By LESLIE LUDY
Living in Colorado (recently voted one of the most health-conscious states in the country), I’m surrounded by the health and fitness craze. Dedicated joggers and disciplined road bikers can seen on nearly every street. Gluten-free bread and organic produce can be found in almost every store (I’ve even noticed vegetarian convenience food in several gas stations!) Vegan restaurants are common. And health food stores are as easily accessed as regular grocery stores. Everywhere I go, it seems I’m bombarded with messages like, “This revolutionary health breakthrough will change your life!” or “This amazing new diet will keep you young into your nineties!” Though I enjoy the benefits of eating healthy food, I must remind myself that Jesus, not a specific health program, is my true source of life and strength.
Even though Scripture makes it clear that “life is more than food” (Lk. 12:23), it’s all too easy to believe otherwise. If we don’t fall into the trap of self-indulgence in our eating habits, we often lean too far in the other direction – exalting health food and fitness, and placing our hope in our diet and exercise habits instead of in Jesus Christ.
Living a healthful lifestyle can be a wonderful way to serve our families, bring discipline into our lives, and keep our bodies strong for the things God has called us to. But it can also become a form of idolatry if we build our lives around health instead of around Christ.
Many Christian women take great pride in cooking healthy meals for their families and treating their kids’ ailments with natural remedies and herbal supplements. But what starts out as a tool with which we can care for our families can easily become an unhealthy preoccupation if we aren’t careful. We shouldn’t find our identity in being a health-food enthusiast. Our identity should be found in Christ alone.
What if America was hit by a devastating war or extreme persecution broke out against Christians, as it has in so many other places around the world? Our ability to run to Whole Foods each week and buy all organic produce or grass-fed meats might be hampered. Do we trust that God would still sustain us and give us the strength to live out our callings, even if we were to find ourselves in a situation where we can’t take vitamins or make green smoothies everyday? So that leads us to an important question: how can we be good stewards of our health without letting it become a primary focus in our lives?
We must examine our motives for why we are exercising and eating right. Is it because we are trying to self-preserve and self-protect, or because we desire to be strong and ready to live for Jesus Christ? The world idolizes health and fitness for selfish reasons; they want to maintain a sexy lean body and look young their whole lives. But a Christian woman takes care of her body as an outflow of her love for Jesus Christ. She shows respect for the body God has given her, not so that she can maintain a certain image or ideal weight, but so that she will be strong and able to give and serve those around her, or even to suffer well for Jesus Christ if he calls her to. (See Proverbs 31:17.)
Esther Ahn Kim was a courageous young woman who stood boldly for Christ in Korea during the Japanese invasion in 1939. When she made the decision not to bow at a Japanese shrine, she knew it was only a matter of time before she was caught and imprisoned for the stand that she had taken for Christ. But instead of cowering in fear and worry about what her future held, she decided to prepare her heart and her body to suffer for Christ. Esther decided to train for prison life, just as an athlete might train for competitive sports. She counted it a great honor to suffer for Christ, but she also knew she was weak and unready for all that lay ahead. She spent time fasting, training her body to go for long periods of time without food.
Esther also began sleeping on the floor, learning to live in a state of poverty, eating rotten produce, and going without all the comforts she had grown up with, so that she would be prepared for the harsh conditions of prison. Months of faithful, diligent preparation – fasting, memorizing Scripture, tirelessly praying, and training to endure harsh conditions – transformed Esther from a frail young woman to a bold and confident ambassador for Christ. Instead of fearing torture, she now faced it boldly in the power and grace of God.
What an amazing difference from the self-focused, self-preserving approach to discipline, fitness, and health that we see all around us today!
If health and exercise has claimed too much of your focus (or if it has been a focus for the wrong reasons), prayerfully consider what steps God might be asking you to take in order to change this pattern. Start by asking God to purify your motives for taking care of your body and the health of your family, to give you a heart that longs to honor Him rather than simply to preserve your own image.
Allow Him to gently show you any ways in which you have been leaning on your healthy habits instead of on Him to find strength and peace. And take the steps of obedience He asks you to take, whether it means relaxing more about the food you eat or spending less time obsessing over which vitamins you should be taking, and more time building the Kingdom of God. He will be faithful to build you strong for what He has called you to when you make faith, not food, the focus of your life.