Pastors don't talk much about physical health because the New Testament scriptures don't have specific recommendations about what to eat and how much exercise to get. But it is helpful for us to know that the biblical concept of 'salvation' is a more holistic idea than we have been taught. Salvation, according to the bible, isn't just a promise of eternity with God after we die, though it certainly includes that. Salvation, according to the Gospels, is a quality of life that starts when we begin to follow Jesus, and continues to flourish forever. This 'salvation' includes physical health and healing. In fact the words translated 'salvation' and 'healing' in the bible are often the exact same Greek word! The Jewish worldview of the first century saw salvation as something that included your health, your finances and your social state as well.
So how do we live into this salvation physically? There is no shortage of dietary and exercise advice. But how do we sort through it? First, before we start to take advice from our culture about how to treat our bodies, we must become aware that physical well-being, especially as relates to an attractive appearance, is a favorite idol in the world today. We must begin by allowing our salvation, our acceptance in Jesus, to set us free from connecting our sense of self-worth to our physical health and appearance. Only when we are gratefully set free of the burden of always having to look and feel healthy can we experience a deep satisfaction in God that can empower self-control, and liberate us from food's addictive qualities. With these foundational truths in place, let us revisit our virtue of the month, balance.
Much of the advice of our culture today pushes toward the extremes rather than a balance. When you discover physical rhythms with balance you are less likely to get injured, less likely to make your health an idol and more likely to stick with the lifestyle. So what does a balanced physical health pattern actually look like? It won't look the same for everyone depending on your current health and stage of life, but I offer my family's efforts as one case study. Feel free to add your recommendations as well.
I recommend bringing your physical health in line with the annual rhythms of the church calendar. There is a brilliant balance to the feasts and fasts in the church year that can benefit us spiritually and physically.
During lent, and at the end of the church calendar (10 days before thanksgiving for my family and me) we observe a special season of fasting when we give up processed foods, dairy, sweets, alcohol and some meats. During the feasting around Christmas, Easter and Pentecost we enjoy rich celebrations including desserts and wines. Our 'ordinary' times lie somewhere in between including few processed foods, light on the dairy, sweets and alcohol, and mostly white meats. When we are with friends, on a date, or on our weekly Sabbath (Sunday) we celebrate life and relax our usual restraint. It works well because it is healthy and flexible, and in addition, it grows our faith by tying our physical rhythms to the annual remembrance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
As relates to the exercise and rest side of things, we find physical activities that work with our schedule and that we enjoy so we will stick with them. For the past year the activity has been rock climbing at a local gym around 3x per week. The kids climb with us, or participate in other athletics. We also try to have our kids' outside time match their screen time. Currently that means after school they spend an hour outside and then then they get an hour of television or video games.
We don't have perfect health, but I do have a sense of my faith, and the virtue of balance, having worked its way into my family's physical rhythms. I share our pattern as one example of the way God can bring his salvation into our lives physically. I'm off to do some climbing now ;)
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor