Updated: Aug 2
I asked one of my trusted advisors for a topic for today’s service and the paraphrased reply was:
Self Care is on a lot of people’s minds these days. What does God have to say about it?
Because I am not an ordained minister and I have never been to a seminary, I have taken some steps to establish accountability:
I have enlisted the prayer support of some individuals I know I can trust to pray for today’s message.
I am using a lot of scripture. The more of God’s Word I can offer, the more I can be confident in the truth of what I say.
I have already posted today’s sermon on our website. Within it I’ve included not only everything I’m sharing today, but links to the articles I used in preparation.
I encourage you not to take my word for anything. Read the scriptures for yourselves. Examine the articles. Ensure I am being faithful to God’s Word and this Body of Christ. If there is any place I am in error, I ask that you approach me in love and point it out that I may be corrected.
The intent of my message this morning is to do the following:
Explore the concept of Godly Self Care
Provide actionable Self Care ideas supported by scripture
First, how should we define self care?
A quick foray into the untamed wilds of the internet yielded the following results. There are at least:
3 rules, 4 functions, 5 benefits, 6 domains 7 pillars, 8 areas, 9 secrets, 10 habits of self care.
The majority of these results were of dubious pedigree. I did, however, come across an article on the national institute of mental health website that provided the following information.
Self-care means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical health and mental health.
That is a solid, clear and rational definition. The article then enumerates a few actionable steps that were also helpful. Among them were wise suggestions. Among these were, get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthy, practice gratitude, focus on positivity, and stay connected.
This is good counsel grounded in decades of medical research.
Let's examine these topics through the lens of scripture and with God as our top priority and God's Word as our ultimate authority.
Get Enough Sleep
If you doubt that humans need sleep, consider the fact that Jesus slept as described by Luke 8:23
and as they sailed he [meaning Jesus] fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. | Luke 8:23 ESV
That’s pretty clear. If God in human form felt it was necessary to sleep, it would be foolish to decide we do not need it.
We don’t just need sleep, we need rest. Rest is more than sleep. The University of California found that restful sleep is more important than quantity sleep.
But there is also the sense of rest as described in Genesis 2:
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. | Genesis 2:2 ESV
God created the entire universe in six days. Then He took an entire day to rest. For our math friends, that’s over 16% of the amount of time He engaged in creation. God considers rest important. So much so that He made it one of the ten commandments for Israel:
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. | Exodus 20:10 ESV
Rest is essential. We don’t just need physical rest, we also need mental and spiritual rest.
Many of us have experienced stress that at times can seem beyond a human's ability to withstand. There are very real factors in our lives that can cause debilitating stress and chronic anxiety when faced alone. Philippians 4 says:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. | Philippians 4:6-7 ESV
This is an actionable scripture.
First, there is something to stop doing:
"do not be anxious about anything,"
Personally, that sounds impossible. I would have to give the thing causing my anxiety a lower priority than God's will and authority.
I realize that sounds a little snarky, but it's true. That's hard to do.
Soldiers with PTSD, parents with sick children, doctors who lose patients, teachers who see evidence of the bad choices of adults; there are a host of people with real reasons for anxiety that I can’t relate to on a personal level.
My heart breaks for them,
But it doesn’t change God’s Word. He says “do not be anxious about anything.”.
So my counsel must be: Try.
Thankfully, we're also given something to active to pursue:
"In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
God is infinitely better qualified than we are to handle whatever trials come our way.
That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to ignore those stressors and triggers. Talk to God about them. Humbly beg God to handle them. Ask Him to help us to lay them down at His feet, and not pick them up again. And do it with a grateful heart, recognizing that Our Champion is far more able than ourselves to handle anything that tries to steal our peace in Him. Don’t take my word for it though, consider Ephesians 3:20.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. | Ephesians 3:20 NLT
And, there is a promised result.
"And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Please understand, this is not a promise to the end of sorrow. We will have troubles. Jesus said in John 16:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” | John 16:33 NLT
The peace promised here is not an absence of conflict, trials, sorrows or heartbreak. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, is recognizing God is present in the conflict with you.
Get Plenty of Rest, Rest in God’s care.
Let go of those things that aren’t yours to control. If you need to hang on to something, hang on to Him. And if you’re afraid you’ll lose your grip, take heart in the fact that the truth is, you’re not holding Him anyway, He’s holding you.
Trust God to be God. He’s good at it.
Exercise is care for your physical body. And it has obvious health benefits. It causes positive physical changes, as well as chemical changes in your brain that promote happiness.
That's pretty cool.
God's Word has some things to say as well.
Before I dig into that though, I want to briefly acknowledge something so that my message is not marred by any sense of sanctimony or pretense. I recognize the irony of an overweight middle aged man speaking with authority on exercise or health matters in general. Thankfully, it's not my authority I'm resting on, it's God's.
I dare speak to you, not as someone who's already "made it" and is now telling you how you can get to where I am, but as a fellow believer on the same road. I’ve just spent a lot of time with the map. So let's move on. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. | 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
For accountability's sake, you should know that these verses are in the context of sexual immorality, but that does not change their relevance here which is: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
Your body matters. What you do with your body matters. How you treat your body matters. Treat it like it belongs to God - because it does.
Now - though it is of secondary importance - exercise is also validated in God's Word. 1 Timothy 4 says:
Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. | 1 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV
Some may ask, “What irreverent, silly myths" is the apostle Paul talking about?
No one knows.
Scholars have guesses, but they're only guesses and don't deserve the weight of Holy Scripture, so let’s just agree to have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths in general, and we’ll focus on the positive actionable scripture.
"Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come."
So what is godliness?
Some might say to avoid sin. And that has the ring of truth to it. Sin is directly contrary to God, so to practice godliness would certainly indicate avoiding sin.
That becomes problematic fairly quickly. As soon as we make it a day without intentionally sinning we puff up a bit with pride in a job well done and sin just chuckles in our dark corners because pride is a very old sin.
The best antidote for sin is the blood of Jesus Christ. He removed the deadly consequence of sin and gave us a prescription for combatting it in a healthy way that won’t leave us in a pattern of self-destruction.
You may wonder "what is that prescription?" We find it in Matthew 22:37-40:
And he [meaning Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” | Matthew 22:37-40 ESV
Rather than struggling to not sin, which is much like trying to pick up a corner of this building, put your effort into loving God and loving others. Then your strength is well spent and your perspective will be centered on God and not on the things that would draw you away from God.
How do we love God with all our heart, soul and mind?
There's nothing magical here. How would you determine to love anyone? You would start by getting to know them.
Read your Bible.
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it.
Come to church, spend time with the Body of Christ.
All these things help you get to know God better.
It's so much easier to choose to love Someone you know than it is to love a stranger.
As you grow in your relationship with God, He will patiently and lovingly guide your thoughts, adjust your beliefs and conform you to the likeness of His Son.
What does this have to do with exercise?
Both of these things require self-control. You are determining that the result of an activity is worthy of pursuing and sacrificing time, attention and energy to reap the benefits of that activity. Did that make sense?
Exercise bodily, and you will become stronger, leaner, and more capable of whatever physical demands God may place on you while you live on this earth.
And you will become infinitely lovelier and more useful to God, to others and to yourself, both now and in the life to come.
There are obvious health benefits of a well-balanced diet: building a strong body, protecting your heart, preventing disease, and boosting your mood.
God's Word has input here as well. Consider Job:
I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food. | Job 23:12 ESV
Consider Christ in Matthew 4. He had already been fasting for forty days when the devil came and tempted him.
"During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” | Matthew 4:3-4 NLT
Does scripture really say that? Yup. In Deuteronomy 8:3 Moses says to the Israelites:
Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. | Deuteronomy 8:3 NLT
This is about substance.
Food is good.
Food provides the substance that nourishes your body.
God's Word is superior.
God’s Word provides the substance that nourishes your eternal spirit.
Consume the Word of God; in two ways.
Consume the Word of God we find in scripture. We consume God's Written Word by reading or hearing it. Then we make it part of us by responding; through obedience, through praise, through worship, through prayer. Just as your body uses food to build, repair and replace itself, God's Word will build, repair and replace your eternal spirit as you put it inside you.
Consume the Word of God we find seated at God's right hand. The opening of the gospel of John identifies Jesus Christ as the Word. Jesus gave us the gift of His body and blood in the sacrament of communion. This church body celebrates communion the first Sunday of most months.
There are worthy discussions that can be had around communion that are beyond the scope of this message, so here I will simply say this.
The bread is the body of Christ. The wine is the blood of Christ. We eat and drink these to declare together and publicly that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to earth to die for sinners, which describes us all. That He descended into hell, that He rose again on the third day, that He appeared to many witnesses and ascended into Heaven, leaving behind His church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to carry His Word and His Love to the rest of the world until He returns.
Eat healthy, Consume the Word of God
If you put in healthy truth in the context of the whole of God’s Word, you’re still going to have problems. But your problems will also have a problem: God. And as you fill yourself with His Word, unbridled and unedited, you will discover the breathtaking truth of Romans 8:31 | If God is for you, Who can be against you?
Mental health experts have rightly determined that gratitude is good for your health. An article on the mayo clinic website says: Expressing gratitude is associated with a host of mental and physical benefits. Studies have shown that feeling thankful can improve sleep, mood and immunity. Gratitude can decrease depression, anxiety, difficulties with chronic pain and risk of disease.
It is an important thing to teach your children to express gratitude. Gratitude helps them to recognize the value and importance of people outside themselves. It is an excellent remedy for entitlement. And it is commanded in God's Word.
In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul gives instruction on Christian conduct and says:
giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, | Ephesians 5:20 ESV
And it's important enough to repeat in his first letter to the church in Thessalonica:
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. | 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV
The biggest difference between our secular understanding of the health benefits of gratitude and that of Christianity's is summed up in to Whom we are grateful.
Those in our culture who still teach gratitude, rightly teach us to be grateful to people who give us good things. This is exactly correct when viewed through the lens of James 1:17
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. | James 1:17 ESV
In light of our previous topic on Eat Healthy - Consume the Word of God, gratitude is perhaps best served at the communion table. Because there we celebrate the greatest gift possible. But it should not stay there. Carry it with you throughout all the moments of your life and let it color your experience of everything.
Here's a valuable exercise grounded firmly in both Ephesians 5:20 and James 1:17
Pick something you are grateful for. I'm a musician, I will pick the song More of You as presented by Colton Dixon. Here's the exercise
Thank you, Father for Colton Dixon. Thank You for the song he wrote that expresses something I struggle to express myself. Thank you for the technology that allowed me to hear this song written by a man I've never met. Thank You for the car I drive in when I listen to it. Thank you for the gift of music so that I can join my own voice to this song and sing to you in praise and worship. Thank you for the jobs You've provided that allow me to make payments on that car. Thank you for providing the means for me to go to work, to work from home, to pay my mortgage, my electricity, my heat and my internet. Thank You for the country You placed me in that allows me to hear this song without fear of arrest or persecution. Thank You for every good gift You provide every day so that I can praise You and teach others to do the same.
Practice Gratitude - Give Thanks to God
As you intentionally look for places to express gratitude to God, you will find them. An encouraging side effect is that you begin to recognize God's presence more and more in your everyday life. That in itself is something to be grateful for.
Focus on positivity
For clarity, this is not the idea of “manifesting”. Nowhere in scripture will you find valid support for the idea of manifesting your desired outcomes. Let’s remain firmly outside the muck of new age humanism and stick with medical and scientific discussion through the lens of scripture.
There is an article on positive thinking on the Mayo clinic website that contains the following:
“Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:
Increased life span
Lower rates of depression
Lower levels of distress and pain
Greater resistance to illnesses
Better psychological and physical well-being
Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke
Reduced risk of death from cancer
Reduced risk of death from respiratory conditions
Reduced risk of death from infections
Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
It's unclear why people who engage in positive thinking experience these health benefits.”
These are outstanding findings, even if their cause is unknown. To be fair, the article goes on to explore some theories, but let’s get to God’s Word. The first scripture that came to mind in preparation of this point was Philippians 4:8.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. | Philippians 4:8 ESV
A problem with the phrase “focus on positivity” is that it is nebulous. It will be different for every individual according to what they think is positive. That’s problematic because scripture tells us in Psalm 14 that
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. | Psalm 14:3 ESV
Galatians 5:17 takes it further and says:
For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. | Galatians 5:17 ESV
So without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can’t reliably focus on positivity. Our definition of what is positive and good to think about is, at best, severely lacking. We need an objective truth that doesn’t change with the whims of culture or emotion. Philippians 4 gives us a handful of specific areas of focus. Let’s take a few moments. As I read these as questions, consider each and answer silently to yourself.
What is something that is true?
What is something that is honorable, or full of integrity?
What is something that is just, or morally right?
What is something that is pure, or uncontaminated?
What is something that is lovely?
What is something that is commendable?
What is something that is excellent?
What answers came to mind? How many of those answers were outside yourself? You weren’t given a lot of time, but when dwelled upon, these topics tend to lead our thoughts to grander things than ourselves.
As a personal study exercise, consider answering each of these questions and turn them into a personal Bible study! Is there evidence in scripture that what you think is true, is actually true? Is what you find honorable supported by scripture? The further you go down this road, the richer and more effective your positive focus will become. In fact, I’m confident that the only logical end point of each of these topics is God Himself.
Focus on the things God says are good
You will discover your thought patterns become healthier and identifying those things that bring you closer to God - or take you further away from Him - becomes easier.
The CDC says:
"Social connectedness influences our minds, bodies, and behaviors—all of which influence our health and life expectancy. Research shows that social connectedness can lead to longer life, better health, and improved well-being."
I say: Good job CDC, your words are valid and close to correct.
God’s Word says:
…“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” | Genesis 2:18b ESV
God said “It is not good that the man should be alone..” then He created Eve from Adam’s flesh and bone. Adam was no longer alone, but was gifted a companion with whom he was privileged to share his duties, his thoughts and his life.
Hebrews 10:24-25 says:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. | Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
Here, God is speaking of the church, and it applies to Covenant Church just as it did to the early church, whether in person or online. This is a very actionable scripture:
Stir up one another to love and good works. Encourage one another.
Let’s take a moment. Everyone with a phone, those of you online can do this too, take it out. Make sure your ringer is off. I want you to message one person. It can be someone in the room right now, someone not here, someone you haven’t spoken to in weeks or years. Bonus points if it’s someone you don’t like very much. Send them a message of encouragement. It can be as simple as “you came to mind and I wanted to let you know I love you, I care about you, I thank God for you, etc.”
Once you’ve done that, take a moment and pray for that person. Ask God to bless them. It doesn’t matter if they’re not a Christian.
Matthew 5:44 says:
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, | Matthew 5:44 ESV
So God says it’s okay to pray for people who are non Christians.
How can we know God will hear our prayers? He tells us:
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” | Matthew 18:20 ESV
God is here. The Holy Spirit is in this place. Every time we come together in the name of Jesus Christ, we seek - and are granted - an audience with the King of Creation. And He is the essential ingredient.
Let’s take a quiet moment so you can pray for whoever you just texted.
Stay connected to God with others
We must be connected to God. To be connected with other humans can be comforting, or exciting, or generally gross depending on your perspective. But to be connected with other humans in the presence of the Holy Spirit and giving Him full reign and authority is not just good for us. It is the very thing that allows us to turn this little light of mine into a towering inferno of God’s light and love that drives back the darkness of our fallen world and says: Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
And now for our self care recap
Get Enough Rest - Rest in God
Eat Healthy - Consume the Word of God
Practice Gratitude - Give Thanks to God
Focus On the Things God Says Are Good
Stay Connected to God with Others
Self Care is helpful.
Godly Self Care will change your life.
So I will end with this benediction from Ephesians 3:
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. | Ephesians 3:14-21 NLT