by Julia M. Bruce
“For no one ever hates his own flesh but provides and cares for it, just as Christ does for the church.” Ephesians 5:29 (HCSB)
There are days when I just simply feel like I need one of those t-shirts that say, “I can’t adult today and tomorrow doesn’t look good either.” Then there are days when I need the shirt that says, “I’m running on the power of Jesus and coffee” (except I don’t drink coffee). Do you ever have a day where you just groan at the sunlight pouring in through your window, pull the covers over your head and pray for God to turn the time back for a few hours so you can avoid ministering for just a little longer? Has anyone ever said to you, “When you’re in God’s will, everything will just fall into place and come together?” If so, don’t believe it. Ask the prophets throughout the Old Testament. They were doing what God told them to do and the people continued to rebel. They were mocked and ridiculed. They probably often got up and prayed, “Lord, what am I doing? No one listens! I’m not making a difference!” Do you think they ever felt like giving up? Maybe. But they kept proclaiming the messages God gave them.
You could also ask the apostles. They would also tell you that just because you’re in God’s will doesn’t mean life is rosy and easy. Many of them died martyrs for the sake of Christ. Paul prayed for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what the thorn was, but Paul tells us he prayed three times for God to remove it, but the answer was no. Look at 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
So that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, HCSB)
God allows difficulties because it’s in the difficult that we lean to trust in Him with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding but in all our ways acknowledge Him so that He can direct our paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6) He allows trials to grow our faith. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (HCSB) And He allows weaknesses so that we can find His power and strength and so that others will see His glory at work in us. When people look at our ministry and see how great we are, we get the glory. However, when they look at the ministry we do and see things beyond our capabilities or in spite of our lack of capabilities, then they see God at work and the glory is all His.
We were not made to do ministry in our own strength and power. We were made to do ministry through God’s strength and power. Why? Because ministry is the supernatural work of God working in us to accomplish His plans and we are human – not supernatural. Humans doing supernatural work is hard, difficult, tiring, overwhelming, frustrating, exhausting, confusing, and exasperating. It comes with a ton of responsibility – I mean, the eternal fate of someone else is on the line and we don’t want to see them go to hell. Then there are the hungry souls just waiting for you to say the right words that speak to their soul as God speaks through you. There are the emotionally hurting who long for you to heal their hurt or the distraught parent who wants you to “wave a magic wand” and make their rebellious teen return like the prodigal son. There’s the bruised and battered wife who wants you to “fix” her abusive husband. Or the husband who just learned his wife of 15 years is having an affair and they come to you for counseling. On top of all the people you minister to, there are the ton of meetings on your calendar, your own family and home projects, and whatever else you have going on in life.
Ministering to people is what God called us to do. So why is it so hard? Because the more we do what God called us to do, the more Satan fights where God is at work. 1 John 5:19 says, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (HCSB) So when we are ministering to others, we are fighting the power of the evil one – Satan.
It’s no wonder that on some days, we just want to go back to the carefree life of a child. The weight and stress take a toll on our physical bodies and if we are not careful to practice physical self-care, we will develop health issues that will make ministering to others even more difficult.
There is a strong connection between the state of our body and our minds. Have you ever noticed that when you’re exhausted, you’re more prone to feeling depressed or think about giving up? Or when you’re ill, you just don’t have the patience to deal with the complainers or the bickering groups, or the gossipers, or the nay-sayers in your life? As busy as we are, we need to take care of our bodies so that we are at our best to do the work and ministry God called us to do. It’s hard enough work already. We don’t need to make it harder because our physical selves are worn down, ill, overweight, and fragile. Think, for a moment, about every person who gave up and dropped out of ministry – whether it’s a volunteer lay leader or paid staff. At what point do they throw out the white flag and walk away? When they are exhausted and no longer have strength for the fight or when a major medical crisis occurs, and they are forced to lay aside the call so they can focus on their health. Our physical body is one of the easiest ways that Satan can attack and prevent us from ministering to others.
Our Bodies – God’s Temple
Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own. – 1 Corinthians 6:19
If you’ve been around in ministry for very long, then you know this well-known verse. We can’t talk about physical self-care without pointing out that our bodies are the temple of God and His Holy Spirit resides within us. An unkempt body is to the Holy Spirit like an unkempt home is to us. Think for a moment about all we do to take care of the physical building we call the church. We groom the grounds, clean the bathrooms and stock it with fresh paper towels and toilet paper, replace materials in the seat back pockets, vacuum the carpets and whatever else it needs. We organize workdays for the church members to come do bigger projects or if you’re a non-profit ministry, you might have volunteer groups that come and do work projects for you. Unfortunately, there are times when we can become so absorbed in the aesthetics of our churches, campuses, or grounds that we forget it’s the work Christ does in our various ministries that truly matter – not how pleasing to the eye we look on the outside. Jesus accused the Pharisees of this. Look what He says in Matthew 23:27:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity.” (HCSB)
There are two things we can take away from this verse that apply to physical self-care: 1) We would not want the Holy Spirit living inside of us surrounded by “dead men’s bones and every impurity.” 2) We don’t want to get so caught up in the outward appearance of our bodies that we neglect the inside.
A dwelling of dead man’s bones and impurities
I get this verse is talking about hypocrites and how the Pharisees lived outwardly as righteous people but inside they were far from God. But I’d like to take that concept, if you will allow me, and apply it to physical self-care. So, for a moment let’s just focus on the end of the verse that talks about dead men’s bones and every impurity. Jesus is referring to being spiritually dead in sin. However, when we neglect our physical selves, we bring a slow dying process to our bones – or our bodies – while we fill them up with every impurity known to man – caffeine to stay away or have a little more energy, fats that clog our arteries, sugar and carbs that adds on the pounds. We don’t get enough rest which can increase our levels of stress, which raises our blood pressure. And if we smoke, vape, drink alcohol or use other substances, than we’re filling God’s temple with those toxins as well. Not much of temple, is it? If this is how we care for the temple of God, then our temples are nothing more than what you’d find six-feet under the ground of a grave – a decaying body full of maggots. Sadly, we can be guilty of taking better care of the physical building we call the church then our bodies that God calls His temple. Then we wonder why we’re too tired to minister to others or don’t have the strength to do the job anymore.
A whitewashed dwelling
Think for a moment about a grave site. The grass is kept neatly mowed by the cemetery. Family members come by and leave beautiful flowers, brush away leaves from the tombstone, and keep the site nice and clean. It’s beautiful on the surface without any trace of what lies beneath. Likewise, on the outside of God’s temple – our bodies – we comb our hair, put on a fancy suit or professional dress, add expensive shoes, accessories and make up. We dye away the grays, smooth out the wrinkles, put on a smile we really don’t feel in our heart and go out and face yet another day of ministry – all while we leave the Holy Spirit to indwell bodies that are overweight with layers of fat, a heart working too hard to pump adequate blood through our veins, and muscles that haven’t been used in decades and lungs that can’t get enough air after climbing a flight of stairs.
We have a responsibility to take care of and groom God’s temple just as much as we have the responsibility of grooming and caring for the physical buildings and grounds where we do the ministry God has called us to. Would the Holy Spirit be embarrassed to call your temple home? Would Jesus say that you appear beautiful on the outside, but not on the inside?
I get it. It’s easy to neglect taking care of our bodies when we are busy doing the work of God. But if we expect to care for the people God places in our ministry path, then we need to be taking care of our own physical needs so that our lack of physical self-care doesn’t hinder our ministry work. I have been found guilty of neglecting physical self-care as much as anyone else. Consider the following consequences to not taking care of our physical selves:
- being overweight or obese
- tooth decay
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- heart disease and stroke
- some cancers
- eating disorders
- lack of energy
It’s easy to neglect proper diet and exercise when life is busy, overwhelming, stressing, and exhausting. When we get busy, even taking a few minutes to eat lunch can feel like a luxury we can’t afford, and we power through lunch time and keep on going. Then in the afternoon, we complain of headaches, are short-tempered, and everyone gets on our nerves – in other words, we’re “hangry.” Or maybe we had planned to leave the office early and spend some time at the gym before going home but cancel it because that ministry project is running behind or a church member is rushed to the hospital. So, in our minds, we pencil in the gym appointment for tomorrow. But the problem with the tomorrow is that it never gets here. The result is we make the hard and difficult task of ministry even harder because we are keeping our physical tank running on fumes. Some of us are just stuck on the side of the ministry highway because our tank is completely empty.
Making time for physical self care
Hopefully, you realize that not only does our physical health affect our mental health and that there are there consequences to not taking care of our bodies, but that because our bodies are the temple of God it is crucially important that we take care of our physical selves. But life gets busy and if we don’t make it a priority it will be something we plan to start doing tomorrow – and then tomorrow never gets here. Unfortunately, too often it takes a health crisis to push physical self-care into a place of priority. However, ironically, had we made physical self-care a priority in the first place we could have possibly avoided the health crisis. I want to emphasize that physical self-care doesn’t mean we’ll never have health problems. Just as Paul had a “thorn in the flesh,” we too may have to endure something and trust that God has a plan for it. But that doesn’t negate the fact that we have a responsibility to take care of the temple of God.
If you have problems making physical self-care a priority, team up with a friend or group so you’ll be more likely to follow through with your plan. There’s nothing like accountability to make get busy doing the things we know we ought to be doing. Besides, there is more fun when you do it together. And just maybe when you reach heaven you’ll learn that your friend was close to a medical crisis but your teaming up with them helped them avoid that crisis – or maybe your own.
Without an accountability partner, it’s easy to set goals and make plans and then allow the demands of ministry and life in general to take our very best intentions and kick them to the curb. But neglecting our physical self care only makes things worse. It also creates barriers to being at our very best for God to use us in all the ways He intended. What if when you get to heaven and discover God had much bigger plans for you but due to poor physical self-care, you didn’t have the stamina or you were battling a health crisis so God gave that assignment to someone else?
As in most cases, the pendulum can swing to the other end of the spectrum and our physical self-care is too high in our priorities so that we neglect Bible study or time with family. We allow physical self-care to become self-indulgent. Perhaps you grew up being taught that the more you sacrifice, the bigger the reward and you apply that concept to your own physical self-care. So you force yourself to eat healthy, exercise daily, run ten miles a day, and then lift weights or have a yoga routine in the evening. If we put our physical self-care routines too high the sacrifice we make is poor family relationships and we still are not being able to be used by God in the way He intended because when He sends a ministry task our way and it gets in the way of our time at the gym we choose the gym over the ministry opportunity. The point is, it’s easy to go too far in physical self-care so that it becomes counterproductive. Those health crises we were attempting to avoid can create health crises of a different kind, such as pulled muscles. It can also add emotional crisis because our spouse and children feel neglected and resentful so problems at home arise. There can also be feelings of frustration as we contemplate why our ministry seems stuck and we can’t understand why God isn’t growing it. If we become obsessed with working out or losing weight, we can lose focus on ministry. You might think your taking care of God’s temple, and in some ways you are, but you’re so caught up in your physical self-care that your ministry is working as efficiently as God intends. If this is you, then perhaps as you read this you can hear God whisper, “You don’t have time for Me or My work.” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything.” Don’t allow the pendulum of physical self-care to swing the other way so that it enslaves you.
Physical self-care is not self-indulgent. We have a God-given responsibility to take the best care possible of His temple. If we go on to read 1 Corinthians 6, we find in verse 20 that Paul wrote that we are to glorify God in our bodies. Physical self-care isn’t about glorifying ourselves, but is about glorifying God. So, we need to examine our motivation factors behind why we practice physical self-care.
Peter tells us, “Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes. Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) I’m not saying that we don’t need to comb our hair. We don’t have go around without makeup or jewelry. We don’t have to go around in sackcloth. However, these things should not become idols. They should not be things that we are so concerned over because of what others might thing about us. Our focus should be what does God think about the temple we have given Him to dwell in and does it point others to see God within us. Our motivation for physical self-care should always only be about glorifying God and in doing so, we are at our possible best to serve Him in whatever capacity He calls us to.
Take some time now alone with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him what the condition of His temple is in. Ask Him about your motivation or lack of motivation towards physical self-care is. What excuses have you been making regarding physical self-care? Where in your list of priorities have you ranked physical self-care? Write down what the Holy Spirit reveals to you and what you need to adjust in your life for proper physical self-care.
Julia is author of God, Love, and Marshmallow Wars, a Christian public speaker and CEO of Wellspring Christian Ministries. She has bachelor’s in psychology and a masters in professional counseling.
Photo credit: Katie Morgan
at Hello Click Photography
No part of this article may be reprinted or reproduced in any capacity without written permission from the author.
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Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
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BOOKING NOW! Be a host site for the NEW God, Love & Marshmallow Wars Book Tour & Couples Conference:
This event helps couples understand why the daily activities found in the book will equip them to build a stronger marriage and the book provides them with 365 intentional activities to take what they learn at the event and apply it on a daily basis. Through the event, couples will discover the Biblical “why” behind the categories of activities found in the book and the “how” these activities are important to building a stronger marriage. Focus points of the event includes :
- How memorizing scripture together and studying God’s Word together as they study, meditate and apply scriptures related to marriage and life issues will help them develop marriages that honor God.
- Why utilizing fun conversation starters that spark meaningful conversations will keep interest alive as they continually learn new things about each other.
- Why keeping romance alive is essential to intimacy and connectivity.
- How making memories and working together builds relationship investment bonds and how these investment bonds can become the knots that keeps them together through the tough times.
- How they can understand what they are or are not contributing to the marriage as well as how they might be contributing to problems or potential problems within the relationship through the use of targeted, intentional personal reflections
- Why it is important that couples never stop dating and how group dates with Christian friends can be both an encouragement and accountability to their own relationship.
During the event, couples will be given an activity from each focus point to do together, making this event an interactive, fun, and engaging event with practical, hands-on learning. Unlike other couple events that are over when the event ends, couples who attend the GLMW event will be able to apply what they learn when utilizing the book on a daily basis for a year. Since the book is not dated, couples are able to reuse the activities year after year to continue being intentional in strengthening their relationship with each other and with God as they strive to live out God’s design for marriage every day.
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About the book: The GLMW book contains 365 daily challenges for couples to strengthen their relationships to each other and with God. Couples will complete activities such as Scripture memory, conversation starters, relationship builders, learning about Biblical marriage, romance builders, personal reflections, and date ideas. Click here to purchase your copy. (This link will open a new widow and take you to Westbow Press’ bookstore.) It is also available at Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble
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Julia is CEO of Wellspring Christian Ministries, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people and couples develop a passionate relationship with God. A public speaker, conference trainer, event planner, and blog writer, Julia is a two-time graduate from Grand Canyon University with a bachelor in Psychology and a masters in Professional Counseling. Saved as a child and raised in church and in a Christian home and private Christian School as a Pastor’s kid, Julia has taught Sunday school, led music, played the piano, served as Children’s Director, and engaged her gifts in many other areas of church life. Previously employed with the Florida Baptist Convention, Julia organized events and led conferences for church ministry assistants. Today, Julia enjoys sharing her journey as a growing Christian with others looking for a deeper connection with God. Through Bible study and her own life experiences, God has given Julia a passion to help couples understand God’s design for marriage while they learn to place God first in their marriage, cultivate meaningful relationships, build intimacy, and address the tougher issues that come in every marriage so that they can experience a marriage that honors and glorifies God. Julia also loves mentoring, teaching, and working with women to help them learn to live as Godly women.
With her history and experience growing up in both small and large churches, Julia enjoys bringing top level quality events to churches of all sizes. Her father largely pastored small churches and therefore she understands that these vital parts of the believing community need to be good stewards of the resources God provides them with. This knowledge inspires her passion for being available with a fresh perspective for those who want to provide their congregations with meaningful spiritual growth opportunities, regardless of size.
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