Encouragement From The Word

Don’t forget your spiritual health

Okay, who got a Peloton bike or a Bowflex set for Christmas?  How about a gym membership?

These things are very popular gifts for those who are resolving to get in better physical shape in the new year.  And after eating our way through December, it’s common to resolve to improve our health. 

Some will even want to attend to their mental health, perhaps through counselling, and that can be a good thing as well.

Trouble is, we often focus on our physical health, and possibly even our mental health, while ignoring our spiritual health.

As I’m going to talk about on Sunday at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we can and should pay attention to our spiritual health as we look to a new year.  Just as we can’t ignore our physical or mental health, we can’t ignore our spiritual health, either.  In many respects, as Pete Scazzero says, our emotional health is tied to our spiritual health.

How can we work on our spiritual health, which affects the rest of who we are as people?

The best way is to understand our spiritual health as a relationship with God, and then to handle that relationship the way we would handle growing any relationship:  time spent together, and conversation.

We spend time with the Lord by sitting still (or even going for a walk) intentionally in his presence.  Being mindful that the Lord is with us whatever we do, wherever we go, has an impact on our spiritual health.

As for the conversation, we can talk with God in prayer, about anything and everything; after all, he already knows what’s going on in our lives, and like any parent, he delights in hearing us talk about our lives.

But that’s only a one-sided conversation.  

We hear God speak to us through his Word.  Read your Bible every day.  Listen for God to speak to you as you read the ancient truths of Scripture.  

Create a reading plan for yourself, or borrow one from any number of online sources.  Each day’s passage doesn’t have to be lengthy.  In fact, I am not an advocate for the “Bible in a year” plans; forcing yourself to get through such a lengthy volume in a year, while entirely attainable, may leave you rushing through a passage, “just to get it done”, when perhaps the Lord wants you to sit on it for a bit.  There have been times when the Lord has left me on the same passage for multiple days at a time so that I can absorb the richness of what he is telling me.  Do have a Bible reading plan, but hold it loosely; it may need to spill into the next year.

As you read, be sure to allow silence, giving space to God to speak into your heart as you read his Word.

Of course, there are other spiritual disciplines that you can practise, too, and I’ve written about them before.  But Scripture and prayer are the two most important.

This Sunday brings a new year, and it can bring a new you:  when you consider your health, don’t ignore your physical and mental health, but also keep in mind your spiritual health; eternity is a long time, and you’ll want to be in practice for eternity.

[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT).

Book Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: “How Your Church Family Works”

Peter L. Steinke’s How Your Church Family Works:  Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems (The Alban Institute, Steinke-How-Church-Family-Works1993, 2006) is by no means ‘hot off the press’, but I picked it, and a companion volume, up at a sale last spring, and finally got around to reading it in the past few weeks.

I wish I had read it sooner.  A lot sooner.  Like, when it was first published in 1993.  It might have been a game-changer for me.

This short (144 pages) work is essentially an abridgement of Edwin Friedman’s classic work, Generation to Generation.  Friedman’s book is out of print, and therefore hard to find except through used booksellers.  But this is not only a fine abridgement with great application for the church, it is highly accessible.

I’ve occasionally heard some pastors say that the church would be a wonderful place if it weren’t for the people.  They almost always say it tongue-in-cheek, but there is also a measure of truth to it.  The church is people, of course, but it is people who live life after the fall.  We, singly and collectively, are sinners.  And when you get a bunch of sinners together, there’s bound to be some tension.  Every church leader can tell you about some tension that has been experienced; if there hasn’t been tension, growth almost certainly hasn’t taken place, for it is in the crucible of conflict that growth occurs.

The tension we experience as the church is often a tension that comes from human interactions, what some call systems.  The simplest, perhaps, is person A having a conversation with person B.  No problem there, of course, until person A starts talking about person C, who is not party to the conversation, and with whom person A has a beef.  Then we have what’s called triangling, where one person (person B) is brought into the conflict that exists between person A and person C.

That might sound complicated, but believe me, it can get worse.  Systems and sub-systems exist in churches, and it takes emotional maturity to be able to navigate through the tensions that exist just because people are people, children of Adam and Eve.

Steinke’s goal is to help congregations understand themselves in this light, and to rise above the problems that can come about as a result of sinners gathering together with other sinners.  One of the key points made by Steinke is borrowed from Kurt Lewin.  It says that behaviour is a function of the transaction of personality and environment.  When any one of those factors changes, the whole dynamic changes.  Steinke doesn’t just elucidate problems, though; he offers solutions.  As the book draws to a close, he offers congregations ways that they can be fully aware of who they are and how that is affecting their interpersonal relationships, in an attempt to bring about the greatest degree of emotional health moving forward.

And of course, spiritual health is tied into this, because as Pete Scazerro says in The Emotionally Healthy Church, a person (or a church) can only be as spiritually healthy as she, he or it is emotionally healthy.

The read is not that difficult; the challenge comes in applying it.  I highly recommend this book for anyone in any form of church leadership.

P.S.:  There is a short YouTube video that helps illustrate the points in Friedman’s theory that will help you understand all this.  Watch it here.