Does the church need wellness?
Well, I’m going to let you decide.
When Jesus gave instructions to his followers, he said things like, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19), and “feed my sheep” (John 21:17), and “This is the most important [commandment]: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your should and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). He told stories and parables about what I believe to be the heart of the gospel, which is taking care of the people among us that don’t have a voice; the “least of these.”
So where does wellness fit in?
I think we can look to Jesus for the answer --and common sense for confirmation. Much of Jesus’ recorded ministry on earth was spent healing physical issues. Jesus healed the blind, lame, sick, injured, and paralyzed. He did so much more than that, but these are the body issues we can examine, which lead me to believe Jesus cares about our physical well-being too.
Further, common sense tells us that when we are healthy and feeling our best, we are better able to care for those around us, starting with our family and moving outward. When I feel God’s call on my life, I deeply desire to energetically answer that call and move forward with confidence.
There have been unhealthy seasons of my life when I believe I was not able to live out that call effectively. The struggle has been mental, emotional, and/or physical health, but my choices of how to respond to those health issues are what kept me in unnecessary suffering and less effective ministry. As I look around today, I think many in the church have forgotten that our physical health matters here and now. We've forgotten that we need to nurture and care for our bodies. Perhaps we've even forgotten that God cares about our physical health, as well as our spiritual health.
When we surrender ourselves to Christ, we have the opportunity to do so in all areas of our lives; family, finances, vocation, and health. Surrender is an opportunity to say, “I don’t own this body, God, you do. I want to steward my body with truth, grace, and love.”
What does it mean to steward the body we have been given with truth, grace, and love?
As a Christ follower, first and foremost, you are a child of God. This must be where we begin and end our identity. This is the truth that our whole being needs to be rooted in. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6 reminds us how we ought to take care of our bodies for they are the temple of the Holy Spirit: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies" (6:19-20). We need to allow those truths to soak in and nourish the soul. From that deep truth of knowing not who we are but whose we are, we will find strength and empowerment to honor and love our bodies including caring for them physically.
The rest of the truth for our physical well-being is what I call “natural truth" or "natural law" or "common sense.” For example, when I eat too much sugar, I feel yucky and my energy is zapped. I’ve even had sugar hangovers the next day from too much sugar! Natural truth or common sense tells me that when my body feels terrible, I would be wise to take a different course of action. This seems incredibly simplistic, but yet I struggle with this challenge in various areas of my life all the time.
Right now, my struggle is exercise. For those of you that follow our blog, you have heard me talk about this a lot over the past year. My baby turned 1 year old on July 4th (yes, he’s a fireworks baby :). My hope was that I would be back to a consistent exercise routine and back in all my pre-baby clothes. It’s been a year. I still don’t have it in me to do high intensity movement on a regular basis. There have been weeks where I exercise every single day –I feel great and accomplished and energetic and healthier. And then there are weeks I am ecstatic to get a walk to the mailbox.
I know that if I keep after my goal of consistent exercise and give myself grace, I will get into the routine (and clothes) I’m hoping for. I’ve got great accountability friends that ask me how my exercise is going and I want to be an excellent steward of my body and my physical health. I'm resting in the truth that I am a child of God and my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit so therefore I want to care for my body. Right now while I’m struggling through the roller coaster of energy and motivation, I’m giving myself grace with my health journey.
Grace is not making excuses or giving up. Grace is giving myself permission to accept my limitations, just as Christ accepts me as I am while I continue to grow and mature, physically and spiritually. So often I have found myself saying that I am “living in grace” while in reality I am lazily moving away from God. This is a really scary place to be. There is a fine line between apathy and acceptance in any given situation. Here is a health example:
Apathy (and fear): I don’t have energy to exercise and this is how it’s going to be for now, so, I may as well take it easy for a while. I feel the personal disappointment, but I choose to deal with it on my own—I don’t want to bother God with these small issues.
Acceptance (and grace): There are days I don’t live up to my own expectations. I choose to go to God with my imperfections and walk with him through the disappointment. I ask God for forgiveness when I mess up and then I forgive myself. I’ll continue making realistic goals and adjusting as I grow and learn what I can handle in this season. In all of this, I will bring my successes, disappointments, goals, and fears before God for his grace and his guidance.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2).
If we lose sight of why we are pursuing wellness, we miss the mark. God is love. Jesus instructs us to love God and our neighbors. If we start neglecting those around us as we pursue our health journey or if the journey moves us away from God, we ought to turn and RUN in the other direction. The pursuit of wellness gives us an opportunity to run toward God, to mature spiritually, get healthier, and honor him in the process—that’s a worthwhile venture!
Does the church need wellness?
I think that’s up to you to decide, but each of us, as the body of Christ, will benefit physically and spiritually from pursuing God in our health journeys and inviting him into every step.
Blessings on your adventure toward health!
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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any illnesses or disease. Please always check with your doctor before beginning any new nutritional or fitness program or before making any nutritional/fitness changes, especially if you haven't exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or you have any concerns.