As pastors, we tend to like to focus on spiritual things. But God is the Creator of our physical bodies, and it’s in our physical bodies that we live our spiritual lives out before others.
We pastors have a tendency to let our physical health go unchecked, and we have plenty of excuses, such as our busy schedules, our calendar being heavy with meal-centered meetings, and our need to be behind a desk a lot to feed people spiritually.
For every excuse we can come up with to ignore our physical health, there are other pressing reasons to consider it:
The Bible is full of health rules and guidelines. I want to remind leaders of just six principles from God’s Word about building a healthy body. When you feel bad physically, it affects everything else. Shakespeare said it’s hard to be a philosopher with a toothache. I’d say it’s hard to be spiritually alert when you’re physically dull, when you’re tired, fatigued or out of shape.
1. Maintain your ideal weight. Scientists know that you have an ideal weight based on your bone structure and your height. First Thessalonians 4:4 says, “Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable.” I realize there are many medical and glandular reasons for being overweight and for having weight problems, but the fact is that for many of us, we simply eat too much. You cannot eat everything you want to eat and still maintain your weight. Ecclesiastes 6:7 says, “All the labor of man is for the mouth and yet the appetite is never filled.”
2. Balance your eiet. You need to focus on controlling both the quality and the quantity of what you eat. Do you eat a balanced diet? A hamburger in both hands? I was on a seafood diet—if I see it, I get to eat it. First Corinthians 6:12-13 says, “Everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will eventually destroy them both.” The point that Paul’s making is that eating is not an end in itself. We eat to live; we don’t live to eat. It’s a means, not an end in itself. And if we get those reversed, food becomes our master.
3. Commit yourself to a regular exercise program. Most of us are convinced but not committed. You know that exercise would be good for you, but committing to it seems hard. First Timothy 4:8 says, “Physical exercise has some value.” In Paul’s day, people were very active. If Paul wrote that verse today, he’d probably change it to say that it has great value. In the New Testament times, people walked everywhere, engaged in a lot more manual labor and ate natural foods. Today, we drive everywhere, live sedentary lives and eat processed junk foods.
How do you know when you’re out of shape? You know you’re out of shape when you feel like the morning after and you didn’t go anywhere the night before. You know your body is in trouble when your knees buckle and your belt won’t. You know you’re in trouble when you see your friends running and you hope they twist an ankle. You know you’re in trouble when you breathe harder walking up a set of stairs than you do when you hold your sweetheart’s hand.
The key is training, not straining. If you want to get in shape fast, then exercise longer, not harder. Commit yourself to a regular exercise program. The fact is, your body was not designed for inactivity. You were made to be active. Even a daily walk will make a difference.
4. Get enough sleep and rest. Psalm 127:2 says, “In vain you rise up early and stay up late.” The Living Bible says, “God wants His loved ones to get their rest.” Rest is so important that God put it in the Ten Commandments. He said every seventh day, you should rest. Jesus, in Mark 6:30-32, insisted that His disciples take a vacation. Make sure you’re budgeting your time wisely. Make sure you get enough rest and sleep.
5. Reduce or avoid drinking alcohol. Ephesians 5:18 says, “Don’t get drunk with wine, which will ruin you. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” Health-conscious consumers are sobering up America. There’s been a dramatic change in America’s drinking habits. A growing number of Americans are beginning to view alcohol as unhealthy or downright dangerous. It’s not surprising industry-wide sales are dropping. These are not religious people. These are just people who are concerned about their health. And for some surprising statistics about alcohol, see this infographic.
6. Live in harmony with God. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace is life to the body.” Our emotions have a tremendous effect on our physical health, just like our physical health has a tremendous effect on our emotions. You cannot fill your life with guilt and worry and bitterness and anger and fear and expect to be in optimum health. A heart at peace gives life to the body. If you feel bad, it affects every area of your life. It’s a part of stewardship. Your body is a gift from God. What are you going to do with it?
Note: As I write this, my 10th book has just hit the shelves today, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, and it’s a book about what changed my life. In addition to the book, there’s an interactive website where you can track your own health progress and find small group studies and other resources to help you get healthy.
Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.
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