Luke 10:27 reads, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to flourish as a human, and, more specifically, as a Christian. I want to divide the areas of the Christian life into three:
The basic premise I want to begin with is this: everything that we do, do it unto the Lord. From this premise, I want to show how the above three areas follow and how this can relate to a flourishing Christian.
As a budding Christian philosopher, I tend to spend more time in this area than the average Christian. But I think this is an area that every Christian is called to maintain, albeit not to the level of a philosopher (I don’t expect the average person in the pew to read through a metaphysics book, but I think it’s important to know some of the issues raised in metaphysics e.g., free will.).
How do Christians go about fulfilling the mandate to love God with all their minds? How do they flourish in the intellectual area of Christian life? Going back to the basic premise of “everything we do, do it unto the Lord,” from there we can apply it to your intellectual interests. But first, the Christian should develop their intellectual interest by being educated. Do you have to attend college to be educated? No, although it can be a good thing. But one of the main ways to get educated is to do what you’re doing right now: reading. Read lots of books, academic journals (if you’d like), and educational material. I think it’s important that every Christian have at least basic training in logic and critical thinking. I love my fellow Christian brethren, but when I sometimes hear them make very fallacious arguments or claims, I sometimes shudder. I think this is an area that’s most neglected in a lot of people’s lives. But who can blame people? People have jobs, maintain a family, and have lots of responsibilities. My advice here for those busy people is to take a book wherever you go. That’s what I do. When I’m waiting with family to be seated at a restaurant, I’m reading my book. When I’m in the parking lot waiting for my girlfriend, I’m reading my book. Before I go to bed, I take some time to read my book. Everywhere I go I try to use whatever useless downtime I have to pick up on some reading.
Once the Christian has begun educating herself and tending a reading habit, the Christian will soon find a subject matter she likes. Be it history, science, philosophy, or politics, apply the basic premise of “everything we do, do it unto the Lord,” here. Study the issue, and use it to glorify God. Educate yourself on the topic, go deeper, and look at its application to the Christian life and worldview. Ask questions like “How does this fit into the Christian worldview?” or “In what ways does this challenge my beliefs?” Seek truth and always do what you do unto the Lord.
Like I said, you don’t have to be a philosopher that reads 24/7 like me, but you can educate yourself with the basic, find the topic you like, and do your best to master the material. Enjoy it and use it to glorify God.
Now, this is probably the biggest area, but not to the extent where the other areas should be neglected. Because this area is so crucial, many people tend to over emphasize the spiritual at the cost of leaving the intellectual and physical aside. I want to propose that to flourish as a Christian, all three areas must be maintained. Now the spiritual area of our life will be mostly concerned with spiritual formation. Disciplining ourselves by reading scripture, fasting, praying, and fellowshipping and witnessing to others. Fostering good habits and acting righteous before the Lord and others so as to be a testimony of God’s power in our lives. Fellow blogger and friend Gil Sanders actually wrote an excellent article that touches on the area of spiritual discipline. There are so many books on this topic and I think other more qualified individuals have said what I wanna say better. So, I’ll leave that to them.
So, spiritual formation and spiritual discipline will eventually carry over to the moral realm of our acts of goodness. God imparts into us the theological virtues of hope, love, and faith, and from these we are empowered to nurture the other virtues in our lives. So, it’s through discipline and God’s transforming power that we are made righteous before God and men. God changes us and makes even better. That’s not to say we cannot be good on our own, or atheists cannot be good, or that we’re perfect. Do not misconstrue my point. What I’m saying is that we cannot actualize our full potential on our own, and we need Christ’s power in order to be a full testimony.
Inevitably, the maintenance of the spiritual area will spill over to issues of our relationships, our values, and our well-being (emotions, soul, etc.) Taking care of this area fulfills the mandate of loving God with all our heart and soul.
Now, I want to take this last little area into a totally different spin, and this is as a result of recent changes in my life. But I think it can fit in nicely with everything. Loving God with all our strength can be taken to mean with the entirety of our will or with everything we have. But the direction I want to go in, in addition to the common interpretations of this, is to honor God in keeping our bodies healthy. Yeah, that one was random wasn’t it? I’ll explain why after I give a bit of my personal view on this. Since I’ve started weight training, cardio, and eating healthy (all my vitamins and nutrients, weighed portion sizes, etc.) I’ve been focusing on trying to be healthy so that my body can perform well and so I can lose some extra pounds I’ve gained. I’m not going to lie I also want to feel better about myself and look fit. But being healthy and exercising can have so many spiritual connections (spiritual in the sense that we can view it in light of a Christian view.). Take for instance the following scriptures:
2 Timothy 4:7: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Philippians 3:14: I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
For instance, when I do my cardio right after my 1-1.5 hour workout, I tend to be beat. I’m tired; I’m exhausted. My body begins to ache. There are times where I’m nearing the end of the run and I’m ready to just throw in the towel and go home to my protein shake. But I remind myself of these verses, and they get me through the run. Then afterwards, I reflect on the spiritual ramifications. Our Christian walk is a lot like that cardio after a rough workout. You get beat, you’re exhausted, and there are times you really just want to take a break and stop. But you know that in the end, after all the sweat, and tears, it will be worth it. You know after you get through that run, you feel better. You’re healthier. Likewise, at the end of our race on this earth, it will all be worth it. These may be small points, but they do reflect on profound scriptural truths.
Moreover, eating healthy and exercising takes discipline. Resisting those Oreo’s and chocolates in the cabinet is like resisting sin; it can be difficult (at least for me it is. I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Ok, I have a big sweet tooth). You have to discipline yourself to daily get up and get active. You have to constantly watch your intake and keep yourself in check. So much of the healthy lifestyle can be analogous to the Christian walk, and it can help to keep you reflecting on spiritual things. Now, I haven’t even gotten to the point I want to make about being healthy. So many Christians neglect this part. First, you should exercise and eat right for your health. At least for that sake. The second reason is that a lot of the traits and virtues you nurture in exercising and keeping a healthy lifestyle can be utilized in your spiritual formation. For example you learn patience and you learn how to endure and persevere. These types of virtues are marks that Christians themselves need in their daily walk when battling with trials and/or temptations. With a disciplined mindset and the Holy spirit, a Christian can have success.
Thirdly, the idea of creaturely flourishing and the natural law. When you’re healthy, as opposed to being unhealthy, and obese, you’re not sluggish, you’re mental faculties are spot on, and overall your body is functioning the way it ought to. You’re able to better fulfill the ends of your nature, and hence you’re able to better follow the natural law. All these three points are wedded close together by simply keeping healthy. There are so many pluses to it, and yet, a recent study shows that church people are among the biggest out there.
This is is quite alarming and sad. IF anything, we should be taking care of the bodies God gave us. We belong to God, and we ought to honor our bodies by keeping it in good shape.
As mentioned earlier, I believe that to flourish as a Christian, all three areas must be maintained. But if I had to choose the most important, it would have to be number two. Some may retort, “Well, I guess I don’t need the other two!” This is the kind of attitude that I’m against. Just because number two is the most significant doesn’t mean the other two are not important as well. All three of these issues are connected together, and if each area of life is taken under the headship of Christ (remember that basic premise!), one will be able to flourish as a Christian as one follows the commandment in loving God with all that way have and in all that we do.