Practical Health Questions

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the 200churches podcast with Jeff Keady. 

Jeff wanted to know if I had a favorite chapter in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. That’s an easy question to answer because it is the chapter I didn’t write—the Preface of the book was written by Dick Brogden and sums up my book better than I could have on my own. 

But there is a chunk of five chapters in Shepherd Leadership that I keep going back to quite frequently. This section is also one that has resonated with other leaders who coach and counsel pastors. 

Dr. Luke summarized the wholly healthy development of Jesus in just one verse: And Jesus grew in wisdom, in stature, in favor with God, and in favor with men (Luke 2:52). I think this gives us the perfect pyramid for our healthy growth—

  • It starts with our mental health (wisdom) 
  • Which helps us make good decisions for our physical health (stature)
  • Which creates an ideal environment for our spiritual health to flourish (favor with God)
  • Which is ultimately realized in our relational health (favor with men) 

This is why, when I am coaching other pastors that are struggling with relationships with their board or parishioners, I start with…

Oftentimes the answers to these questions reveal a deficit in mental, physical, or spiritual health that is preventing a breakthrough in strong, healthy relationships. As soon as health is being restored at the lower levels of this pyramid, positive changes in spiritual and relational health begin to blossom as well. 

Pastor, please pick up a copy of my book to help you get into the healthiest place you can be. You cannot give health to the flock under your care if you are not at optimal health yourself. 

If you want to catch up on some of the other clips I’ve already shared from this interview, you can find them here. I’ll be sharing more clips from this 200churches interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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A Healthy On-And-Off

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis and Dace Clifton. 

The guys asked me a question about how I keep myself healthy, and I pointed them to a principle I observed in the life of Jesus. Check out this excerpt from the chapter “A Healthy Leader’s Sabbath” in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter

     Jesus had a human body just like ours. The demands of ministry caused stress on His body just as it does on our bodies. This is totally natural—this is the way God designed us. Our body helps us meet the demands of each day by releasing a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol helps us by managing how our body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins; keeping inflammation down; regulating blood pressure; controlling the sleep-wake cycle; and boosting our energy. … 

     Cortisol is naturally flushed from our bodies by a healthy on-and-off rhythm. God built this into His Creation by giving us daily rhythms of day and night, work and rest, and by providing a weekly Sabbath to rest and reflect. But as most shepherd leaders know, setting aside a consistent Sabbath day is extremely rare. Again, let’s look to Jesus: Do you see Him doing anything—or not doing anything—on the Sabbath day that He didn’t do the other days? On any day of the week, we see Him speaking in a synagogue, healing the sick, teaching crowds of people, giving instructions to His followers, correcting religious leaders, walking with friends, or stopping to eat at someone’s home.  

     Jesus had a healthy on-off rhythm: work-rest, minister-celebrate, expend-refresh. Jesus demonstrated that the Sabbath is not so much a day as it is an attitude of the heart. It’s listening to the Holy Spirit say something like, “You’ve been very busy this afternoon, so it’s time to take a nap” and then obeying that divine prompting. Resting and being refreshed—“sabbathing”—is not a luxury; it’s a necessity! That’s why, after a busy day of ministry, we see Jesus spending time in prayer, or taking a nap while crossing the lake when He didn’t have anyone to teach or heal, or finding time for a retreat with His disciples so they could rest and recuperate. 

I have five chapters in Shepherd Leadership about a leader’s overall health, and two chapters in particular where I talk about practical ways that we can create the time to practice sabbathing.

I’ll be sharing more clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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Sleep Stats

Sleep is so important for maintaining good physical and emotional health. In the book The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal, the authors share some interesting information on sleep. 

“The clearest ninety-minute rhythm is the ‘sleepability’ cycle. About every ninety minutes, you enter a short period during which you are vulnerable to fatigue and sleepiness. …

“These rhythmic periods of sleepability are shorter during the morning hours than in the afternoon. That’s why it’s usually more difficult to take a nap in the morning than later in the day. Some of the time, you can fight off this fatigue—particularly if what you are doing is interesting or different. However, most of the time you would do best to give in to the rhythm and take a short break from your work—especially around the lunch hour, when you are already battling the early afternoon let down.” 

“Scientists have found that when we are bored, under stress, or short of sleep, our ninety-minute cycles tend to shorten to roughly sixty minutes. That may explain why we eat and smoke more under stressful or boring circumstances.” 

What deep sleep does for you:

  • Restores body and brain
  • Stimulates growth
  • Maintains mental health

What dream sleep does for you:

  • Consolidates and sorts memory
  • Enables learning
  • Ensures our physical safety

Things that can disrupt your sleep rhythms:

  • Dieting (loss of weight can cause more frequent awakenings during the night)
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Low-sodium diet (elderly people only)
  • Cigarettes
  • Sleeping pills
  • Exercising vigorously if you’re not accustomed to it
  • A sleeping partner who snores or thrashers about in the night
  • Pets moving about in your bedroom
  • Sporadic, unpredictable noises
  • A room that is too warm (more than 75° F) or too cool (less than 60° F)
  • Hunger
  • Stress

Things that can enhance your sleep rhythms:

  • Regular aerobic exercising (at least twenty continuous minutes) particularly in the late afternoon
  • Sex right before bedtime
  • Following a bedtime ritual
  • Relaxation exercises right before bed
  • A bedtime snack high in carbohydrates
  • A dark and quiet bedroom
  • A “white noise” 

“Many scientists now believe that we were meant to sleep twice a day, once during the afternoon and again at night. … In one study, college students who regularly napped showed improved scores on skill and memory tests taken just after a nap.” 

“Scientists have also discovered that short naps (twenty minutes or less) are just as revitalizing as long ones—and less disruptive to regular sleep rhythms. In addition, regular nappers wake up more refreshed than those who take only an occasional nap. When naps are part of the regular daily rhythm, they are less disruptive.” 

You can check out my full book review of The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal by clicking here. Some other quotes and statistics I shared from this book can be found here. 

Another great book is Sleep: It Does A Family Good. That book review is here. 

7 Tips For A Better Night’s Sleep

Psalm 4.8It’s no secret that being tired can lead to a lot of not-so-nice consequences. Everything from automobile crashes, to poor work performance, to foot-in-mouth statements, to giving in to temptations, to health issues are all traced back to not getting enough peaceful sleep.

But did you know that sweet sleep is something God wants to give you?

Psalm 127 says, “God grants sleep to those He loves.” Guess what? God loves you, and wants you to have a peaceful night’s sleep!

Here are some benefits to getting solid sack time:

  1. Muscles are repaired—the body “turns off” muscles during sleep so they can repair themselves.
  2. The hormone leptin, that regulates your appetite, is adjusted.
  3. Your blood pressure is lowered.
  4. Your heart rate is lowered.
  5. The energy-producing cells we all need are restocked.
  6. Your immune system is re-energized.
  7. Memories are consolidated from short-term memory banks to long-term memories.
  8. The hormones that allow you to concentrate are replenished.
  9. Your “database” of decision-making options is re-calibrated.
  10. Bottom line—you get healthier physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

All of this God wants to give to those He loves. “God loves me, so I’m going to sleep peacefully tonight!”

The problem is we often sabotage God’s blessing of sweet sleep by our own poor decisions during the day. So here are seven things you can do to cooperate with God’s blessing of sleep:

  1. Reduce stress. Stress causes your body to release cortisol, which prepares your body for fight-or-flight. This means when you’re trying to quiet down for the night, your body is still screaming, “Go, go go!” Stress is mainly triggered by worrying over things outside of our control, so check out what Jesus said to us about not worrying—Matthew 6:25-34.
  2. Reduce late-day caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so if you are pouring it into your body late in the date, you might fall into bed exhausted but the caffeine is keeping your brain buzzing. As a result, you don’t have the normal deep sleep patterns.
  3. Eliminate emotional caffeine. Arguments with other people release cortisol and adrenaline in your bloodstream. If these disagreements are happening later in the day, your body is fighting against God’s plan for your tranquil sleep. So take care of any disagreements quickly (Ephesians 4:26).
  4. Exercise. Getting some movement into your daily routine flushes cortisol and adrenaline from your bloodstream.
  5. Go to bed and get up at the same time. There’s a reason God made the sun to rise and set at predictable times. Your body also functions best on a predictable schedule.
  6. Reduce “blue lights” close to bed time. The blue light waves of dawn tell our bodies to stop releasing melatonin, the sleepy hormone. The red light waves of dusk tell our bodies to increase melatonin so we can go to sleep. But when we’re staring into the blue light of our phones and tablets, our body is being sent a conflicting signal.
  7. Pray. Two great passages you can pray before bedtime are Psalm 4:8 and Proverbs 3:24. Claim those promises of sweet sleep!

God loves you. He wants to give you the blessing of peaceful sleep. If you’re going to sleep peacefully tonight, make sure you are not sabotaging what God wants to give you.

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the complete list by clicking here

Sleep: It Does A Family Good (book review)

I was reading Dr. Archibald Hart’s book Sleep: It Does A Family Good a few nights ago in the evening, and my oldest son looked over at me and snickered. “What?” I asked.

He said, “I just think it’s kinda funny that you are reading a book about sleep just before you go to sleep!” I smiled at his sense of humor and kept on reading Dr. Hart’s fascinating book. And the more I read, the more I discovered that reading just prior to bedtime was the perfect time to read, as Dr. Hart explains that what I put into my mind just before going to sleep gets sorted and stored in my brain’s long-term memory as I sleep.

That is IF I get enough sleep. Sadly, that’s the problem with most Americans: we are chronically tired. Not getting the proper amount of sleep adversely impacts our memory storage and recall, our work/school performance, our decision-making abilities, our coping skills, not to mention our physical health. Some students have even been misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADHD when in reality they are severely sleep-deprived.

Dr. Hart diagnoses the power of sleep in three sections:

  • Why sleep is so important
  • What’s keeping us from getting enough sleep
  • How we can reap the advantages of better sleep

This is a very straightforward read, with just enough evidence to convict me that I need to work on my sleeping habits, but not so technical that the information became overwhelming. Dr. Hart has an easy-to-read style that anyone can grasp, and he includes several charts and assessments to help you personally gauge where you and your family are on the sleep spectrum. Then he offers very practical steps on how to begin to make better investments in your family’s sleep bank.

Years ago a friend said to me, “Sometimes the most spiritually healthy thing I can do is go to bed early.” It took me a while to grasp what my friend was saying, but it all became so clear when I read Dr. Hart’s book. Sleep, as it turns out, really does do a family good! I’m looking forward to seeing how things in my family improve as we all get more sleep.

I am a book reviewer for Tyndale House Publishers.

An Extra Hour Of Sleep

I’m a morning person. I absolutely love getting up early and spending some quiet time alone with my Bible. This is the time of day I most absorb all that God is saying to me. It’s my most creative time too. In fact, I so love getting up early that most mornings I’m awake before my alarm clock goes off.

But not this morning.

Today my alarm clock began playing Way-FM and I felt like I was in a fog. It took me a minute or so to even open my eyes and sit up.

I was about to press ahead with my morning, when I thought, “I should sleep some more.”

You see, I’ve learned a few things about myself. When I’m tired…

  • I have a shorter attention span.
  • I’m not as creative.
  • I’m not as patient.
  • I am more prone to give in to temptation.
  • I make decisions that are too short-sighted.
  • I’m more susceptible to colds and flu.

So I re-set the alarm and slept another hour.

Sometimes a little extra sleep is one of the most important things you can do to improve your physical health, your emotional stamina, and your spiritual maturity.

UPDATE: In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I have five chapters about a leader’s health—mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health is vital to a leader’s effectiveness and longevity.

A Healthy Breakfast

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Health experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your body has been without food (or fasting) during the hours you are asleep, so in the morning you are breaking your fast = break-fast.

Do you want to lose weight? Eat breakfast. Studies show that those who do best on their diets eat breakfast every morning.

Do you want to fire up your metabolism to burn more calories during the day? Eat breakfast. The way you stoke your body’s engine in the morning determines how it will run all day.

Do you want to maintain a stable blood sugar level so you don’t get sleepy mid-morning? Eat breakfast. A good breakfast regulates your insulin and blood sugar levels.

Do you want to learn more? Eat breakfast. Studies show those who eat breakfast regularly have longer attention spans and greater learning capacities.

What you put in your body in the morning determines the course of the rest of your day.

What you put in your mind in the morning determines the course of the rest of your day, too.

Even if you’re not a “morning person” your mind is highly receptive in the hours right after you wake up. So a healthy mental breakfast goes a long way toward how you will deal with the situations that face you throughout your day.

Just a few things to consider—

  • What’s on your wake-up playlist in the morning? Not-so-cheery headline news? Coarse radio hosts with crude humor? Music with lyrics that are not very uplifting? A harsh buzzer? Perhaps you could rethink your morning mental breakfast with something more positive and affirming.
  • How do you speak to yourself when you wake up? “Ugh, I just gotta get through today”? “I need a vacation”? “Grrr, I hate my job”? Try thinking instead of all of the blessings you have: a roof over your head, a bed of your own, clothes to wear, a family to love, and a family that loves you.
  • How do you speak to others when you wake up? “Leave me alone”? “<Grrrr!>”? Maybe you could serve others the good mental breakfast they need with some kind, encouraging words.
  • What fuel do you put in your mind? Talking heads on the morning TV shows? Your horoscope? Perhaps switching to something more substantial would help fuel your mind for the challenges you are going to face today.

The psalmist David had a God-diet each morning, “Let me hear of Your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting You. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to You” (Psalm 143:8, The Living Bible).

Jesus had a healthy mental breakfast, too: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35).

So let me ask you: What’s your morning mental breakfast like? do you need to make a diet change? I think a few tweaks and you will begin to see some remarkable changes for the better! Try it out and let me know.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Check Your Inputs

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Jesus was the healthiest Person to ever walk planet Earth. When Luke, a physician, tells us about the growth of Jesus, he says first that “Jesus grew in wisdom.” (Luke 2:52). That is our indication that a healthy mind is at the foundation for every other aspect of health. 

But mental health doesn’t stay in your mind—it affects every other part of your life. Likewise, all of the other parts of your life can enhance or drain your mental health. We are created as interconnected beings. For instance, it’s hard to think correctly when you’re physically tired, spiritually drained, or involved in an unhealthy relationship. It’s also true that it’s hard to make good decisions about your physical health, stay focused on God, or handle your relationships successfully if you aren’t thinking correctly. 

We see the apostles writing about our wholly healthiness

Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well. (3 John 2) 

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NLT) 

When my laptop is disconnected from the monitors I use at our church building, the message on the screen tells me to “check your inputs.” That’s not just for inanimate technology, but for us too: To maintain good overall health, we need to check our physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional inputs. 

Let’s start with the physical inputs. When we are active during the day our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol. Stress is not a bad thing—it’s a normal thing. A body that isn’t stressed will atrophy and become susceptible to disease. Balanced, healthy stress is called eustress, and unbalanced, unhealthy stress is called distress. 

Cortisol is naturally flushed from the body in two ways: exercise and sleep. Exercise is important to keep our bodies moving effectively, and sleep helps us recover and helps our brains catalogue our memories (see 1 Timothy 4:8; Psalm 3:5). To fuel our exercise and our sleep requires the energy which we get from a healthy diet. 

So if you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your physical inputs: Am I getting the proper amount of sleep? Am I exercising regularly? Am I eating properly? Do I see a doctor for a checkup? 

How about spiritual inputs? Somewhat surprisingly, our spirits are kept healthy very much along the same lines as our physical bodies—proper food, appropriate exercise, and a time of rest. Our spiritual food is God’s Word, our exercise is working out what we’ve studied in the Bible, and our rest is called sabbathing (Jeremiah 15:16; Matthew 7:24-27; James 2:17). Jesus demonstrated all of these in His life and we, too, should follow His example. 

If you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your spiritual inputs: Am I reading the Bible regularly? Am I putting what I learn into practice? Am I sabbathing properly?  

Then there our emotional inputs, or the relationships that build us and relationships that drain us. You are always going to encounter people in need, and ministering to those needs is draining (Luke 8:45-46). We also need to be alert to those antagonistic people who purposely drain us (2 Timothy 4:14-15). We can make decisions to place people in our lives who build us up and be cautious of those who drain us (Proverbs 27:3, 5-6, 9, 17). 

Once again, if you’re not thinking healthy thoughts, check your emotional inputs: Do I have healthy people investing in my life? Am I sharpening the iron of others? 

Finally, let’s not forget the mental inputs. Computer programmers are well aware of the acronym GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. If you don’t like the results that are coming out, check what is going in. The apostle Paul gives us an outstanding checklist in Philippians 4:8. 

If your mental health isn’t as healthy as you would like it to be, perhaps you need to talk to your doctor about your physical health, or a mature spiritual friend about your spiritual health, or a Christian counselor about your emotional health. As you consult with these wise people, continue to pray for God’s help. As your Creator, He knows you better than anyone else could and He can give you the wisdom you need as you check your inputs. 

This is part 5 in our series on a Christian’s mental health. If you’ve missed any of the other messages I’ve shared, you can find them all by clicking here. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Links & Quotes

When someone wants to “grow” an organization, what exactly does that look like? Is growth only numeric or is it something that’s perhaps a bit more difficult to count? The leader needs to have this clear in their mind, and they need to regularly communicate this metric to their team. I unpack this in greater detail in my book Shepherd LeadershipCheck out more of this message hereAnd be sure to check out all of my videos on my YouTube channel.

It appears that creativity is largely fueled by two things: proper sleep and finding your “sweet spot” each day. If you are an early bird, protect that creative time. If you are a night owl, don’t try to become an early bird to emulate someone else, but lean into your productive time. Check out this full post.

I love reading, but even I have trouble finding time to sit down with my books. But this insight from John Piper totally rejuvenated my thinking about reading. “Suppose that you can read about 250 words a minute. Now, that’s not real fast; most of us can do that—250 words a minute. And suppose that you set aside fifteen minutes a day to read a great book—a classic or some book that you’d been longing to read that would help you grow in your wisdom, your understanding. Now, fifteen minutes a day for 365 days is 5,475 minutes a year. Now, you multiply 5,475 times 250, and you get 1,368,750 words that you could read in a year at fifteen minutes a day. Now, an average book has about 300 to 400 words on a page. So we’ll take 350, which is kind of in the middle, and divide that into 1,368,750. And you know what you get? You get 3,910—almost 4,000 pages a year. An average book has about 200 pages. You see the implication of that? You could read twenty books by this time next year by setting aside fifteen minutes a day.”

An ancient Hebrew inscription consisting of 48 letters was discovered on Mt. Ebal in Israel and is centuries older than any known Hebrew inscription from ancient Israel. This is yet another archeological discovery that speaks to the historicity of the Bible.

T.M. Moore wrote one of the endorsements of my book Shepherd Leadership. His thoughts here about the role of godly shepherds is right on the mark: “The work of shepherds consists of helping the people of God to connect with Him—to know, love, fear, and serve Him in every area of their lives. This work cannot be fulfilled by one who is merely a good speaker, an effective organizer, or an inspiring motivator. This work must be done by one who truly knows the Lord. For unless we know the Lord, the Lord will not know us, and He will not honor our labors.”

You are one-of-a-kind! There has never, ever been anyone like you, and there never will be. God made you on purpose and for a purpose. And God wants to reveal the purpose He has for your life. You be you—that is how God is most glorified through you.

Medical Science And The Bible

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I just love it when science catches up with what God has already pronounced in the Bible!

I’ve blogged previously about psychology, archeology, and astronomy uncovering truths that have already been stated in the Bible, but there are also numerous recent medical discoveries that confirm what Scripture has already been telling us. 

Like the fact that there is a healthy way to relieve stress, and that retaining the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies for too long has serious implications. The apostle Paul tells us to not “be anxious about anything” but to enjoy “the peace of God which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:4-7). 

Or that getting the right amount of sleep is so beneficial to long-term health. The Bible tells us that God “grants sleep to those He loves” and we can have the assurance that “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (Psalm 127:2; Proverbs 3:24).

And then there is this finding that my YouVersion friend Shelly pointed out. “A happy heart is good medicine and a cheerful mind works healing, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 AMP). 

In a WebMD article, medical science confirms this truth of dried-up bones resulting from depression. They wrote, “Even mild depression may significantly increase a woman’s risk for developing osteoporosis. … The level of bone density loss attributed to depression in the study was similar to that previously associated with other well-known osteoporosis risk factors, including smoking cigarettes and getting little or no exercise. … Bone mineral density testing revealed that 17% of the depressed women showed evidence of bone thinning at a particularly vulnerable area of the thigh bone, compared to 2% of women who were not depressed.” 

The Bible is God’s inspired Word to humankind, which means it is never out of date. The principles God has shared with us stand the test of time and are continually verified by the brightest scientific minds. 

So here is my challenge to you: Take God at His Word, and apply the principles He has given you. I think you will find how much better your life will go when you live God’s way.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

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