Optimal Spiritual Health

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 and I spent a good chunk of our time talking about the health of pastors. I think it is very important for shepherd leaders to be wholly healthy because we cannot give to our flocks what we don’t possess ourselves. 

One of the things that is very interesting to me is the parallels between maintaining our physical health and maintaining our spiritual health. When it comes right down to it, our physical health can be optimized by getting a handle on four key elements: (1) proper diet, (2) regular exercise, (3) appropriate rest and recovery, and (4) regular times of evaluation and adjustment. 

Our spiritual health is optimized with these same four elements. 

As my friend Josh Schram reminded me, “Health is not just a big one-time choice. Health is small daily choices.” Jesus made these daily choices to eat well, exercise regularly, rest when needed, and make the adjustments His Father spoke to His heart. He set us an example for healthy spiritual growth that will keep us in a place to grow our shepherd leadership capacities. 

I have found that we are much more likely to make and stick to a plan to get physically healthy when we have a workout friend or someone who is holding us accountable. The same is true for our spiritual health. So pastor, don’t try to get and stay healthy on your own, but get a trusted friend or two working out alongside you. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership, I have five chapters that focus on a leader’s mental, physical, spiritual, and relational health. I hope you will pick up a copy to help you operate at peak healthiness. 

If you want to catch up on some of the other clips I’ve already shared from this interview, you can find them here, and 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. 

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

Our Daily Diet

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

A couple of weeks ago I shared how Jesus made prayer the literal heart of His Sermon on the Mount. Prayer is what empowers us to live a perfect, God-honoring life. In the introduction of His model prayer, Jesus gives us two don’ts and one do. 

DON’T #1: Don’t be a hypocrite. That word literally means a play-actor. More than anyone else ever will, God sees who we really are. We cannot fool Him so there is no reason to fake it. For proof, check out some of the gut-level-honest prayers David records in the psalms!  

DON’T #2: Don’t babble. The Greek word here is unique: It’s made up of the name of a poet named Battus who was needlessly wordy, and the Greek word for word. In Greek, the word battologeō is an onomatopoeic word (like our English words that sound like what they really are describing: words like whoosh, buzz, or smack). It means rambling with our mouth, but our hearts and heads simply aren’t engaged as well. 

DO: Jesus gives us a DO, which is built right into the two don’ts: Do come to God as your Father (also see Luke 11:9-13). Our perfect Father knows perfectly what we need, and He alone can perfectly meet that need. Jesus uses our need for daily food to show how even earthly fathers provide for their children. So the very first petition in His model prayer for us is, “Give us today our daily bread.” 

“When prayer has become secondary, or incidental, it has lost its power. Those who are conspicuously men of prayer are those who use prayer as they use food, or air, or light, or money.” —M.E. Andross 

My friend’s trainer recently told him, “You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.” I think this is just as true in the realm of prayer: You cannot out-________ a bad prayer diet. You cannot…

  • …out-religion a bad prayer diet, as though your religious exercises can make up for a lack of prayerful food.  
  • …out-talk a bad prayer diet, or “babble,” as Jesus said.  
  • …out-strategize a bad prayer diet, as one successful man attempted to do (see Luke 12:16-20).

Jesus said our heavenly Father is just waiting for us to ask Him for what we need. In Psalm 5, David explained how attentive God is, even understanding our cries, our sighs, and our groans. So David’s conclusion was: “Lord, every morning You hear my voice. Every morning, I tell You what I need, and I wait for Your answer. 

Friends, we need to be first responders in prayer. Make it a habit every morning to let God hear your voice before anyone else does. DON’T make a show out of it or babble some words you don’t really feel, but DO talk with your loving heavenly Father about what you need for this upcoming day. He has already prepared a good, healthy diet for you, so ask Him to give you this day what you need, and then be expectant all day long in the ways your Father will answer you.

If you’re missed any of the other messages in our Be A First Responder series in prayer, you can access the full list by clicking here.

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. 

The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal (book review)

Do you know when is your best time to work on a mentally-challenging project? Or perform an athletic event? Or even take a nap? Our body clocks function predictably, but the issue is knowing what rhythm your particular body is following. In The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal, Susan Perry and Jim Dawson help us discover how to tap into our optimal performances.

The ups-and-downs, alert-and-tired, focus-and-distracted cycles of our body are largely predictable. Our bodies operate fairly consistently on a “clock” that can be learned. Once you know your rhythms, you can adjust your daily activities to operate at your very best. This book gives you amazing insight into the research of chronobiologists, and lots of charts to help you track your body’s clock, and even highly practical tips for how to re-adjust your clock if things have gotten askew. 

You will learn about how to keep things in sync, as well as how to get things back in sync after an illness or traveling to a new timezone. You will discover the best time of day to do certain activities, how to plan your sleep schedule, how to anticipate and regulate your mood changes, your “health thermometer,” and even how your diet can work with your body clock. 

This is a highly practical book! If you want to get back in sync or raise your performance levels, I recommend you check out The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal.

From A Frustrating Life To An Exciting Life

In our P119 Spiritual Workout series, we’ve looked at the similarities between an exercise program for our physical bodies, and spiritual growth for our souls. There are so many parallels for us to look at, but one of them that rings true for everyone is the up-and-down, on-and-off cycles that so many of us experience.

You know how it goes…

  • Your diet is going great and you are dropping some pounds (yea!), and then you go on vacation and all of your gains are lost (boo!).
  • You are doing really well at sticking with your new exercise routine (yea!), and then a head cold and some rainy weather knock you off your plan and it’s really hard to start back up again (boo!).
  • You are reading your Bible, and praying, and feeling so close to God (yea!), and then relationship issues, trouble at work, and a leaky hot water tank send you reeling (boo!).

We all hope our spiritual growth (or diet or exercise routine) would take us to new heights, but this up-and-down again cycle makes it feel like we aren’t getting anywhere:

In Psalm 119:49-56 the psalmist experienced this exact same up-and-down cycle:

  • He’s tight with God (v. 49)
  • Then he experiences suffering (v. 50a)
  • Only to recall God’s promises (v. 50b)
  • And then he’s getting mocked for this faith (v. 51)
  • But he’s quick to remember God and find comfort in Him (v. 52)
  • Only to get his eyes off of God and onto the godless, which causes him trouble (v. 53)
  • But he remembers God’s ways again and is comforted by singing songs about God (vv. 54-55)

Sound familiar? Up-and-down. Close-to-God-and-far-away. On-and-off. Yea!-and-Boo!


The key is found in the final verse—This has been my practice: I obey Your precepts (v. 56, NIV). Look how some other translations render this verse:

  • This I had, because I kept Thy precepts (KJV).
  • This is how I spend my life: obeying Your commandments (NLT).
  • This I have had [as the gift of Your grace and as my reward]: that I have kept Your precepts… (AMP).

When we put this all together we get the solution that helps us break free from the up-and-down again cycle—

It’s ONLY by focusing on God’s GRACE everyday!

When we focus on God and His gift of grace to us, we minimize the ups-and-downs. How? Because the focus is not on what I’m doing or what others aren’t doing, but on God, His faithfulness, and His grace to us.

When God’s grace becomes our focus, we can break free from the up-and-down cycle—

If you have missed any of the messages in our P119 series, you can access them all by clicking here.

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. ◀︎◀︎

Diet + Exercise = Healthy Growth

The right diet will start you on the road to excellent health, but to keep growing in a healthy way you will need to incorporate some regular exercise too. This is true physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

If I just eat the right foods but don’t exercise, my physical metabolism will not be stoked to the proper levels. To put it another way, a good diet may lower my LDL (bad) cholesterol, but it takes exercise to raise my HDL (good) cholesterol. I need both to be healthy.

So, too, for my heart and mind. If I hear good preaching and think good thoughts (diet), but never put those words or thoughts into action (exercise), I’m not going to grow in a well-balanced, healthy way.

Here’s a couple of things I have learned for body, spirit, and mind exercise.

Set challenging but realistic goals

  • I don’t run without a goal. (1 Corinthians 9:26 CEV)
  • “You must have long-range goals to keep from being frustrated by short-term failures.” —Charles N. Noble

Exercise a little bit when you can

  • There’s no need to jump into lengthy workouts.
  • Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. (1 Timothy 4:7, The Message)
  • “Let him then think of God the most he can; let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise; nobody perceives it, and nothing is easier than to repeat often in the day these little internal adorations.” —Brother Lawrence, in The Practice Of The Presence Of God

Make exercise a fun habit

  • Remember that you may not feel like exercising, but you will feel better after you exercise.
  • “Life goals are reached by setting annual goals. And annual goals are reached by reaching daily goals. And daily goals are reached by doing things which may be uncomfortable at first but eventually become habits. And habits are powerful things. Habits turn actions into attitudes, and attitudes into lifestyles.” —Charlene Armitage

For a healthy body, a healthy heart, and a healthy thought life, watch the diet you consume and then exercise for maximum benefit. Feel free to share any exercise tips you have learned.

Heart Food

I was running from meeting to meeting, and when I got done I was hungry. So a quick stop into a gas station for a Diet Pepsi and… well, my first impulse was to grab candy or chips. It took no small amount of willpower to make myself grab a healthier alternative.

One of the top rules for healthy dieting: don’t let yourself get too hungry.

Seriously, I know it sounds backward but it works. If you eat three smaller meals with three healthy snacks in between meals you will lose weight. Why? Because keeping the good stuff in you makes the bad stuff less tempting. Try it and let me know how it works for you, but it’s been working well for me.

But what about “heart food” or “thought food”? The Bible says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23, New Living Translation).

If you don’t keep the good stuff in your heart and thoughts, the bad stuff becomes more tempting. And just like the junk food aisle in the convenience store is front-and-center, so are the “junk food headlines.” Swine flu … economic woes … earthquakes … war … these junk food headlines dominate and it’s so easy to snack on them unless you have some healthy stuff in your heart and thoughts.

Health experts say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What about some healthy heart/thought food each morning? How about some healthy conversation time with God: “In the morning, O LORD, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3).

Then you could make sure you have a healthy heart/thought diet throughout the day: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

And then how about a healthy bedtime snack: “I set Your instructions to music and sing them as I walk this pilgrim way. I meditate on Your name all night, God, treasuring your revelation, O God” (Psalm 119:54-55, The Message).

How’s your heart/thought diet doing? Are there any changes you need to make? Best of all, how about sharing with us some heart/thought diet tips that have worked for you.

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