A NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION:
Exercise Your Soul!
“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well” – 3 John 2
In the salutation of a lovely little letter written by John to his good friend Gaius, the apostle recognizes two kinds of health: physical fitness and spiritual wellness. John’s comment recognizes an age-old observation: when we are physically sick, it has an impact on all our life, including our spiritual vitality.
In recent years a growing body of medical evidence has confirmed that the reverse is also true: when we are actively practicing our faith, it has a pronounced positive affect on our health! In fact, one nationwide study of 21,000 people found a seven-year difference in life expectancy between those who never attend religious services and those who attend more than once a week!
Other studies have found that regular church attendance markedly reduces the incidence of heart attack, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, and hypertension; that people over 65 who go to church or synagogue at least once a week are twice as likely to have stronger immune systems; and that frequent churchgoers had lower rates of depression and other mental problems.
How can we account for these findings? One suggestion is that religious people are less likely to engage in physically detrimental behaviors such as smoking, drinking, drug use or promiscuity. While research validates that hypothesis, healthier lifestyles are not the only factor: religious people, on average, were found to enjoy a greater level of physical well-being than non-religious people even after controlling for variables such as social support and healthy lifestyle decisions.
A second suggestion is that faith promotes healthier attitudes. The Bible teaches us to lead optimistic, loving, and purposeful lives. In addition, Jesus often emphasized that it is essential to have a forgiving spirit. Bitterness and unresolved grudges have a toxic affect on our physical and mental well being.
The social connections that come with faith are a third explanation. Medical researchers have become increasingly aware of the physical benefits of strong and positive social ties to family, friends, and fellowship groups.
The evidence connecting our physical and spiritual natures creates a greater appreciation for what it means to serve God “with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
As we begin this New Year, many folks are making resolutions to visit the gym or walking track more often. That is a positive decision, and one that I applaud. Based on the research, however, I would add another resolution: make a conscious decision to exercise your soul!
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul tells the young man Timothy: “Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”
Don’t miss Paul’s point: physical exercise is useful in this life, but training in godliness is beneficial both now and in eternity.
When I want physical training, I head to our local health club. Where can we go to receive training in godliness?
One great place to build your faith muscles is Bible School. There you will find a systematic program of Bible study with teachers who can serve as a “coach” of your spiritual development. Bible School is a gymnasium for the soul, so make it your goal to faithfully “work out” in Bible classes in 2024!