It is normal to feel guilty at this time of year about our bodies. Some of the more common goals for a new year are to lose weight, stop smoking, get in shape, have better sleep hygiene, and generally learn better self-care. I am not going to add to the burden of guilt but emphasize something important: Our bodies are the vehicle given to us to glorify God. Our spirituality is quite embodied. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
One of the reasons we fail our bodies is that we do not always make the biblical connection of seeing our material selves with the same importance as the immaterial. The Apostle Paul brought up a discussion about the body to the Corinthian Church because Corinth was a Greek city thoroughly imbibed with a Platonic philosophy of life. At the core of Plato’s view of humanity was that the immaterial and the spiritual were of higher value than the body. For Plato, the body is a necessary evil. He referred to our souls as being imprisoned within the flesh. When we die the soul is released and is freed from its bodily prison.
Western civilization has been significantly influenced, even today, by Plato’s view of humanity. Yet, that is not a biblical view of the body. Instead of being a prison, the body is a temple, a sacred place which is no better and no worse than the soul. When we die, we will not be disembodied souls, but will experience a bodily resurrection at the end of the age. Eternity will be spent existing in a real glorified body free from sin. (1 Corinthians 15)
Since the body is sacred, and we glorify God with our bodies, then we must steward them just like we would steward any other physical material possession we own. We have bought into Platonic philosophy when we treat our cars better than we treat our bodies. If a warning light comes on in our cars, we get it checked by the mechanic. He fixes the issue and tells us what we need to do to prevent it from happening again, and we listen to him.
Far too often, when warning lights go off in our bodies, we ignore them until our bodies literally break down and we must go to the doctor. And even then, the doctor tells us to do something, and we do not do it. We never avoid the advice of our mechanic, and yet we do it with our doctor. We need to adopt the biblical wisdom of glorifying God on this earth through our bodies.
God’s care for our bodies can be found, for example, in the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. After Elijah experienced a great spiritual victory, he became the target of evil Queen Jezebel. Elijah ran for his life and was severely burned-out from intense spiritual struggles with the queen’s prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:1-3). At that point, God did not come to Elijah and give him a sermon or exhortations about getting over it. No, God restored Elijah’s body. And the Lord wants to restore our bodies, as well.
First, Elijah needed sleep (1 Kings 19:5-6). Millions of Americans are sleep deprived and live with a significant sleep debt (thus being continually cranky and out of sorts). Insurance companies know this is a major issue because improper sleep habits have caused various auto accidents and fatalities. I once kept a crazy schedule with not many hours for sleep. One day, during rush hour, I drove through a downtown expressway in bumper-to-bumper traffic and fell asleep. I woke up about two minutes later and was still alive driving down the highway. I sincerely believe God graciously drove the car for me. That was my “wake up” call to change the way I was treating my body.
Second, Elijah needed to eat well (1 Kings 19:6-8). For us, that means eating healthy. One source of being overweight is failing to make the connection that eating is a spiritual activity. Food is important to the kingdom of God. It was eating that got us into trouble to start with and resulted in the fall of humanity. Eventually, we will come full circle with eating being the activity we engage in at the end of the age – a redeemed view of food and eating together with Jesus at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:1-10). God cares about food – what we eat and how much of it we consume. He cares because we do not own our bodies – we steward them for God.
Third, Elijah needed some vigorous exercise (1 Kings 19:8-9). He walked all the way to Mount Horeb, which was over a month’s travel. But that exercise was essential to his well-being, both physically and spiritually. It was only after he slept, ate well, and walked that Elijah was ready to meet with God in a powerful experience.
Our physical fitness is a spiritual issue, and so, needs prioritization. I am under no illusions or delusions about the difficulty of this. I prefer brownies to broccoli and rather like sleeping instead of exercise. Yet, I work at being physically fit and caring for my body. I am personally motivated toward health because I love God and want to please the Lord with my body. After all, my body was important enough to be redeemed through the Cross of Christ.
This is not about willpower – it is about Christian stewardship. I look at my body the same way I look at borrowing something from another person: I return it in the best condition I can. When the Lord takes me someday, I do not want it to be because I hastened my own death through disregard of my God-given body.
If I were God, donuts would be health food, sitting back in the recliner would build muscle, and two hours of sleep at night would be sufficient. But I am not God, so I submit to doing what it takes to have an embodied spirituality. We are to enjoy life through making the connection between the spiritual and the physical because that is the way God created us.
It is never too late to be a proper steward of the body. Our physical anatomy is an amazing work of God and incredibly receptive to healthy choices. Here are a few of the choices we can make…
Remember the positives
Remember that care of the body is worth it. Being fit feels great and equips us for the will of God. Keep the long view in mind. Sacrificing a temporary pleasure is worth the eventual gain.
I will not be doing any triathlons anytime soon, or ever. We need to be realistic and set appropriate goals without comparison to others. Start small and build up over time with slow incremental change. The place to begin is by rearranging our schedules so that our bodies become a priority. Maybe it is time to make that doctor’s appointment you have been putting off.
Accountability and fun can and ought to go together. For example, preparing meals together is a chance to connect with a friend or family member. Discover and maintain a consistent rhythm of health that works for you and is enjoyable.
People often give up their best laid plans because they are disconnected from the rest of their lives. Reframing our view of the body as a spiritual activity helps connect and align our mind, body, and spirit in the wholeness God designed for us.
It takes time for something to become a habit. All good things are a process of realization. Consider and plan today, asking for God’s direction. Get the Lord in on it from the beginning and let it be an offering to him.
May you find the joy, contentment, and satisfaction of living with a body properly cared for and ready for use to the glory of God.