Thursday, 11 February 2010

My Body, His Temple - Fit for Service

This begins a new series I’m doing on how to get traction in your life. Traction is about ‘pulling power’. Sometimes our life becomes ‘stuck in the mud’. Like a car that is in snowy weather or on a muddy field we may be revving high but our wheels are spinning. However, some vehicles are made for those kinds of situations. They are called ‘four by four’ or ‘off roader’ cars.

These vehicles apply the drive to all four wheels so that if one or two start to lose their grip and spin the others provide the needed grip to move forward. I want to suggest that we need that kind of approach to living the Christian life. Drive has to be applied to a number of areas. So over the next four weeks I’ll be looking to challenge us to develop in four areas of life: physically; relationally; spiritually and practically.

In one sense all of life is spiritual, because we are whole beings. But I want to give a specific meaning to each of these terms that will make it meaningful for us to grow in each of these areas. Let’s look at the first, staying physically fit.

John writes to a good friend called Gaius and shares his prayer for this man; “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers”, 3John 2. The inner life of the believer is important. This is the area of the soul and spirit. Here is where we receive revelation from God and process knowledge and understanding in order to live. But John’s prayer extends beyond his inner world to include the body. The great apostle John tells us we should prosper in all things and be in health.

A person can be sick and experience healing. This is great. Yet even better is to be in such good health that we don’t get sick. Our immune system operates at such an optimum level we are able to fight off decease and infection. In order to do this we need to be physically fit. Think of Moses in Deut 34.7, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigour diminished”. Think of that. When Moses died he was as fit as a fiddle.

Consider Caleb’s testimony in Joshua 14.10-11, “And now behold the Lord has kept me alive, as He said, these forty five years, ever since He spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now here I am this day eighty five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in”.

These two examples seem to go beyond enjoying good health. They are what I call ‘life’. Each of these men had the strength of a man half their age. And the implication is they looked young too! My belief is that if we walk in obedience to God we can participate in His life. The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives in our mortal bodies. And Paul says that Spirit is able to quicken or make us alive; Rom 8.11.

Now I understand that within the context of the passage he is speaking of the certainty of the resurrection – our resurrection; but it also implies that the Spirit can impart life to our bodies in a way that sustains us beyond our normal limitations. Think of Elijah. He ran away from Jezebel, fearing for his life. An angel of God met him and made him eat a cake he had prepared. Elijah was able to run in the strength of that food for forty days from one end of Israel to the other. It was supernatural for sure, but I am intrigued that he actually had to eat something to be nourished and go in the strength of it. The text is explicit; “and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights”, 1Kings 19.5-8.

There are other examples of men in the Bible who were fit. Asahel was David’s nephew, brother to Joab. He was so fast at running that they said he had the feet of a Gazelle, 2Sam 2.18. All of David’s mighty men were fit and able to fight with their swords in either hand. They trained hard and developed great skill.

Four of the disciples were fisher men – tough guys. Yet when Jesus invited Peter, James and John up a mountain to pray they were so exhausted from the journey they all slept, Luke 9.28-32. Not Jesus. He was a builder, a carpenter. And perhaps He was feasting at a table they knew little about, John 4.34.

Now to be sure the New Testament emphasises Godliness above all else. In 1Tim 4.8 Paul says; “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come”. But notice that Paul doesn’t say bodily exercise is useless. There is some value to it.

Also Paul sees the human body as being a temple for God’s Spirit. He lives in us – in our bodies. This implies that we need to honour our bodies by taking care how we use them, 1Cor 6.19-20.

There are many things that we can do that lower the body’s natural defences. Let me give you four areas that science has proven we need to watch and how their findings resonate with the wisdom of the Bible.

1. In Biblical times they had a good diet and sensible sanitary laws. Leviticus lays out what a good Jew could and could not eat. It prescribes the importance of washing over running water and how certain kinds of mildew could only be removed by destroying the garments they had contaminated – thus stopping the spread of disease. Many of these restrictions made sense in the light of a culture that didn’t have refrigeration. Certain animals were restricted because now we know their digestive systems left them vulnerable to absorb disease into their skin and so make people sick.

We may be free from a legalistic application of these laws, but it makes no sense to keep eating only processed food. Our bodies are nourished best with fresh fruit and vegetables. Many diseases today can be traced to the way we process food and the poor eating habits we have developed. So let me give you the first challenge. Start to eat more fruit and vegetables in your diet. Eat less carbohydrate foods and less fatty meats. You’ll soon feel the benefit and your immune system will thank you by keeping away decease.

2. They exercised far more than we do. Scientists tell us that a 2-3 km walk a day reduces risk of death by disease by 50%. In Biblical time they walked everywhere. It was part of life. The two on the Emmaus Road walked seven miles with Jesus and then returned the same day, fourteen in total. Jesus walked all over Israel as did Paul. Now they weren’t against technology. Paul sailed in boats and Jesus road into Jerusalem on a donkey. But life in an agricultural society meant hard work.

This is increasingly missing for those who have been born in the city. Those who are in jobs that are more pedestrian in nature need to be more intentional about getting regular exercise. So here is challenge number two; instead of jumping in your car to go to the local shops, walk. Take up a sport that requires some aerobic exercise. Do a little, often.

3. They slept well. Jesus said, “Are there not twelve hours in the day”, John 11.9. My dad used to say to me, “Son, don’t keep burning the candle at both ends”. Good advice. I didn’t listen and learned the hard way. I got ill. Psalm 127 talks of rising early, staying up late and eating the bread of sorrows. It’s a description of a person who had taken the weight of the world on their shoulders. They think it all depends on them. They put in more and more effort but they are no happier; quite the opposite. This is not God’s way. He watches over the city and He builds the house. When we’ve done our part we can go to bed! “For so He gives His beloved sleep”, Psalm 127.2.

I love this psalm. God is in control – not us. As a young pastor I remember being conscious of all the needs of the flock. At the end of the day I used to pray like this, “Lord they are your people and your problem; I’m off to bed, goodnight”. That may seem irreverent but it was an expression of faith. Going to sleep when you haven’t been able to do everything enables you to be refreshed for what a new day will bring.

Listen to David; “Lord how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God’. But you O Lord are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. I lay down and slept; I awoke for the Lord sustained me”, Psalm 3.1-5.

Right in the midst of trouble and pressure David cried to God then went to sleep! He felt God sustain him. Jesus slept in the back of the boat during a raging storm, Mark 4.35-41. He was at peace while all around Him was in turmoil. Sleep allows the body to rest and recuperate. It allows repair to go on and at the subconscious level many problems we face can be processed so that in the morning we know what to do.

Here is challenge number three; get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown that the average person needs between seven to nine hours sleep a night. If you drink coffee late at night it contains caffeine which will act as a stimulant and keep you up. Use the end of the day to unwind, then your sleep will be sweet.

4. God’s people learned the importance of rest. This is different to sleep. The Bible says we labour for six days and rest on the seventh. There is meant to be a rhythm to life. Even creation has a rhythm, spring, summer, autumn and winter. There is a time for harvest and a time for the land to rest. It is part of the order of creation. Remember man was not made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made for man. It is there to serve us. Again it requires faith because it means we take time to acknowledge the creator, to worship Him and appreciate all that our labour has accomplished that week.

The world system tends towards exploitation. This was Egypt’s model; slave drivers who always want more. But God has a different agenda. He wants to bring us into rest. Jesus said, “Come to Me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”, Matt 11.28-30.

The problem is that we are wearing the wrong yoke. Jesus has stuff for us to do but He wants us to learn to do it with Him alongside us. The yoke He gives has a good fit and is not heavy. Labouring with Jesus is satisfying. We find rest in it.

In the Old Testament the Israelite’s had Holy days. It’s where we get our word holiday from. Seven feasts were given to Israel as Holy days alongside the weekly Sabbath. Three times a year they had to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate these feasts. God provided holidays for family and friends to get together and enjoy all the blessing He had given. We need to continue with seasons of celebration and rest. Without them we burn out.

So here comes challenge number four; have a regular ‘Sabbath’ that is down time for you and purpose to rest. Do something you find relaxing. Make sure you get holiday time away from your normal routine. That’s what the Israelite’s had to do.

Finally, the best way to know where you are with your health is to get a regular check from your doctor. We take cars to be serviced because we know it’s a lot cheaper to replace the oil than to replace the engine. Professionals can help us understand where we need to pay attention to what is going on in us. Don’t ignore pain or problems. Pray by all means, but you can’t pray yourself out of a problem you’ve behaved yourself into! Proverbs says, “Get wisdom”. Wisdom is the ability to know what to do when. It helps us live life well. So take my challenge and mixed with obedience to God’s word who knows if God won’t give you the same promise he gave to the tribe of Asher, “As your days, so shall your strength be”, Deut 33.25.