During Lent, small groups at West Lawn UMC are studying The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. Each Wednesday during Lent I will publish a post that coincides with the group discussion guide for The Daniel Plan. If you’d like to join a small group at West Lawn UMC, please contact the church office.
I graduated from seminary – Drew Theological School – having written papers about environmentalism and morality, my personal theology of worship, the implications of first century martyrs on contemporary Christians, and the historical influences of John Wesley and early Methodists. Amongst other papers included topics of stewardship regarding our time, talents, and money – the very things and opportunities God has given us – or rather, loaned us – and how we are using them (or not) for the benefit of God’s Kingdom. Regrettably, our physical bodies, the body that God has gifted each of us with, was never mentioned (at least not in any of the courses I had taken). In hindsight, I find the omission of our physical bodies as an act of stewardship shocking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 39.8% of American adults are obese and another 31.8% are overweight – that’s over 70% of the population! That means well over 230 million American adults have a significant weight problem (myself included – as I write this, my BMI is 29.9, which barely gets me under the obese threshold and into the overweight category. You can calculate your BMI by clicking here: BMI Calculator ).
According to a recent New York Times article, “members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension, and depression at rates higher than most Americans.” When you Google “obese statistics for pastors” an abundance of not-so-good-news relating to clergy health appears. As a profession, we are predominately overweight and obese, which in turn brings other detrimental health problems like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease.
I can’t help by wonder – nay, lament – as to why a seminary that is preparing men and women for ministry neglected to talk about the stewardship of our bodies. But then again, when was the last time you heard a sermon preached about your health? Or what was the last book regarding nutrition that you picked up at the Christian bookstore? As a culture, have we determined that our health is a sensitive subject and has become taboo, or have we decided that it is our personal business and no one else’s? Or maybe we just overlooked individual and corporate health as being theologically relevant. Whatever the reason may be, I believe that we’re all culpable in our complacency on this important topic that affects not just clergy, but most Americans today.
Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NLT)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. – Romans 12:1 (NRSV)
Yet Paul has plenty to say about our bodies in his letters in the New Testament. Oddly enough, it wasn’t until I read The Daniel Plan had I ever considered our bodies as an act of worship. I’ve read the Bible through and through a few times, I’ve read the New Testament by itself many more times. Yet, it never dawned on me that the way that we treat our bodies is a way of worshipping – or not worshipping – God.
When we think about our bodies theologically then, what does it mean for us to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and to “honor God with [our] bodies”? For me, it goes beyond losing weight to look good in the mirror. While it is about proper nutrition, getting adequate exercise and appropriate amounts of rest, the motivation for proper self-care dramatically changes when we reframe our health into an act of worship. By properly caring for our bodies, we are offering ourselves as a living sacrifice for God. We’re worshipping Him by loving not only God, but others as well and tending to His Kingdom. If we aren’t fit, we aren’t capable of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
In 2019, according to the Pew Research Center, 65% of Americans self-reported that they are Christians. When we compare that with the previously mentioned obesity and overweight statistics of Americans, it becomes evident that most Christians – like me – aren’t treating their bodies like a temple but more like a garbage disposal. Pastor Rick Warren in The Daniel Plan encourages us to ask the question “then what” when we are tempted to eat unhealthy food or to engage in activities (or lack thereof) that isn’t beneficial to our health. “If I eat this cheesesteak, then what?” Does that mean I’ll never eat a cheesesteak ever again? Absolutely not! However, when I do enjoy a cheesesteak with fried onions, mushrooms, and sauce, it will be on rare occasion and not every Friday night. Maybe I’ll even opt for the healthier alternative of a chicken cheesesteak.
Don’t be discourage, it’s never too late to change your lifestyle. Like God’s grace, the opportunity to turn away from the mistreatment of our bodies is always available, we just have to decide to accept it. Controlling my weight and making healthy choices is something that I’ve struggled with nearly my entire life. However, with the revelation received from reading The Daniel Plan, I am committed to honor God with my body going forward. Like putting on the weight didn’t happen overnight, neither will the weight coming off. So long as we stay the course and continue to make daily, healthy choices, asking ourselves “then what,” we can turn away from treating our bodies like garbage disposals and more like the holy and living sacrifice they were meant to be.
Note: The satirical cartoon is not intended to mitigate the seriousness of the Coronavirus nor the lives it has affected; merely to point out the epidemic that has cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their lives each year.