Every day, it seems to me, I get messages from the media about what I must do to keep in the best of health. The advice has now been reduced to two points. I must (1) feed my body a proper diet – which means a broad daily spread of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, and modest portions of carbohydrates — and (2) exercise it vigorously from 30 to 60 minutes each day.
Our whole culture seems to have arrived at consensus on this. The words, “diet and exercise” have become a mantra. So, at our house we try to take the challenge seriously.
But what about that aspect of our beings which we call the soul or our spiritual natures? Man is formed by our Creator from the dust of the earth, the Scriptures tell us, but so are the lions and hippos. However, for us the Scriptures add, God breathed into that physical formation the breath of life and “man became a living soul.”
Consequently, it is not best to say: “I am a body and I have a soul,” as though our bodies are the more significant aspects of our beings and our souls are sort of attachments. It is better to say “I am a soul, and I have a body it inhabits.” In saying this I acknowledge that, as precious as our bodies are to God and to us, it is our indestructible spiritual natures that deserve our more careful attention.
So, how is that soul to be kept in health? I must (1) nourish it and (2) exercise it daily just as I do my body. With regard to nourishing it, here are words written by J. I. Packer in his book, Knowing God: “There can be no spiritual health without doctrine,” he writes. Doctrine means organized Christian teaching. So we must always be seeking to grow in Christian understanding.
After speaking to the nourishment side of things, Dr. Packer calls us to the exercise side by means of meditation. “Meditation,” he writes, “is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.”
Meditation, like good dining, takes time. It’s often suggested that 30 minutes taken first thing in the morning is ideal. Just as the orchestra tunes its instruments before the concert, so it is better to take time for meditation at the outset of the day, rather than after the day’s concert has been played.
If we can’t make the early morning challenge work, then we must choose another time. A college student came to see me once who complained that she couldn’t make the early morning hour work because she still felt too drugged from sleep. I asked her how long she took for lunches. She was a very sociable person and replied that she usually took an-hour-and-a-half. I suggested she cut that time in half and slip away for a quiet time of Christian meditation as a daily practice. For all of us, as the saying goes, “Where there’s a will, there are twenty ways.”
Meditation usually works best when it is a time for refocusing on God, not our problems, and this can be done helpfully when we set ourselves to reflect on his attributes – that is, those revealed characteristics or features of God’s being through which with growing clarity we see who he is.
Any good Bible Dictionary will give you a list of most if not all God’s attributes. But for today, consider just one of them and take time to meditate on it. Consider the attribute, “omnipresence” – meaning our God is present everywhere.
What scripture will take us into the wonder of God’s omnipresence better than Psalm 139? This Majestic God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is familiar with all my activities (verse 3). He knows what I am about to say before I say it (verse 4). I was not hidden from his all-seeing eye even during my pre-birth existence (Verse 15). All this moves us to pray to be kept from any hidden wickedness, while at the same time being led in the ancient ways of righteousness (verses 23, 24).
In our culture we consider it important to keep on the move, so stopping to meditate may strike us as wasting time. We just want to plunge into the business of whatever we are doing – including even our praying. But, if we take time for meditation on this great truth of God’s omnipresence to nourish us, the result will be improved health for our souls, and channels will be opened for periods of effectual prayer!
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