It’s a new year and, chances are, you’ve been setting goals and making resolutions. Maybe you opened the year with a sermon or a series on the subject. Perhaps you wrote a blog, an email to your church or a social media post, outlining the “what” and “why” of all of the “firm decisions” you’ve made for a new year. More likely than not, at least one of your resolutions has to do with health. I recently read that the Top 3 New Year’s resolutions are exercising more, eating healthier and losing weight.
Or maybe you’re like so many who have come to hate resolutions. Perhaps you’ve shared, year after year, all the ways you plan to change, only to wind up a few months (or even just a few weeks later) back where you started. I also recently read that 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail by February. After all that, a person might be completely demotivated and frustrated. If that’s you, you aren’t alone. By all accounts, in making these resolutions, we are setting ourselves up for almost sure failure.
Just typing that made my heart hurt. Because I know, as I’m sure you do, that behind so many New Year’s resolutions are the real, true desires to see tangible change in a life that desperately needs it. This is especially true for church leaders. Our roles are time-consuming, stressful and come with the added responsibility of influence. Our lives are lived before others. Our discipline – or lack thereof – will say something to everyone in our orbit of influence. Added to that are the real consequences of not having a healthy lifestyle. Poor health can stunt or even cut short our ministries. We can’t minister, at least not at our highest capacity, if we’re sick, tired or, God forbid, dead because of declining health due to lifestyle choices.
It’s clear we can’t just do nothing. We can’t put away hope and just accept that our life and health are what they are, and nothing can change them. But it’s also clear that what we’re doing isn’t working. So, what do we do?
Here are two choices that have worked for me:
1. Less goal setting and more gospel
I’m not sure what it is about the issues of exercise and nutrition that keep gospel-believing people from addressing these areas of our lives with the same message. But it feels to me – and I’ve seen it in my own life – that unless we can pinpoint a clear “transgression” of God’s law, we work tremendously hard to ignore them or explain them away. Unlike so many other areas of our lives, we have a hard time acknowledging the underlying spiritual root. Surely, so few of us could ever look at our nutrition and exercise and say with a straight face that we haven’t or aren’t “falling short.”
Things in my health journey didn’t “click” for many years because I kept setting goals and ignoring the gospel. My goal setting told me, “You can do this. Make a plan. Work your way out of it. This is just something you ‘struggle’ with, you can overcome it if you are committed enough.”
But I didn’t overcome it. Because I couldn’t.
Though I was striving to preach a message of salvation by grace through faith, I wasn’t applying that same good news to my health. I was waffling back and forth between two theological ditches. On one side, I was falling into the hyper-grace lie that God didn’t care about my physical health and that, as long as I was working for Him and keeping other areas of my life “clean,” my diet and exercise patterns were a non-issue. On the other side, I was falling into a works-based false gospel that said if there was a problem, I could (and had to) solve it on my own.
But then all at once, by the grace of God, the Lord opened my eyes. My problem wasn’t that I needed more or even better goals. It wasn’t a diet problem or an exercise problem. It wasn’t even a discipline problem. My problem was a sin problem. And without a right view of the problem, I couldn’t have a right view of the solution. I got honest with myself: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Finally, I was ready to apply the gospel to this area of my life: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” (Titus 2:11-12)
What did that application of grace look like?
2. Less resolving and more repenting
Every week I preach, I lead a response time after the sermon. The centerpiece of that response time is taking communion. As I’m explaining communion, I make it a point to explain that we respond this way because it is a reminder that the proper response to God isn’t to tell Him all the ways we’re going to work harder to do better. Instead, it is an invitation to acknowledge our inability to change on our own, to remember the provision that God provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus and to embrace that free gift anew.
Each time, I invite the entire congregation, some for the first time, to respond to the Word of God through repentance and faith. I explicitly tell them we must acknowledge that approaching life on our own is what has gotten us into this mess. So we turn from our own way in repentance, and we turn to God in faith. Communion time isn’t an opportunity to make a bargain with God over a meal, “Please God, give me another chance to prove to you that I can make this better.” Instead, it’s a chance to remember what God has done on our behalf in Christ, and to recommit to live in and through that good news.
I’ve repented and have to keep repenting of a number of things pertaining to my health: laziness, eating foods that don’t fuel my body but only satisfy the senses, eating too much, running to food instead of God for comfort, loving sleep to the detriment of exercise and more.
The good news, however, is that if I, and you, will confess these sins, He is faithful and just to not only forgive us but to cleanse us and set us on a new path.
Questions to consider:
- What areas of your physical health have you been trying to fix on your own?
- Are there areas of your physical health that need repentance and not just resolutions?
- Who can you invite with you into this process of believing God toward better health?
What if you could lead a healthy church while maintaining healthy habits? Noah Oldham’s *free* new book, “Pastor Reps,” explores how to undertake a life-changing health journey for the glory of God. Click here to download.
Published January 30, 2023