Aside from Jesus, no one reaches a point of perfection in this life. No matter how far along the road we may have traveled, there is still further to go. All of us need to continue developing our character, knowledge, gifts, abilities, and skills. So how can we grow to personal and spiritual maturity in Christ?
Life is composed of five primary components: spiritual, intellectual, social, emotional, and physical. Since we are whole beings, these are interdependent; and therefore all of them need attention. We may think our spiritual life is all that matters, but to neglect any of the other areas will diminish the progress we could make in what is undoubtedly the most important area. For example, if my body is undisciplined and out of appropriate condition, then I will not have the energy or control necessary to implement the spiritual responsibilities that I know should be exercised.
In this two-part series, we will consider each component, beginning with physical vitality.
Paul gives his own commitment with respect to his body in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
Our bodies make up an important component in our personal and spiritual development. A lack of discipline in our physical life can lead to disqualification in our spiritual life. The book The Spirit of the Disciplines describes fasting and frugality as disciplines of abstinence, which promote a proper use of the body and the understanding that man does not live by bread alone.
Self-indulgence is a road to sinful selfishness. Self-denial is a road to spiritual vitality, when performed biblically. If the body rules, then many critical spiritual disciplines will be ruled out. Therefore, we need to follow Paul’s example and order our lives to control our bodies. Learning self-control is a very physical practice since many of our desires are rooted in our bodies. For instance, the desire for comfort is a barrier to rising early on cold winter mornings.
The right amount of sleep, a regular routine, good diet, and exercise promote a fit and healthy body. Too much or too little sleep or food undermine physical vitality and thus limit our usefulness to God. No one can guarantee good health, but we can certainly avoid contributing to ill health.
The motivation and strength for such discipline is found in God, not ourselves, but the decision to do so is our own.
How fit are we? Investing time in an appropriate exercise program will contribute to progress and effectiveness in all areas of life and ministry. If my blood pressure is healthy, then my brain has sufficient oxygen, and consequently, I think better. If I am physically fit, then I have more energy for the demands of ministry, which can be taxing. The motivation and strength for such discipline is found in God, not ourselves (John 15:5; Philippians 4:13), but the decision to do so is our own.
Paul taught the Galatian believers that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). The first three of these are associated with our emotions. Although godly, agape love is more than an emotional state, love does have an emotional component. It is not divorced from emotion. This is likewise true of joy and peace.
It is easy in life and ministry to experience emotional exhaustion. For pastors, this is often due to persistent counseling requests, relentless demands for pastoral care, or enduring endless personal hostility. For anyone, emotional capacity is a limited resource that must be replenished regularly. Personal discouragement, emotional pain, or exhaustion may well cause someone to leave the ministry. Our emotional state greatly affects our life and ministry. Equally true, our emotional state varies and may be buoyant or bottomed out. We cannot sustain a highly excited emotional peak forever, but we do need to maintain vitality in this area, just as for the physical realm.
God has given us a supernatural source to supply our emotional life.
God has given us a supernatural source to supply our emotional life, as indicated by Paul’s statement on the fruit of the Spirit. He also wrote in Romans 5:5, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” If our love tank is low, God promises to fill it up, but we must choose the filling of His Spirit. God’s love is constant, and therefore ours can be.
One helpful way to protect our emotional state from personal attacks is to recall who the real enemy is: Satan. People responsible for undermining your emotional vitality are instruments in Satan’s hands and in need of help. They are victims of his schemes as well as agents for him. Depersonalizing such attacks takes the sting from them and enables a spiritual response empowered by the Holy Spirit, even though such attacks still hurt.
If we carry the burden of people’s problems as if they were our own, then inevitably they will weigh us down. We must cast our cares on the one who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Anxiety is tremendously draining. It uses enormous energy and produces no positive result for all the effort required by it. Paul gives us the solution to the pressure of emotional worry in Philippians 4:6–7: Pray!
In addition to this vertical solution, I suggest a horizontal one: Find someone who can share with you in the emotional difficulties of life and ministry. A burden shared is halved, and a blessing shared is doubled, so choose someone with whom you can share such burdens and blessings.
Next week we will consider social, intellectual, and spiritual vitality. Do not wait until then to work on your physical and emotional vitality. Start today with intentional action to develop physical and emotional capacity for glorifying God in life and ministry.