Tag Archives: means of grace

Wilberforce in the Flow of God’s Grace

God has given us means of grace and called us to the practice of certain spiritual disciplines with and within the community of faith, the church, to get us into the flow of his grace. When we take time to pray, put our hearts into worship, renew our minds through the study of God’s word privately and together with the church, the Spirit of God shows up to meet with us. In these times of fellowship and communion with God, God transforms our hearts and renews our minds; God heals our sin sick souls in order to renew us in his image.

A grandmother who had clung to her old bicycle from childhood was about to take it to the dump. A friend told her about a man who could restore it to be even better than new. She hesitated but decided to give it a go. She took the rusty old, broken down thing to the shop. The repairman worked wonders. The bike was better than new. And it brought great joy not only to the grandmother, but also her nine year old granddaughter. Like a master craftsmen that can save a jalopy from a junkyard and make it a showstopper and award-winner, God by his grace can not only renew our shine, he can also restore our engine so that we will run in the way of his commandments (Psalm 119:32).

God’s grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit, renews us, but we have to get ourselves to the repair shop and meet with the only one who can really fix us. We have to get into the flow of God’s grace by living in the means of grace through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Prayer, fasting (training ourselves in self-denial by going without food, which helps us to gain self-control over our desires), Bible study, worship, and fellowship with other believers gets us in the flow.

In the early Methodist movement believers would meet together in small groups for more than just Bible study. They also met together to share how God was at work in their lives, to confess their sins to one another, to encourage each other, to pray for one another, all to help each become more like Jesus. They took the exhortation from Hebrews very seriously.

And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. ~ Hebrews 10:24-25 NRSV

In meeting with each other for this purpose, God himself also joined in the fellowship by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit and worked wonders in them, among them, and through them.

All of these spiritual practices got them in the flow of God’s grace where they could receive the good things that God wants us to have. The goal of the practices are all geared toward believers being renewed in the image of God by putting off the old sinful habits of heart and life and putting on new habits of heart and life.

You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. ~ Ephesians 4:22-24 NRSV

Sometimes you will hear people pit religion against a relationship with God. It is true that people can do religious practices without a real relationship with God. But religious practices such as prayer and fasting and attending church for worship weekly are not bad practices. They can be directed toward the wrong goal, but they are definitely good practices when directed toward the right goal. True religion should help us to grow in our relationship with God and with our neighbors. True religion should lead us to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as we love our selves (Matthew 22:37-40). You couldn’t really have much of a friendship with another person if you never spent any time with them, talking to them and listening to them, could you? Attending church “religiously” to commune with God and fellowship with other believers also strengthens our friendship with God and our spiritual family; the church is our spiritual family.

Spiritual disciplines, which are religious practices, should be directed toward being renewed in the image of God, which is to be renewed in a holy love relationship with God and neighbor. We must remember that God’s grace is meant not only to flow to us to renew us, but also to flow through us so that we freely and fully share the blessing of God with the world. Our personal renewal is inextricably connected with the renewal of the whole world. John Wesley said all holiness (another way to talk about renewal in the image of God) is social holiness. That is all holiness is about relationships with others. First this includes our relationship with God, who is by nature and eternally social being as one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Holiness is about love of God and neighbor. Through faith we participate in the loving fellowship of the Trinity and thereby are enabled to truly love each other. Renewal in the image of God is renewal in these holy relationships, and is central and essential as the goal of the means of grace and the practices of our faith. John Wesley put it this way:

Ye know that all religion which does not answer this end, all that stops short of this, the renewal of our soul in the image of God after the likeness of him that created it, is no other than a poor farce, and a mere mockery of God, to the destruction of our own soul. ~ Sermon 44: On Original Sin

The more God’s blessing flows to us, the more God’s blessing will inevitably flow through us. According to the Bible the transformation of the world is tied to the transformation of humanity. The transformation of society through ministries of compassion and justice must flow through people whose hearts are being transformed by holy love, and whose minds are being renewed according to God’s holy law. We cannot truly love our neighbors if we do not first truly love God, and we cannot truly love God if we do not truly love our neighbors. The attempt to love neighbor apart from loving God is a twisted and distorted love. The attempt to make the world more just while ignoring our own need for God’s justification and righteousness in our own hearts and lives will be counterproductive at best. Works of compassion and justice in society should flow from human hearts being renewed in the love and righteousness of God.

In 1785 William Wilberforce had a radical conversion experience in England; he was born again. As a new creation in Christ he began to live differently, and developed an overwhelming concern for the wellbeing of others. Through relationships that he had with other evangelical Christians, Wilberforce became a leading abolitionist. He worked

William Wilberforce

tirelessly for many, many years to end the slave trade in England. It was a long-fought and incredibly hard battle with a mighty army of opposition. In 1791, just a few days before his own death, John Wesley wrote a letter of encouragement to Wilberforce. In it he wrote in part:

BALAM, February 24, 1791.

DEAR SIR, — Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, [‘Athanasius against the world.’] I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it. . . .

Through the prayers and encouragement of countless people like John Wesley, and through gaining strength from God through the means of grace, William Wilberforce remained faithful in his struggle in the British parliament. After twenty years heading the campaign to abolish the slave trade, in 1807 Wilberforce finally saw the victory won with the passage of The Slave Trade Act. The blessing of God that flowed to him also flowed through him to bring the blessing of liberation to African slaves, who were all created in the image of God and many of whom were fellow Christians. The blessing of God that flowed to Wilberforce to renew him in God’s image also flowed through him in many other ways into society as well. Wilberforce also supported the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

When we get in the flow of God’s grace by living in the means of grace—by practicing spiritual disciplines, by praying faithfully, by fasting regularly, by renewing our minds to the word of God, and by attending worship at church weekly—God’s blessing will not only flow to us, it will also flow through us to bring blessing to others, and indeed to all creation. By transforming people like William Wilberforce, and people like you and me, God intends transformed people to transform the world. But we have to get into the flow.

For the Church, it’s the flow that started as Jesus’ first disciples devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14) after Jesus ascended into heaven. Then one day, shortly thereafter, just as Jesus had promised (Acts 1:8), they found themselves in the flow of God’s blessing that empowered them to begin the transformation of the world.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ~ Acts 2:1-4 NRSV

Are you ready to get in or get back into the flow?

For us and For our Salvation: Why God Became Human

A few kids in a youth group asked their United Methodist pastor: “Do we (i.e. United Methodists) believe people need to be saved? Our Baptist friends always talk about being saved. Do we believe that too?”

The short answer is yes, of course! Of course we United Methodists believe in the need for salvation (even if some unofficially find the traditional notion distasteful). But there is more to salvation than just getting a free ticket to go to heaven rather than hell when we die.

Genesis tells us that God created humanity in his image and after his likeness to be his royal representatives on earth. God intended to exercise his loving and righteous rule over creation through humanity. We were created not only to be blessed by a holy loving relationship with God, but also to be mediators through which the blessing of God would flow to the rest of creation. We were also created to lead the rest of creation in praise of God for the glory of God.

There are small, seemingly insignificant pipes that allow water to flow into and out of our homes. With the water we quench our thirst, prepare our food, and clean ourselves, our clothes and dishes and more. Large cables and thin and imperceptible wires also allow electricity to flow into and through our homes providing lighting, heating, cooling, and powering our electronics. Has the flow of water or electricity ever been disrupted at your house?

Recently a car ran off the road and hit a power pole in our neighborhood. It snapped a cable, which cut off all the electricity to our home and many others on a Saturday night. We ended up eating takeout by candle light. Fortunately my lap top was charged enough for us to be able to watch a family movie on DVD. But we all realize how much better things are with flowing water and electricity when they get disrupted.

When the first humans, Adam and Eve, gave into the temptation of Satan in the Garden of Eden and sinned against God it disrupted the flow of God’s blessing not only to them, but also the flow of God’s blessing to the rest of creation that came through them. Their hearts were corrupted and their minds were darkened; and the whole creation suffered as a result. Sin not only hurt their relationship with God and each other, it also brought a curse on the created world. Because the image of God in humanity was distorted, disharmony in the rest of the world followed. Like a disease, the corrupting power of sin spread to all humans who were born after Adam and Eve and the whole world suffered.

God called the nation of Israel to restore God’s blessing to the world, to be a light among all the other nations. He gave them commandments, summed up in the Ten Commandments. He promised that they would be blessed to be a blessing to the rest of the nations of the world if they would keep them; he warned them that they would be cursed if they rebelled. Although they had some shining moments, they were few and fleeting. After hundreds and hundreds of years of repeated rebellion, the nation of Israel was destroyed and expelled from the promised land. Like Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, Israel was exiled from the land that God had given them.

Israel failed to restore the blessing of God to creation. The power of sin that had been passed from Adam and Eve to the rest of the human race proved to be too strong for humanity to overcome on its own. The promised blessings of God depended on human obedience, but humanity, even Israel with a special relationship with God, proved to be utterly unwilling and therefore incapable of fulfilling its part of the covenant. God had made these promises that depended on human obedience for their fulfillment, now what would God do? . . .

 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. ~ Galatians 4:4 NRSV

Madonna and ChildGod’s blessing to the world depends on humans being obedient to God’s design for them. Humans are meant to live in peace and harmony with God so peace and harmony can flow through them to each other and the rest of creation. When fallen humanity proved incapable, God himself in the person of the one and only eternal Son of God became human and was born of the Virgin Mary. Evoking Isaiah 7:14, Matthew tells us he was Immanuel, which means “God with us.” Joseph, Mary’s husband, at the behest of the angel named him Jesus, which means “the Lord Saves” (Matt 1:21). As a full-fledged human, Jesus fulfilled humanity’s obligation of obedience to God. God in Christ Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves, and by grace through faith allows us to share fully in the blessing that he himself restored. Saint Paul put it this way:

If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  ~ Romans 5:17-19 NRSV

Saint John put it this way:

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 NRSV

Jesus’ obedience to God cost him his life at the hands of sinful men (Philippians 2:8). But although evil people can kill, God can raise the dead. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus God offers us forgiveness of sins and new life as a free gift.

We are saved by grace (i.e. what God has done for us in Christ Jesus), through faith (trusting in Jesus), for good works, a new way of life in the world.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV

The incarnation of the Son of God, his life, death, and resurrection planted the seed of the new creation within the midst of our fallen world. It was a seed that sprang forth with Jesus from the heart of the earth when he arose from the dead. It continues to grow even now, and we can participate in its transforming power by grace through faith.

In the Methodist tradition we believe God’s grace leads us and empowers us to believe. When we believe we are justified and forgiven by God on account of the shed blood of Christ. At the same time we are also born anew from above by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the new birth we receive a new heart for a holy life that we must grow into. It is God’s grace that helps us grow. In this process called sanctification we are enabled to shed ourselves of the corruption of sin and to be renewed into the image and likeness of God as God intended when God first created humanity. It is a process where God heals our distorted desires and corrects our false beliefs. Sin makes us want to do things selfishly that are not right; in our darkened minds we seek to justify ourselves with falsehoods and lies. The grace of God renews us “in true righteousness and holiness” (see Eph 4:17-32).

To help us in this renewal of the image of God in holy love in us, God has given us certain practices of discipleship, spiritual disciplines, that we are called to practice together in the church. These are called means of grace. Means of grace are like channels that connect us to God so God’s grace in Christ can flow to us to renew us. If you want to receive the benefits of the internet, you have to get connected, right? You have to get access to the right signal. The means of grace and the practice of spiritual disciplines gets us connected to receive the grace of God that renews us into the image of God. But the reconnecting to God the Father through the Son is not merely restoring power, it is the restoration of a relationship that was lost. It is the restoration of friendship with God.

The means of grace include prayer, Bible study, worship (including the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion), fasting, fellowship with believers, works of mercy and compassion in the Church and world. These practices put us in the best position to receive the signal of God’s grace so we can grow. But we must not forget that the means of grace all have an end, meaning a goal.

A basketball coach gives basketball players certain drills to practice so they can become good, hopefully even great, players. A band director gives students certain things to practice so they can become good musicians. But becoming a good basketball player is not just meant to benefit the individual, but also a team and a school or a city. A good musician is meant to benefit a band and those who will be enriched by the music.

God gives us certain practices to help renew us into the image and likeness of God, but not just for ourselves. God wants to not only bless us, but to bring blessing to the rest of the world through us. The goal of renewal in the image of God will be complete in the resurrection of the body when Christ comes again. This is called glorification. It’s the goal of the means of grace and the practice of spiritual disciplines, including all the gifts of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Corinthians 12-14). Completion of renewal in the image of God will not only restore blessing to humanity, it will also restore the fullness of God’s blessing to the rest of creation (Rom 8:18-30). But whenever we faithfully practice spiritual disciplines now, a measure of God’s blessing will not only flow to us, but also through us into our families, to our friends and even our enemies, to our communities, and to the rest of creation, which God is renewing as he renews us.

By practicing spiritual disciplines we work out our salvation as God works in us “to will and to work for his good pleasure”(Philippians 2:12-13). By participating in our own jesus-bridge-1transformation, we participate in God’s transformation of the whole world. In other words, the means of grace, made possible by the obedience of Jesus Christ, are a bridge to somewhere. That somewhere is the kingdom of God fully come in the new heaven and earth (Revelation 21-22).

Joy to the world!

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground:
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic* and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism
for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The United Methodist Hymnal # 880.



Weight Loss and Health: The Physicality of Christian Spirituality

In the late spring of 2010, I began to have some concerning physical symptoms. Occasionally when I would stand up from sitting or turn my head to look behind me I had the sensation of slight dizziness that made it seem like the room was shaking. This didn’t happen often, but I knew that it was probably related to the way I had been overeating. I had some issues with pain in my lower digestive system, like sharp contractions, too that was directly related to how much I had eaten. I knew I was eating way too much and way too often, so I backed off a bit, which did seem to alleviate some of those symptoms. The changes I made, however, were pretty minor.

Later that summer, I had to have a physical checkup for a life insurance policy that we had applied for. That checkup revealed that my blood pressure was too high, and that my cholesterol and triglycerides were well above normal. These findings didn’t allow me to get the preferred status that I had received for a different policy a few years before. It was obvious that I had gained a lot of weight over the past couple of years as well.

At this point I was just a few weeks away from starting my third year in the Masters of Divinity program at Duke. While I was in Divinity school I also pastored a church. With the symptoms I had in the Spring and with the bad report from the physical exam, I knew I needed to make some serious changes. So I committed to eating better the best I knew. Vigorous exercise at least 3 times a week was already part of my weekly routine. I ran a couple of miles each of those days and did a 15 minute routine on the Bowflex that I had at the time. I knew that it was my diet that I had to change.

At first I changed the types of foods that I was eating. I focused on avoiding foods high in fat. I also stopped eating large meals late at night – sometimes I would eat an entire meal before I went to bed after having supper with the family at the regular time. But mainly I focused on changing the types of foods I was eating. The change did help. Fairly quickly I did lose about 20 pounds. When I went for a checkup in mid September that year my vitals were back into the normal range, although still on the upper side of normal. I continued to do the best I knew how, and avoided too much unhealthy food, but it was a struggle. It seemed I had reached a plateau, but I knew there was more I could do.

That fall I decided to participate in a health and wellness program designed for clergy called “Spirited Life“. It was a program done through the Duke Clergy Health Initiative that had been studying clergy health in North Carolina among United Methodists since about 2008. Spirited Life was part of a longitudinal study to test the effectiveness of certain training and practices to improve overall clergy health. Their studies indicated that overall clergy health (physical and mental/emotional) is poorer than the general population of North Carolinians, which isn’t all that great to begin with.

At any rate, in the fall of 2011 I became a participant in the first of a few cohorts of United Methodist pastors to go through the Spirited Life program. The first health screening I received through Spirited Life in November of 2010 revealed that I had regained several pounds since September and had suffered a bit of a setback in terms of my vitals. Full participation in the Spirited Life retreats and seminars began in January of 2011.  Among other things, such as stress management, part of the program included participation in a weight loss program called “Naturally Slim“.  With the knowledge and information I gained from this program I formulated a plan that helped me to lose a lot more weight and achieve an even better level of health.

During Lent that year I committed to giving up sweets altogether with the exception of one small dessert one time per week, mainly on the Sunday feast days. I also committed to not eat any snacks between meals and, according to the advice given in the Naturally Slim program, to only eat meals when I was truly physically hungry. I discovered for me this was only a couple of times a day. At night before bed if I felt a little hungry, I would eat a small handful of plain mixed nuts to take the edge off so I could sleep. By doing these things by Easter (April 24, 2011) I had lost another 25 pounds or so – I got down to 148 pounds.big-cliff-little-cliff

Although I didn’t monitor it closely, from the Spring to early August of 2010 I had probably lost about 10 to 15 pounds to weigh around 195 when I had that checkup for the insurance company. By changing my diet a little more I got down to around 175. In November I went back up a few pounds. By Easter, through the plan that I was faithful to through Lent based on what I learned in Naturally Slim, I weighed 148 pounds and was in much better overall health. When I had my physical later that summer my vitals were all well within the normal range and the doctor thought that I may have lost too much weight and should adjust my diet to gain back a few more pounds. Over the last few years I did gain several pounds back, but, overall I have been able to maintain a much healthier weight.

Through all of the initial weight loss,  I continued my long established exercise routine. The main factor for me was a change in my eating habits. After the Naturally Slim program I didn’t worry so much about the types of foods that I was eating as much as how much and how often I was eating. This is not to say that the former is not important – it is – but the later is arguably more important. That being said, the most important component of my change in diet seemed to be drastically limiting my intake of sweets, including desserts, sodas, sweet snacks, etc. Inspired by my successes, my lay leader at the time also cut way back on sweets and snacks, especially soda, and lost about 60 pounds.

Having sweets more than once or twice a week gets me off track. So I have to really watch it. The other important component was not snaking between meals. My meals usually consist of the foods I have always enjoyed – for me just about anything in terms of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Bread has never been a major part of my diet. I usually only have bread when my meal includes some type of sandwich. My two meals per day, usually around 10:30- 11:00 am and 5:30 pm, are pretty hearty though. Occasionally, such as Sunday morning when I can’t eat lunch until around 1:00 I will have a handful of raw almonds and half a banana so I will have the energy I need to preach and lead worship, etc. Sometimes I may have a larger breakfast, but if I do I don’t eat another full meal until supper. If I need to I may have a small snack like a handful of Almonds and fruit before supper on those days.

Knowing what to do, however, is not the only thing necessary for weight loss and better health. Having the power to do what we know we should do is also important. Overcoming our human desires corrupted by sin and the deceptiveness of our fallen human emotions is easier said than done. Eating is not just a physical act; it also involves our minds and emotions; and it is spiritual as well. Briefly, here are a few things to consider when trying to become physically healthier through eating better.

Christian salvation involves the whole person and the whole person is spirit, soul, and body (see 1 Thess 5:23 for example). Sometimes some Christians think that what they do with and to their bodies is completely irrelevant to their salvation. Some even think that who they are is completely independent of their physical bodies. From the Christian perspective our spirits, souls, and bodies, are each an integral part of who we are. Saint Augustine, although he was influenced by Platonic thought, which tends to view the body as non-essential to who we are as humans, said, “the body is not an extraneous ornament or aid, but a part of man’s very nature” (The City of God, Book 1, Chapter 13).

Final salvation for the Christian happens at the resurrection of the body. The apostle Paul calls this moment for which all of the physical creation longs “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom 8:24 ESV). The ultimate goal of Christian salvation is not to discard the body to live a disembodied life in heaven, but for our bodies to be redeemed to live an rembodied life in a renewed physical creation. And it won’t do to act as if it doesn’t matter what we do with and to our physical bodies now since we will get new bodies in the resurrection. Even now our bodies are sacred space for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and should be respected as such as we seek to glorify God in our bodies ( see 1 Cor 6:19-20).

Likewise neither is human sin purely a spiritual reality. Sin is a spiritual disease that corrupts God given human desires, which manifest within the mental, emotional, bio-chemical, physiological,and social aspects of our embodied existence. In his discussion of sin in Romans 7, Paul’s desperate rhetorical question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24) is more than a metaphor, but points to the reality that our bodies too have been corrupted by sin. One of the major categories of sin that has been delineated over the centuries into what has been called “The Seven Deadly Sins” is gluttony. Gluttony is a corruption of our natural God-given desire for nourishment to sustain life and health. This is one of the ways that sin manifests itself in human life. As with other corrupted desires we must master it rather than allowing them it master us (see Gen 4:7 in context).

Our whole lives are an interaction between the spiritual, psychological, and physical. We are not spiritual beings who just happen to live in a body for a brief stint on earth. We are physically embodied spiritual beings who are destined to lived physically embodied lives in the New Heaven and Earth forever.

Eating is also an emotional thing. We do eat for pleasure, but pleasure should not be the main reason we eat. We should enjoy food, but the enjoyment should not be the only factor that we consider. We also may eat to soothe our anxieties and relieve stress. Finding comfort in comfort food is obviously not the best way to deal with anxiety. Saint Augustine again said, “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee” (in “Confessions”). We must seek our ultimate comfort in God and in being at peace with the God who made us. We have that peace through Christ Jesus who also delivers us from the fear of all fears, the fear of death (See Rom 5:1; Heb 2:14-15). Emotional eating can lead to enslaving cravings, food addictions and bad habits. We must learn to starve those enslaving cravings and truly feed and nourish our bodies. So we must distinguish between cravings and true hunger. Fasting can help with this. For me fasting for a day or two has also functioned like a reset after I have overindulged. This too is spiritual, psychological, and physiological.  And fasting, along with prayer and many others things, is a means of grace, an intentional Christian practice through which God strengthens us.

Exercise is also an important component.  Don’t be too overwhelmed by the thought of starting an exercise routine. If you are not doing anything now, don’t underestimate the benefit of small beginnings. Do something rather than nothing. Even if it is only walking briskly for 10 minutes at first. Even now my whole exercise routine only takes about 30 minutes. I had to cut back for a while earlier this year because of nerve pain in my lower back, hip, and leg. I’m working my way back up. The pain is gone so I’m running again, so far a mile to a mile and a half. I also do about 50 pushups and 25 pull-ups – I don’t have the Bowflex anymore. I always try to do something. Something is better than nothing. Just walking regularly makes a huge difference.

But we also need to make time for rest. Sometimes something is better than nothing, but there are also times when nothing is better than something. Making time for rest is also an important Christian practice, which just makes good sense for any human being. We call this sabbath; it too is a means of grace. Rest is important because when we are are overworked and under-rested we are more vulnerable to succumbing to cravings. Being overly tired seems to increase the power of unhealthy desires and decrease our power to resist them. So finding time to rest and relax is important.

The good news is that we aren’t left to the mercy of our own will power; we have the mercy and grace of God to relieve our guilt through forgiveness in Christ and to empower us through the Holy Spirit.  Sin of any variety is too strong for us to overcome on our own, but with God all things are possible. The power of God enables us to become and to do what we could never become and do on our own. Yes, we are called to “work out [our] own salvation,” but we do so knowing that as we do “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philip 2:12-13). Truly, we “can do all things through him who strengthens [us]” (Philip 4:13). And the primary way God has chosen to strengthen us is through the means of grace as they are practiced within the body of Christ. The Christian life is meant to be lived out in community. God has placed us within a body of fellow believers through whom he works to strengthen us. We need others as God works through them to challenge us and encourage us. A community living in the means of grace becomes a place where streams of mercy flow freely from the fountain of living waters to bring healing and health, in spirit, soul, and body.