“If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him;
for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are.”
1 Corinthians 3:17 (HCSB)
Eat your veggies. Exercise. Get enough sleep. See your doctor annually. Take time to spend with friends and family. These are pretty much common sense when we think about the ways that we take care of ourselves. But what does it mean to practice spiritual self-care? How do we know if we are spiritually healthy or not?
As Christians, we need to remember that our body is God’s temple and we have a responsibility to tend to and care for His temple in every way, but first and foremost, we must take care of our own spiritual health. As Christian leaders in ministry, we are constantly pouring into the spiritual care of others, but who pours into us? What are the things we do to ensure that our spiritual health is where it should be and that we are constantly growing spiritually?
Secular views of spiritual health will say that spiritual self-care consists of connecting to some higher power or whatever one might consider meaningful and holy, whether that be one’s self, other people, nature, art, or kindness. As Christians, we understand the utter ridiculousness of such ideas when these activities are not grounded and connected to the Word of God and when one’s “higher power” is not God himself.
Spiritual health, from a Christian point of view, is birthed and begins when we first connect our sinfulness with God’s justice that convicts us of our need for a Savior. As we repent of our sins and ask Christ to be our Lord and Savior, our spiritual self that was dead and lost in sin comes alive and we are a new creation as the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. From that point forward, we should be nurturing and tending our spiritual selves as we grow in our walk with Christ, ever learning more and more about what being a Christian means. A spiritually healthy person should be consistently becoming more and more like Christ.
Just as we visit our doctor for annual medical checkups, we need to monitor our spiritual health often and allow the Holy Spirit to give us a spiritual checkup. We can use Romans 12: 9-21 as the basis for our spiritual examination.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21)
Take a moment now to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to examine you in each area below and check the box the He says applies to you.
|Do I genuinely love others (even the difficult people)?|
|Do I abhor what is evil?|
|Do I hold fast to what is good?|
|Do I outdo others in showing honor?|
|Am I lost my zeal?|
|Am I fervent in spirit?|
|Do I serve the Lord in joy and without complaint?|
|Do I rejoice in hope?|
|Am I patient in trials?|
|Do I have a constant and consistent prayer life?|
|Do I contribute to the needs of others?|
|Do I seek to show hospitality?|
|Do I bless those who persecute me in any way?|
|Do I rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep?|
|Do I live in harmony with others?|
|Is there any area of haughtiness?|
|Do I look down on others or feel that a someone is “beneath me”?|
|Is there any area that I am wise in my own sight?|
|Do I ever wish for or in word or deed repay evil down to me with evil?|
|Do I do my best to lie peaceably with everyone?|
|Do I leave vengeance with God?|
|Do I or am I willing to feed my enemy when he/she is hungry or thirsty?|
|Do I attempt to overcome evil with good?|
|Am I increasing in my live for God?|
|Am I increasing in my hatred of sin?|
|Am I increasing in holy living?|
|Am I increasing in the fruits of the spirit?|
|Am I increasing in generosity to both God and others?|
|Am I increasing in forgiveness?|
What did this spiritual examination reveal about yourself? Take time to repent where needed and consider what improvements God wants you to take at this time.
Being healthy spiritually can provide us with many benefits. Look at the list below:
- Better mood: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11) We enjoy God by following His purpose for our lives, which enables us to experience true and lasting joy—the abundant life that He desires for us.
- Less anxiety: Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7) The more trust God to take care of us and keep His promises, the more we are able to place our worries in His hands knowing that He works all things our for our good. (Romans 8:28)
- Less depression: When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:17-18). Our faith and trust in God gives us hope and as we pray, read God’s Word, and enjoy fellowship with Him, we can sense His presence in our lives. As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 16:11, “in Your presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures.”
- Few aches and illnesses: But David found strength in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30:6) As we learned about stress and compassion fatigue, there are many aches and illnesses that occur as symptoms. But when we are able to cast our anxiety, fears, stress, fatigue, and depression on God and go forth in the strength of God, we will experience less symptoms associated with these negative emotions.
- Knowledge that God is in control of all things: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) Recognizing that God is in control gives us both assurance and peace when things are difficult, overwhelming, our beyond our control.
- A sense of purpose and meaning: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. (Psalm 73:25). The purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We glorify God by fearing and obeying Him, keeping our eyes on our future home in heaven, and knowing Him intimately.
- Provides the means for us to understand suffering: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5) We know that suffering is a result and consequence of sin in the world. But God uses the suffering we experience to grow our faith and make us more like Him.
- Provides a connection with other people of faith: From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16) In Hebrews 10:25, we are instructed to “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together.” Each one of us has been given gifts that are necessary for the church to fulfill it’s mission. Alone, we cannot accomplish what God intended for us to do together. When we are joined to a body of believer, we are able to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24) and we can “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) rather than facing them alone.
- Helps our central point of focus remain on God and not ourselves. Colossians 3:2 tells us to set our minds on things above, not things on earth. Matthew 6:33 teaches us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. And Proverbs 16:3 instructs us to commit our work to the Lord. Seeking and focus on God, takes our focus off ourselves so that we can worship, glorify, and magnify God with thanksgiving for all He has done in our lives.
Science has also shown benefits to practicing spiritual self-care. Dr. Emma Seppala, Ph.D., reported on Psychology Today that people who practice spiritual self care are more likely to be “very happy,” have a longer life, have lower risks of depression and suicide, are more resilient, are more faithful in relationships, have happier children, and are more satisfied with their family life. (Seppälä, 2016) Drs. Ueller, Plevak, and Rummans reported in an article for Mayo Clinic that in nearly 350 studies of physical health and 850 studies of mental health that have used religious and spiritual variable found that people who were involved in a religion had better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide. They also found where several studies have shown that addressing the spiritual needs of the patient may enhance recovery from illness. (Mueller, Plevak, & and Rummans, 2001)
These types of benefits are not found in people who attend church on Easter Sunday and Christmas. Instead it is found in those who are actively involved in church as well as committed to living out a spirit-filled life. But how does our faith correlate to better health and a better life? As we are involved in the ministries of our churches, we form social connections that make us happier and healthier. Our beliefs affect our moral choices as we live according to God’s Word and, for many of us, this supports healthy lifestyle choices, such as choosing not to smoke, drink alcohol, or misuse drugs. Sexual abstinence before marriage lowers the number of unwed mothers and the occurrence of STDs. In moments of stress, fear, anxiety, or trouble we know that we can take everything to God in prayer and that He hears us. We can also turn to God’s Word and His promises to find strength, comfort, and wisdom for the circumstances we face. We also have people of like faith with whom we can share our burdens and know they will pray for us, encourage us, and help us in our time of need.
Clearly, tending to our spiritual self-care and ensuring we stay fully charged is important to the relationship we have with God, but it is also important and necessary to our physical self, emotional self, and social self. We can see sensory self-care when we greet one another with a hug or handshake or through our ears as we listen and sing along with music that touches our souls. Sensory self-care also occurs as we partake of the Lord’s supper or when we watch the Easter or Christmas program which calls us back to what our salvation cost Christ on our behalf. Our intellectual self is also actively involved as we study God’s Word and apply it to our lives. On some level, when we tend to our spiritual self, we are also tending to all our other selves. When we consider that it is God who created us and that he created us with a longing for Him, it only makes sense that in our worship experiences and spending time along with God we can nurture our entire beings.
Ways to Practice Spiritual Self-Care
Psychology has a very worldly viewpoint on how to practice spiritual self-care, which can seem like an oxymoron. I mean, how does one practice spiritual self-care without being – well – spiritual? However, I will argue that what psychology teaches in this area can be found in the Bible. They simply took Biblical concepts and twisted them so that God becomes a “higher power” and meditation is more about breathing exercises and visualizing “a peaceful place.” What we as Christians call “hiding God’s Word in our heart,” psychology will call “repeating a mantra”.
So let’s examine how to practice spiritual self-care according to what God’s Word says.
Prayer: Prayer is the way we communicate God. I’m not talking about the kind of prayer that is repetitive. Prayer that nurtures our spiritual self is an intimate conversation with our heavenly Father. Whenever we neglect this communication, our spiritual self begins to be deprived and our focus shifts from doing life on the strength of God to relying on ourselves. When we are not in communication with God, we tend to lose our connection to Him and He can seem far away. It is in prayer, we praise God, repent of sin, thank Him for His provision and protection, bring our petitions to Him, and ask for wisdom and guidance as we seek His will. It is in prayer that we surrender our cares and concerns to Him, find peace, and He reminds us that He is in control of all things. Be sure you are spending quality time in prayer daily.
Bible Study: If prayer is how we communicate with God, Bible study is one of the ways that God communicates with us. If you feel like you’ve not heard God speak to you recently, when was the last time you participated in personal Bible study? Certainly, we learn about God at church, but if attending church is the only time you are hearing God’s word, then growing as a Christian is drastically slow. God doesn’t have a word for you just on Sunday. He has a word for you every day of the week. In a sermon, a pastor can only take you so deep into God’s Word. You can also take time to read the Bible daily but reading it doesn’t get you deep enough into God’s Word either. It takes personal Bible study to grow your faith. Pastor’s spend time studying God’s Word as they prepare for their sermons, but, let me ask you, dear pastor, what personal Bible study are you doing? When we, who are in a ministry position, are sharing and teaching God’s Word, we invest in the spiritual lives of those in our congregations, seminars, Bible study classes, and other areas of ministry. We pour into them, but who is pouring in to us? In addition to studying and preparing what God has laid on our hearts to teach others, we need to be involved in personal Bible study as well. Regardless of what area of ministry you are in, you cannot neglect personal Bible study.
For those equipped with the tools and knowledge to delve into God’s Word can choose a passage of scripture to study and identify how to apply it to their life. If this isn’t you, there are many Bible studies published by Godly men and women that you can work through individually. Bible study groups can also be helpful as we learn from one another and being part of a group helps to hold us accountable and encourages us to do the study that goes along with the group study. However, if you do it with a heart and mindset of checking off an item on your to-do list, you will rob yourself of what the Holy Spirit wants to teach you. Each time you pick up your Bible and study materials, begin with prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what He wants to teach you.
Take a personal spiritual retreat: Attending spiritual renewal retreats are a great way to reconnect to God, grow spiritually, and recharge your spiritual self. However, getting alone by yourself for a personal spiritual retreat will allow God to do even more work in your life. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Taking a retreat allows us to get away from the demands of life and the busyiness of ministry and bask in the presence of God. It allows us to rest and recharge so we can keep on serving God. It also allows us to confront areas that God calls attention to so that we can grow, become closer to God, and be ready for the next thing God is calling us to do. Prior to your retreat, revisit your spiritual exam and choose one of the areas that need repentance or improvement and focus your retreat in that area as you dig into God’s Word to see what it has to say about that area. Spend lots of time in prayer asking the Holy Spirit to make you teachable and confessing areas that need it. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, make an action plan for spiritual growth in this area. When you return, connect with a spiritual mentor and share with them the work that God has done in your life during the retreat and ask your mentor to hold you accountable for sticking to your action plan.
Scripture Memory: Recently, one of my staff was talking with me about a Bible study group she was leading and that how people of her generations (millennials) didn’t see the benefit of memorizing scripture. They, instead, connected to God in other ways. But the Psalmist wrote, “Thy Word have a I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11) When Jesus was tempted by Satan, He withstood the temptation by quoting scripture. The same is true for us today. Memorizing scripture is also a way that the Holy Spirit will speak to us as he recalls the verses we have tucked away and hid in our heart. When we face difficult or uncertain times, the Holy Spirit can bring those verses of God’s promises back to our mind to offer us comfort, peace, and assurance. If we neglect to memorize scripture and hide it away in our hearts, we are neglecting our spiritual self.
Read a Christian Book: God can teach us through the work He has done in the lives of others as they studied God’s Word and answered His call to pubish a book. Perhaps the person God had in mind to speak to through the book is – you! Whether you want to know more about how to study the Bible, or having a stronger prayer life, or want to understand spritiual warefare better – whatever topic you want to learn more about, someone has wrote a book on that. Be sure that the what the author is saying aligns with God’s Word in every way and that the author is known for providing sound doctrine.
Just as reading books in general grows us intellectually, reading Biblically accurate books on spiritual topics grows us spiritually and helps us connect with God. Therefore, we are nurturing our spiritual self as we grow spiritually through reading Christian books.
Meditate and Apply God’s Word: Psychology teaches all sorts of meditation and mindfulness, but God’s Word also has something to say about meditating. Joshua 1:8 says, “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have success.” Psalm 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” Spiritual self-care is more than just communicating with God and studying His word and hiding His word in our heart. If we don’t apply it to our lives, it does us little good. Even Satan and his demons know what they Bible has to say.
When we sense that God is trying to teach us something, it’s a good time to pick up a journal and write the verse of scripture down that is speaking to us. You can also write it on an index card or piece of paper that you can take with you during your day. Each time the Holy Spirit recalls the verse to your mind during the day, take it out and re-read the scripture. Mull over what the verse says. How does it apply to your life right now? Is it a promise, instruction, correction, or teaching? Take time to sit quietly before the Lord, away from distractions. Ask Him to show you what He’s trying to teach you. Use any Bible study resources at your disposal to understand the context of the verse, the culture, the purpose that author was writing. Use the internet or other resources to understand the Hebrew or Greek definitions and how they affect the meaning of the verse. Journal these things as you learn them. With a prayerful heart, close your eyes and think about what God has revealed to you so far. Then ask him to show you His heart towards you. Journal your thoughts. Ask Him what He is saying to you through the scripture and write down what He reveals. Lastly, take time to meditate on how you need to apply what He reveals to you to your life.
Nurturing our spiritual self requires us to meditate and apply what the Holy Spirit is teaching us.
Repenting of sin: If we refuse to obey God’s Word as He reveals it to us, we are sinning by being disobedient and rebellious to what God is teaching us. Any sin that we do not repent of and seek God’s forgiveness will hinder our prayers. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.” Proverbs 1:28-29 says, “Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they shall not find me, Because they hated knowledge, And did not choose the fear of the Lord.” Unconfessed sin also hinders our relationship with God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God. We tend to do the same thing. As a result we go around living in guilt and shame. Repentance and confession restores our relationship and allows us to live in the fullness of God’s presence so that our spiritual selves find healing, peace, joy, and contentment.
Unplug: With today’s technology most of us spend more time connected to social media, tuned in to the radio or television, gaming, texting, face-timing, or any other tech. When our spiritual self seems to need recharging, it’s a good time to put down all the tech toys and allow them to recharge what you plug into the power of Christ to refresh and renew your soul.
Revisit your call to the ministry: In the business of life and the demands of ministry we can sometimes loose site of the call God gave us. Take time to go back to the original call when you first felt God tugging you into ministry. Write down what that call was. How has that call changed or grown since then? When you felt God lead you to the place of ministry you are currently serving at, what was His purpose for leading you there. Where are you in fulfilling those purposes? Has God shown you any new goals? Pray about how God wants you to reach these goals and to give you wisdom for how to get there. What are the gifts God has given you that will help you achieve these goals? Where do you passions align with these goals? Have you strayed the course in any way and if so, did God redirect your course or did you take a detour you shouldn’t have. Set some achievable and actionable goals that will move you towards reaching the purpose and call God has given you. Set side a time on a monthly basis to check yourself, amend your goals as God reveals more of His plan to you, and to set new goals.
Connect with other Christians and Ministry Peers and/or Partners: Regardless of the ministry position you are in you need to connect yourself with other Christians. Seek out a mentor that is someone you talk to about Scripture you’re struggling to understand or problems you are facing in your ministry or family. Someone who will commit to lifting you, your family, and your ministry up in prayer. Someone who can be an accountability partner for areas where you struggle. Surround yourself with other Christians who will edify, encourage, and fellowship with you while also challenging you to continue growing spiritually. You will not only be nurturing your spiritual self, but your social self also.
Listen to messages from some of your favorite pastors. Whether you find them on YouTube or on their church’s website or on the radio, listening to other pastors will help nurture your spiritual self. If you have a commute to the office, try listening to a message then. God can reveal something new to you and speak to you through these messages. (You might also get some sermon points to borrow for next Sunday!)
Have a private worship time through praise music or hymns: There is something about music that communicates with our soul and draws us in to worshipping God. Create a playlist of the songs that speak to you and have your own private praise and worship session. It doesn’t matter if you have a voice worthy of recording or one that only sings in the car with the windows rolled up – the point is not what you sound like, but what your heart sounds like. God isn’t interested in how well you sing, but whether the words you are singing are heartfelt. If your praise is genuine, then your song is music to God’s ears. Music can also be comforting in times of stress, sorrow, or difficulty. Through these songs, we are reminded of God’s promises and love for us.
Practice forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15 teaches us that we are to forgive others and if we do not, God will not forgive us. As chosen ones, holy and beloved, of God, Colossians 3:12-13 tells us that we are to put compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave us. As we practice forgiveness when others wrong us, we are reminded of Christ’s forgiveness of our on sins and how we wronged Him in our sin. Harboring unforgiveness only breeds resentment, anger, and hate which hurts our relationship with others and God. 1 John 4:20 tells us that if we say we love God but hate our brother we are a liar because we are not able to love God who we cannot see if we do not love our brother who we can see. Take some time in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any unforgiveness and exchange it for forgiveness. Then reach out to the person and let them know you forgive them.
Lastly, take time to acknowledge how God has answered prayers in the past and how He has been faithful in the past. If your struggling spiritually, make a thanksgiving list for all the answered prayers you can think of and all the times God has come through for you in the past. Add all the ways you can see God at work in your life right now. Then spend time offering thanks to God. There is nothing like a thankful heart to act as a reset button on our spiritual life.
When considering practicing self-care, take time to see what part of your spiritual self needs attention. You can do this by revisiting the spiritual examination and the areas that need repentance and improvement. Then consider which of the practical ways provided will best help you repair this part of your spiritual self. It’s ok to utilize more than one. The more you make these practices a daily habit, the more nurtured your spiritual self will be and that will then spill over into your other selves.
Practicing daily self care will enable you to operate on the strength of the Lord to do what He’s called you to do.
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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.
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.
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