Let me ask you a question: How does exercise, eating, resting and mental exercise fit into your week? Here are four simple spiritual principles of health that we need to apply to our lives. They are principles, not rules and regulations. As Christians every aspect of our whole being is to be submitted to the Holy Spirit and we are to ask him to control everything-our eating and drinking, our exercising and resting, our spending and giving, our thinking and praying.
A sanctified diet
The first simple principle is that we must have a balanced diet. God has made us in such a way that we need to eat healthily and moderately to stay well. Over-eating is just as harmful to health as under-eating – and far more common in western nations. Over-eating and addictions to convenience foods and drinks takes years off saints’ lives and robs God’s kingdom of huge amounts of much-needed finance.
Advances in nutrition have shown us that we need to eat more fibre, much less fat, as little sugar as possible, and food that contains a balance of vitamins and minerals.
We should encourage people to eat and drink in a way that brings health to their lives and makes them more useful to God. If there was a heavy smoker in our congregation, would it be right to ignore his addiction and just keep on promising him healing when his lungs finally pack up? Healing grace does abound, but I do not think we should eat to make it abound!
In the Scriptures, there is a pattern of feasting and fasting, among God’s people. We must not be so preoccupied with being healthy that we never celebrate God’s goodness with the occasional gargantuan feast. But, equally, the majority of western believers would benefit physically let alone spiritually from regular fasting.
The second simple principle is that we need to have regular exercise and a good level of fitness. God has made us with muscles which start to waste away if they are not stretched and strengthened, and with joints that stiffen when they are not used enough.
Scientists have shown us that a fit human body not only provides more energy to carry out physical activities, it also means a more alert mind, quicker mental responses, and a significantly increased resistance to disease. The phrase, ‘Use it or lose it’ has many different applications in this area.
If we want to be able to serve God for longer – and at a higher level of usefulness – we will choose to exercise more. But if we are happy with increasing immobility, growing discomfort and fewer years to serve God, we will carry on sitting and getting less and less fit.
It is so straightforward for us all to build simple times of exercise into our daily schedules. We could do this by walking or cycling more. We could take up a sport. We could use the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. We could dig our garden (if we have one!) and grow lots of healthy fresh vegetables and so on. It’s easy if we have the will and the motivation.
Rest and Relaxation
In contrast to the first two principles, the Church has tended to make a great deal of the third simple principle of health. The idea that we need regular rest and relaxation is another theme that runs through creation. Animals have been made with the need for sleep so that they can be refreshed. Plants have a cycle of growth and rest. The ‘Sabbath’ principle suggests that humans need one day in seven free from work and as different as possible from the other six. It is not merely that God is so important that we should set one day a week apart to concentrate on Him for He should be central to every day – it is also that we have been made with the need for one day a week which is quite different from the other six.
Christians whose lives revolve entirely around their work, their families and their church tend not to be particularly interesting people – and they are usually not that accessible to people who are not yet Christians. Art, literature, sport, sculpture, music, dance, crafts, hobbies, all reveal something of God’s creativity and spending time contemplating or participating in these activities refreshes us.
The last simple health principle is that we need to exercise our minds, and express our emotions. The Bible teaches that our behaviour is controlled by our thinking, and urges us to think like God and to be renewed in our thinking by Him. When we think God’s way, we live God’s way, and we experience his wholeness and health. God has made us as rational and emotional beings. Many people today suggest that we are either ruled by our ‘heads’ our minds or by our ‘hearts’ our emotions. However, it is important to recognise that the Bible teaches that our minds affect and determine everything. Our emotions are merely by-products that stem from our thinking, culture and behaviour. Emotions and feelings are indicators that enhance our lives by adding colour, passion, warmth and self-expression. But we are conditioned by our minds and what we think.
The enemy uses every possible influence to corrupt our thinking and disrupt our emotions. The Bible urges us to be renewed in our minds and to be like Christ Jesus in our thinking.This is the godly way to a healthy mind. We can develop a positive, godly mind-set through studying the Scriptures and fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit.
God’s way of thinking lifts, builds and strengthens us and it reduces fear, anxiety and anger. Good doctrine, the sermon on the Mount, the Psalms, Paul’s letters-these are all vital medicine for the mind and the spirit, and they bring health and wholeness to every aspect of our lives.
Some Christians have mistakenly suggested that emotionalism is some sort of sin. This devalues emotions and leads to some believers denying their feelings and not being in touch with their emotions. Repressing emotions, however, creates stress, and that is a sure way to ill-health.
I believe that these four simple, spiritual principles for godly healthcare should be part of the modern Christian healing ministry. We have been called to bring hope to a hurting world, and God wants us to help people to become whole in every area of their lives. In the Old Testament, for Moses, this meant teaching a mixture of dietary and sanitary rules and seeing God heal supernaturally. In the New Testament, for Paul, it meant moving in dynamic signs and wonders and advising Timothy to drink wine for the sake of his health. And today, for us, it means that we begin to minister God’s supernatural healing and to teach his healthcare principles and to live by them ourselves.