How can I be spiritually healthy?
If there is one thing that just about all of us are concerned about, it is our health. When we are well — typically when we are young — we take our physical and mental wellbeing for granted. We can eat what we like, drink what we like, with little or no concern for any adverse consequences, however, for the majority of us, our health and wellbeing is of a primary concern, not least, for those of us that are forced to pay for private healthcare, the damage it does to the lining of our pockets. I grew up in a nation where healthcare was free at the point of service for all — no matter a person’s wealth or social status, and it was something of a shock moving to a country where even the level of copay makes you want to sit down before you read the bill!
We often think of well-being or health as being in the body and/or mind, but we often do not think about our spiritual well-being or our spiritual health. Human beings are body, mind, and spirit. We have a physical dimension, a mental and emotional dimension, and also a spiritual dimension.
It was only in the twentieth century that the medical profession embraced a holistic approach, looking at the whole person — not just separate organs or body systems — and considering multiple factors that promote health or disease. It seems obvious to us now that our bodies and minds are connected, and that mental health is connected to physical health — that psychological afflictions can affect our physiology and vice versa — but this is still an emerging field as science reveals the mechanisms by which this happens. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that I read in Nature magazine that scientists have only just discovered the chemical cues by which psychological stress can worsen the gut inflammation caused by certain bowel diseases. As the author of the paper writes, “Conventional medical treatment has completely neglected the psychological state of a patient as a major driver of the response to treatment.”
In the same way, for centuries, we have known that there is a connection between our spiritual well-being and our mental well-being — and by extension, our physical well-being — but I wonder if we are still only scratching the surface of understanding the mechanisms by which this works, for example, it has long been known that spiritual practices such as prayer play an important part in holistic well-being, and how the exogenous (coming from something or someone outside of ourselves) metering of forgiveness has multiple positive impacts on our mental health. Therefore, it is surprising that many of us pay little or no attention to our spiritual health. We may, indeed, be ‘spiritually sick’ and not even know it.
Spiritual sickness is called sin. Now, before you roll your eyes at me and think, “Here we go, the pastor is going to bang on about sin and I’ve heard it all before,” hear me out. It is important that we stop thinking of sin as a divine rulebook — a long list of quantifiable things we should not do. Sin is our unwillingness, and perhaps even laziness, to live up to being God’s image-bearer. It is putting ourselves — our own needs and wants — first, before God, before others, and before the environment. Of course, this means that, on occasion we can point to specific examples of sin in our own lives, but the definition of sin is much broader and wider. Sin is wherever we have fallen short of God’s ideal for us.
In any society there are going to be people that know they are spiritually sick, and quite often they are those to whom the rest of society — in our self-confidence and over-achieving success — point the finger and label as those lazy, disreputable, good-for-nothings. It is sobering, and still scandalous to some, that Jesus not only ministered to such social groups but fraternised with them, got to know them intimately, and shared table fellowship with them.
Jesus was criticised by a group called Pharisees — which means ‘separated ones’ — as in holy, and separate from ‘sinners’, and when he was criticised by these teachers of religious law for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners, he replied, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, only the sick need a doctor!” — and he was talking about spiritual health. He threw a challenge back to his critics implying that they too were spiritually sick and in need of healthcare. The Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge of and adherence to Scripture and yet they did not perceive its real meaning and did not perceive that they were in need of spiritual healing.
As a pastor, my job is to set up meetings between people and God. I am not a spiritual healer or a spiritual doctor, but God is, and spiritual healing takes place through being connected to God. Only God can deal with our sin, and as Jesus Christ has dealt with sin for all humanity and for all time, we can find spiritual healing through his saving love.
When I pray with someone for the first time, it is often a profoundly moving experience, because, as the person invites God into their lives — their situation or circumstance — God’s Holy Spirit shows up and the process of spiritual healing begins. And as people continuously invite God into their lives, a wonderful transformation takes place. They become less bitter, more gentle, more outward-looking, and more like an image-bearer of God. This spiritual well-being has an impact on their mental well-being, and this can only be a good thing.
Today, whoever you are and wherever you are, I hope and pray you will take a moment to consider your own spiritual health. The good news is that the insurance premium has been paid, it is free at the point of service, and there is definitely no copay!
Have a blessed week.