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A Checklist for Good Spiritual Health Back to the Basics

This article comes from Bible Study classes that I taught in January 2012.  I got the idea from an excellent article that I had read a few years earlier by Pastor David Jeremiah of Turning Point Ministries.

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Introduction

The most popular New Year’s resolutions usually fit into three categories: Health (exercise, eat healthier, stop smoking, drinking or other bad habits), Finances (save more, pay off debts, take some classes, look for a better job), or Personal (spend more time with family and friends, take a vacation, manage stress, start a new hobby, do volunteer work, get better organized).  In addition to those just mentioned, Christians may add reading the Bible daily, praying and/or going to church more often, tithing, getting involved in a new ministry etc.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have a very good record when it comes to keeping these resolutions.  For example, most folks are familiar with many of the principles mentioned above for maintaining good physical and mental health.  Yet, even with this awareness coupled with advances in modern medicine, exercise equipment, training techniques, nutritional insights and other developments, typical studies indicate that a majority of Americans regularly develop habits that are harmful to their physical well-being.

Likewise, when it comes to our spiritual health, many Christians face the same impasse between knowing and doing.  Furthermore, just as our physical health suffers when we neglect certain activities, our spiritual health is negatively impacted when we neglect the basic activities of the Faith.  Considering our busy schedules and the everyday pressures and distractions of our modern times, it’s not difficult to get temporarily side-tracked and to allow unhealthy habits to creep in.  When this happens in either the physical or spiritual realm (or both), the best cure is to get back to the basics.

With that in mind, we’ve listed ten foundational activities to help inoculate us from spiritual illness, re-focus our spiritual vision, and allow God to continue to mold us into the image of Christ.

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Ten Practices for Maintaining a Healthy Spiritual Life

Prayer

Prayer should be our first reaction to any sign of trouble (and even when things are going well).  Fervent prayer sets God into action.  It closes the mouths of lions and alters the course of nations.  We can pray for strength, wisdom, endurance, faithfulness, guidance and much more.  God cares about both our spiritual and physical needs (Mt 7:7-11).

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Php 4:6-7).  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1Th 5:16-18 ESV).

Bible Reading / Bible Study

We’ve heard the old saying, “when all else fails, read the instructions”.  I must admit that I often do so only as a last resort.  The Bible is not only God’s instruction manual for living, it also gives us the theological foundations for doing so.  It is God’s self-revelation to us.  It answers the basic questions in life.  Who are we?  Why are we here?  Where are we going? etc.  It searches us, corrects us, lights our pathways, and equips us for good works.

Just as we require regular exercise and good nutrition to maintain our bodily fitness, we must be consistent in our reading and study of the Scriptures.  We can’t expect to preserve or strengthen our spiritual health by opening our Bible upon occasion.  We should read our Bible on a daily basis and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the many reading plans available on our site or elsewhere.

On a personal note, I’ve found it advantageous to split my “reading” and “study” times.  Of course, reading and studying can’t be totally separated, but during my “reading” time, I pause only to jot down an occasional note for later study.  This keeps me on a steady pace and allows me to cover more material without getting bogged down (we actually retain more of what we read than we initially think).  Then, during my  “study” time, I dig deeper into the more complex and difficult issues, using a different Bible translation and supporting dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons etc.

Everyone must find their best reading/study system, but once again, consistency is the key.  In addition, we should not only read and study for increased head and heart knowledge, but we should also apply what we learn accordingly.  See Effective Bible Reading for additional tips and information on getting more out of our reading and study times.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2Tim 3:16-17).  For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12).

Scripture Memorization and Meditation

Another popular saying is “garbage in, garbage out”.  This is commonly uttered in regard to computers, but can certainly apply to our minds as well.  What we allow into our minds affects our thoughts, attitudes and actions.  The more we incorporate Scripture into our hearts and minds, the more we think like God.  Psalm 119:11 (ESV) says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You”.

Therefore, in addition to our Bible reading and study times, we should make time for memorizing and meditating on Scripture.  If our minds are filled with the Word of God, instead of trying to think of a Scripture verse when troubles or temptations come, the Word will be there for us.  When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he didn’t reply with “let me consult my concordance”.  He immediately rebuked Satan with “It is written…”, and we should be prepared to do likewise.

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful (Jsh 1:8).

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Proper Use of our Spiritual Gifts

Our spiritual gifts are a blessing from God, but they are not given so that we can sit back and enjoy them.  Instead, we are to use our gifts to pass the blessings on to others by our service.  This comes naturally only when we are walking in the Spirit by continually yielding to the Spirit’s control in our lives.  Even though we are not saved by good works, we are saved in order to do good works for others (Eph 2:8-10).

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Pe 4:10).

Stewardship

Just as it takes a certain investment (exercise, healthy diet, proper rest etc) to maintain a healthy lifestyle, we should also invest our time, talents (gifts as mentioned above), and monetary resources in God’s kingdom agenda.  God does not need the money since all things belong to him, but He uses our earthly gifts and responsibilities as a test of our faithfulness.

After Jesus told the parable of the shrewd manager, He said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little [money and material things] can also be trusted with much [spiritual things], and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Lk 16:10-11).  So, we are to be good stewards of all that has been entrusted to us by giving and serving faithfully and cheerfully.

Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (2Cor 9:7).

Worship

The Psalms are great source for expressing ourselves in worship.  Yet, worship should not be confined only to the “religious sphere”.  We should worship God not only in our prayers and songs, but in our normal everyday attitude, thoughts and action.  In its simplest form, worship is giving God the honor and position in our lives that He truly deserves.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness (Ps 29:2).  Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship (Rom 12:1).

Relationships

Just as we wouldn’t choose to hang around unnecessarily with a person who has a highly contagious physical condition, we should likewise avoid associating regularly with those that would adversely affect us spiritually.  To develop close ties with certain people is to expose ourselves to many temptations and bad attitudes that we might otherwise avoid.  This of course does not mean we should avoid the lost altogether.  Jesus had frequent contact with spiritually “unclean” people while on earth, but never participated in their sins.  Thus we should associate with unbelievers for the purpose of winning the lost, but must draw certain boundaries in our relationships.

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.  For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?  Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Cor 6:14).  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them (Eph 5:11 ESV).

We should also consider our relationships with Christian friends, and with our triune God.  These interrelations are commonly referred to as fellowship.  God did not create us to act as “lone rangers”, but to share our lives and ministries with other believers.

The Greek word koinonia, translated “fellowship” or “communion” in our English bibles, denotes a sense of unity that manifests itself in joint participation or sharing in common interests, activities or experiences such as the sacraments, various ministries, and even our position in Christ.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).  Our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ… if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:3,7).

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Church Attendance

In the New Testament, the word “saint” never appears in the singular.  It is always in the plural “saints.”  Likewise, in the Apostle Paul’s letters, he almost always uses the pronoun “you” in the plural to address his recipients.  These recipients are not a relational or universal body of believers, but individuals belonging to a local corporate body.  In the 12th chapter of 1Corinthinans, Paul speaks of the church body as a unit made up of many body parts (diverse individual members), each bringing their own gifts to the body.  Just as a physical body part can’t function on its own, members of the church body must rely on and act in unity with other members for the spiritual well-being of the corporate body.

In recent years, a new attitude that says “We love Jesus but not the church” has spread widely among professing Christians.  This movement rejects organized religion, and promotes the “Church at Starbucks” or the “Church of the 18th Green” instead of traditional churches.  Most people subscribing to this lack of structure typically complain of boring structured corporate worship services.  Yet, the worship services are only a part of their overall ministry at most biblical Christ-centered churches.  We should also realize that many ministries require a certain amount of corporate planning and organization in order to be effective.  Furthermore, regular organized activities lead to the exhortation, encouragement, accountability and equipping of the attending saints.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Heb 10:24-25).  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us (Rom 12:4-6).

Witnessing / Mentoring

The last instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples (and to us by extension) before leaving earth was to witness and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28, 18-20, Ac 1:1-9).  Witnessing is simply sharing the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ, both by our words and lifestyle.  Sadly, only a small percentage of professing Christians regularly share their faith with others.  Some try to make it very complicated, but Adrian Rogers used to say, “Witnessing is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where to find food”.  There are few things in life more exciting than to be an instrument of the Holy Spirit as He saves another of the lost.

Yet, our efforts should not end with the salvation of another.  Jesus didn’t command us to make converts, but to make disciples.  The word disciple comes from the Latin discipulus (Gk mathétés) meaning a pupil, learner, or follower.  In secular Greek culture, it was also used for an apprentice learning a trade.  The 1913 Webster’s Dictionary defines the verb as “to teach or train... in doctrines or principles”.  The apostle John tells us that being a disciple of Jesus also involves obeying His teachings (Jn 8:31) and loving fellow believers (Jn 13:34-35).

Jesus made it clear that a trained student would be like his or her teacher.  If the teacher is not knowledgeable and righteous, the student will be led astray (Lk 6:39-40).  Thus, in order to disciple others, we must be true disciples of Jesus ourselves.  We must continue striving toward the ultimate goal, that of allowing the Spirit to transform us into the image of Christ, while teaching and encouraging others to do the same.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:18-20)

Practical Lifestyle

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not an absolute guarantee that we will live a long life with hardly any health issues.  We all know someone (even highly conditioned athletes) who developed physical problems at relatively young ages.  Nevertheless, it significantly improves our prospects and decreases our risks.  Similarly, a practical and wise spiritual lifestyle is a pre-requisite for good spiritual health.

We should not think that wisdom can be acquired only by philosophers, professors, and other “intellectuals”.  We tend to equate or confuse “wisdom” with intelligence, learning or knowledge.  The terms are related, but we’ve all known people of scolarly intelligence who possessed very little wisdom, and vice versa.  The root of the Hebrew word for “wisdom” (hokmah) actually means “skill", so we often define wisdom as the correct application of knowledge; that is, applying right knowledge to living our lives.  Nor is wisdom ultimately obtained under our own power.  Knowledge is acquired, but true wisdom is granted by God.  We can of course gain wisdom by studying God’s word, particularly the OT Books of Wisdom and the NT Epistle of James, but ultimate true wisdom is granted by God (ala Solomon, 1Kg 3:1-14) through prayer (Ja 1:5).

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver (Pr 16:16).  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (Ja 1:5).

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Final Thoughts

We should be diligent to practice these principles and disciplines throughout the year.  As we face various challenges and pressures associated with daily living however, it’s certainly easy to neglect one or more of these activities in our spiritual lives.  Whenever this happens, it’s usually time to get back to the basics.  In some cases, this might require us to merely re-focus on these and other basic teachings of the Bible.  In other cases, it might require us to take additional steps, such as rearranging our priorities, or throwing off something that is preventing us from properly running the race that God has set before us.  It may not be easy but it will be well worth it to receive the crown of righteousness for faithful ministry.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb 12:1).  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2Tim 4:7-8).

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