and encouraged me to pursue a career in fitness modeling. So I packed my bags after graduation and moved off to California in order to make that dream a reality.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Describe your Christian faith background and what it means to you.
James Ellis: I grew up with a very strong Christian family. I count this as a real blessing in my life. My mother and father put their faith in Jesus as does everyone in my immediate and extended family. As a child my parents told my sisters and me that we needed to go to church with them every Sunday as long as we were living under their roof. I wasn’t too thrilled about that, especially when I got my driver’s license. I was bullied in high school. which created depression and self-doubt. So, I would be out at the dance clubs on Saturday nights until the early morning hours.
That attitude changed one summer night when I went to a Wednesday youth group service at the age of 17. The message at that youth service really spoke to me and it was in that time that I earnestly prayed to God to be free of my sin and be in right standing with Him by accepting the gracious gift of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. This was a choice that I as an individual decided to make and no one else could have made it for me. My life changed, because my life was no longer my own. Jesus now has a resident presence in my life as both my Savior and my Lord. This personal relationship with Jesus has been amazing to me. He guides, directs, and protects me daily.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Through popular media many people have a perception of the high-profile LA model lifestyle. Give insight into the daily culture for models, the lifestyle influences and some of the ways models live in that environment. How has God challenged you to live your faith and be different from the normal. Any regrets? What are your challenges and how are you best able to encourage others toward God as they struggle?
James Ellis: The modeling and acting industry is quite true to what many perceive it to be based on what is seen in the media. Many in this business get into the wrong crowds and end up doing things they will regret. I’ve watched a lot of people move to Hollywood in hopes of “making it big”. Then they get overwhelmed or depressed because it’s not happening. Unfortunately, people in this situation often turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, and more in order to ignore the depression and failure they are experiencing. Inevitably those things fail them as well and if they are lucky they end up moving back to their hometowns. Some of them never learn and they end up either doing obscene things with producers, dealing drugs, living on the streets or in some cases as we’ve seen with some famous people lately, the drugs or depression end up killing them.
I’m very thankful. God has blessed me and kept me secure in Him amidst this culture. He has been with me through my whole experience here in Hollywood.
I have done only one thing that I can say I regret. Fitness models are often offered underwear modeling jobs. That is the one thing that I ended up doing that I regret. It pays great money and I didn’t see modeling underwear as a bad thing. Then one day I read some Bible passages on lust and felt that God was really speaking to me and challenging me to grow in Him. Underwear modeling isn’t the direction He wants me to go.
I am also tempted with the same things as everyone else who moves out here to be in the industry. The difference [for the man who makes God his] Lord is that He promises to always provide a doorway out of these temptations. Many times that doorway can be taken far earlier then we could imagine. For instance, drunkenness, drugs and sex aren’t a problem for me because I choose not to get myself in the late night party or club atmosphere where people are indulging in those things. When I am on photo shoots I choose not to exchange phone numbers or plan dates with the beautiful women with whom I model. This keeps me from messing up and being pure.
I made the decision to be very involved in my church. I serve at the church a lot. That helps keep me out of trouble and growing more in Christ. Perhaps my biggest weapon of defense other than the God Himself is my choice to have a mentor and a few accountability partners that go to my church.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: OK, come on James, we've seen your photos. You must be in the gym daily for several hours. People that have a physique like yours are not only obsessive-compulsive investing way too much time into fitness, there is no way they can give God the time He deserves. How do you respond to this kind of thinking AND more importantly what has God shown you on how to manage your time? Any tips?
James Ellis: Yes, I do spend up to 2 hours a day for as many as 6 or7 days per week in the gym. My time in the gym is very well planned to be good quality time. You can probably imagine that my gym time is very important to me because it is very crucial to my job. An out-of-shape fitness model is not likely to be employed for very long.
However, as I said I spend up to 2 hours a day in the gym. We have 24 hours in a day. That gym time typically comes at night for me as I do my auditions and fitness shoots during the day. That leaves the mornings for me to spend time in prayer, worship and reading the Bible. The Bible is very specific about putting God first. I take that seriously and literally put Him first in my day as well. That is what God has showed me about managing my time. If I put my time with Him first then he will bless and navigate my day to His perfection.
!!! Remember fitness buffs: Our bodies – your body is only temporary, but your spirit and the spirit of God within you is eternal. While God has blessed me with the body that I have, it could be taken from me at anytime. The good news [that encourages me] is that I will always have my personal relationship with Jesus and that can never be taken from me. So, if you think my gym time is important to me, multiply that over a thousand times and you’ll see just how important my time is with God. I always have to tell myself that while being in shape and staying busy in my career as a fitness model is important, it will never be more important to me then my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: What does it mean to you to give your time to God? Why is that important to you? What lessons are you still learning or what goals do you have to use your time better for God?
James Ellis: Giving my time to God is exactly what it says, “Give my time to God”. I wake up in the morning and fall to my knees in prayer right away. I give the day to Him right away and put Him in the pilot seat where [I’m confident] He belongs. This is a decision that must be made each day. After I pray I seek His guidance and revelation in the Bible. I ask Him to speak to me through it and/or to whisper in my ear what I need to hear for the day. That first hour of my day is by far the most important as it sets the tone of my day and puts the worry or stress in God’s hands rather than on my shoulders. Then the rest of my day is, as the Bible puts it, time to “pray continuously”. I constantly pray in my head throughout the day. MY TIMES ARE IN GOD’S HANDS. Trust Him and be satisfied. To whom much is given, much is required. MODEL RESPONSIBLY.