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The Bible is God’s inspired Word to humankind, which means it is never out of date.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.

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Recovering Mentally

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. 

Kyle asked me a question about how I recharge myself mentally. A key verse in the Bible for me is 2 Corinthians 10:5 where the the apostle Paul counsels us to capture our thoughts. This is extremely hard to do when we are physically or mentally drained. 

In my younger years, I used to try to “do nothing” as my recovery time. As I matured, I realized that top athletes had a different way to help their body recover, and I began to adapt those practices to my time of mental recovery. Dace also shares a very helpful tip for his mental recovery time. 

In my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter I make the case that in order for the sheep to be healthy, the shepherd has to get healthy first. The principle is simple: You cannot give to others what you do not possess yourself. I hope you will pick up a copy of my book to learn how Jesus taught us to be wholly healthy leaders.

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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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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Heart Rate Recovery

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

A few years ago Mark Schultz wrote a song about someone living a go-go-go, overly-busy life and he entitled the song “Running just to catch myself.” Ever been there? 

There’s a Hebrew word that shows up 70 times in the Bible (mostly in the Psalms) that, sadly, many English translations of the Bible have relegated to a footnote. That’s too bad because Selah is such a powerful word. Unless we want to live our lives “running just to catch myself,” we all need a take time to Selah. Look how some have translated this word:

  • “Stop there and consider a little” (Matthew Henry) 
  • “the sacred pause” (Charles Spurgeon) 
  • “pause and calmly think of that” (AMP) 

Whether it’s a planned exercise time or just something that frightens or excites us, our heart rate is designed by God to increase—this is how we prepare for fight-or-flight. Doctors say that one of the most vital statistics they now look at to gauge overall cardio health is heart rate recovery (HRR). Doctors want to see a significant increase in HRR after exercise, fright, or excitement. 

A few of the factors that boost HRR:

  • Regular, planned exercise 
  • Getting the proper amount of quality sleep 
  • Reducing stress 

Respond-and-recover is part of a health-building cycle. But if we’re “running just to catch myself” all the time, this time of recovery isn’t happening. Not only are we not recovering well, but we are not properly prepared for the next time our heart needs to start beating faster.   

This HRR is just as vital for us emotionally and spiritually as it is physically: We cannot always be stressed or always be “on.” We need a Selah—a time to stop and consider, a time to take a sacred pause to calmly think. 

This is what David teaches us in Psalm 68. Check out the “bookend verses” where he reminds us that when God arises His enemies are scattered, and that God is awesome and He gives power and strength to His people (vv. 1, 35). And look a the middle verse where David says that when God ascends in victory He gives gifts (v. 18). 

This tells me two things: (1) God is sovereignly in charge (not me or anyone else), and (2) In His love, God delights to use His sovereign power to bless His children. 

The question is not IF I’m going to be confronted by difficult things or difficult people, but HOW will I recover from these confrontations? 

May I suggest a 3-step process to increase your spiritual HRR? 

  1. Acknowledge your situation—don’t try to cover it up or justify it 
  2. Selah—pause to take a deep breath  
  3. During that breath, redirect your thoughts from the difficulty to your awesome God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)

Look at David’s example in this psalm:

Reflect Worship
God defeats enemies (vv. 1-2) Be glad, rejoice, sing (vv. 3-4)
God is a Father and Deliverer (vv. 5-7) Selah (v. 7)
God is sovereignly in control (vv. 8-18) Praise and Selah (v. 19)
God defeated Death (vv. 20-23) Join the procession of worshippers (vv. 24-27) 
God uses His strength to care for His people (vv. 28-31) Sing praises and Selah (vv. 32-35)

As you breathe deeply in this worship of recovery, think on this: “Your sigh can move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our Selah pause leads to proper perspective, which allows us to recover more quickly. That, in turn, helps us to be better prepared for the next time we’re confronted by difficulties. 

To check out the other lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing series called Selah, please check out the list I’ve compiled here.

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Interrupt Your Anxious Thoughts

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

David taught us how to pray after we’ve been stabbed in the back. Aren’t you glad that you can pray this prayer just once and everything is all better?! 

Oh, wait. It doesn’t really work that way, does it? At least it hasn’t for me. After I’ve been hurt, it takes quite a while to get to a place of healing. We have cliches for this sort of thing—phrases like “Once bitten, twice shy” and “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” 

We begin to react to the past instead of reflecting and responding in the present.  

It’s interesting that those who compiled the Psalter placed Psalm 55 where they did. There is no introduction that gives us a background or setting, but David still seems to be looking for those “Ziphites” that betrayed him to King Saul. 

Here’s an important physiological and psychological truth: Our brains cannot tell the difference between a real threat and an imagined threat. Our physical bodies react the same way in response to any threat. 

It’s interesting to note that both Selahs in Psalm 55 are in the middle of a sentence, almost as if David is interrupting his own thoughts. Which, I believe, is exactly what he’s doing. 

As this psalm opens David is still praying, but he’s praying about his internal threats: 

  • my thoughts trouble me 
  • I am distraught 
  • I notice the conversations and the stares of potential enemies  
  • my heart is in anguish 
  • I feel like terrors of death, fear and trembling, and horror are closing in on me! 

This leads to David’s fight/flight response (although really, it’s his flight response): “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—I would flee far away and stay in the desert.

David has been listening to himself, and he finally at least attempts to put a halt to these distressing thoughts with his first Selah—which means “pause, and calmly think of that.” 

Most of our natural reactions are driven by fear. But fear—by its very nature—is limiting. Fear keeps us tunnel-visioned on the perceived threat. Fear closes us off to accepting any new information. Fear limits our creative responses. Fear perpetuates more fear. 

So David tries a second time to Selah. He is attempting to interrupt his negative thoughts—to stop listening to himself and start talking to himself. To move from a self-preserving reaction to a God-glorifying response requires a Selah pause to reflect. Reflecting on things like:

  • Where will these thoughts ultimately take me? 
  • How has God responded before? 
  • What does God’s Word say? 
  • Could I imagine Jesus responding the way I’m responding? 
  • What changes can I make? 

I love David’s conclusion: “But as for me, I TRUST IN YOU.” He’s saying, “I’m not going to listen to those negative fears anymore. It’s time to put my trust in God.”  

David had to do this “evening, morning, and noon”—again and again and again! Until finally he could say, “I will cast all my cares on the Lord and He will sustain me; He will never let me fall” (Psalm 55:22). 

This is what Jesus promises us, “Come to Me, all of you who are tired and have heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can access them all 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. 

20 Facts & Tips About Your Body Clock

I really enjoyed reading The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal (you can read my full book review by clicking here). From this book, I’ve begun implementing a few of the tips I discovered. Here are a few of the facts and tips that I found interesting. 

  1. “Most of us reach our peak of alertness around noon. … We are least alert during the early morning hours—specifically, between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.” 
  2. “Your immediate, or short-term, memory is best during the morning hours. … Your long-term memory is a different matter, however. Afternoon is the best time for learning material that you want to recall days, weeks, or even months later. … How well you remember things depends on when you learn them, not when you recall them.” 
  3. “On average, we tend to do best on cognitive tests—things that require the greatest mental effort—during the morning hours, particularly the late morning hours.” 
  4. “All of your senses—taste, sight, hearing, touch, and smell—are their keenest during the twilight hours of late afternoon and early evening.” 
  5. Tips for keeping your daily rhythms on beat: (1) get out in the sun for at least fifteen minutes each day, and (2) try to follow a regular daily routine.
  6. “Fortunately, there is another way to avoid the Monday morning blahs. Stay up as late as you like, but make sure you get up at your regular wake up time. In other words, don’t sleep in. And don’t take naps during the day. Then, when night rolls around again, you’ll find yourself able to fall asleep at or before your regular bedtime, and you’ll avoid pushing your cycle ahead.” 
  7. “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.” 
  8. “Generally, our moods peek around four hours after we awaken.” 
  9. “A regular exercise program can go along way toward easing the physical effects of stress. … The exercise program must be regular, however; sporadic physical activity, such as an occasional game of tennis or softball, or an activity that is not appropriate to your physical condition, can be a harmful stressor.” 
  10. “Melatonin’s daily rhythm is similar to that of legendary vampires: it appears at the onset of darkness and begins to disappear at the break of dawn. In other words, darkness triggers the chemical’s release; sunlight suppresses it. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that melatonin reaches its seasonal peak in the body during the dark winter months.” 
  11. “Beards tend to grow the most on Sunday and the least on Wednesday.” 
  12. “If you wake up in the morning with a temperature of 99° F, you are very likely coming down with a cold, the flu, or some other kind of illness. But if you have that same reading around dinner time, you may be in perfect health. The reason, of course, is that your temperature rises during the day. A high reading early in the day is a greater indication of illness than the same reading late in the day.” 
  13. “Take a commonplace drug like aspirin, for example. When swallowed at 7:00 a.m., aspirin stays in the body for up to twenty-two hours. When the same dose is taken at 7:00 p.m., it is completely out of the body within seventeen hours.” 
  14. “When you know your rhythms are out of sync, be aware that you are particularly vulnerable to illness. It is the time to be extra careful about keeping your distance from people with the flu or other viruses.” 
  15. “The best thing you can do for a tension headache is to learn how to relax. As soon as the headache begins, lie down, if possible, so you can take the strain off your neck, since this is the location of most of the muscles that tense up and cause a tension headache. Close your eyes and breathe deeply to return oxygen to your strained muscles. Better yet, ask a sympathetic friend or loved one to gently massage your neck and shoulders.”
  16. “Eat your biggest meal at breakfast, your next biggest at lunch, and your smallest at dinner.” 
  17. “About every ninety minutes, most people experience an urge to put something into their mouths. … Generally, it will pass in about fifteen minutes.” 
  18. “According to recent studies conducted at Northwestern University, both morning and night people perform simple mental tasks better during the morning hours after consuming the caffeine equivalent of one to three cups of coffee. But when the tasks become more complex, only night people do better under the influence of caffeine. For morning people, the higher dose of caffeine, the more mistakes they make.” 
  19. “Carbohydrates help calm and focus your mind.” 
  20. “Protein foods increase your alertness and help you feel more energetic. … Protein can be eaten either alone or with a carbohydrate food to energize the mind. For carbohydrates to have their calming effect, they must be eaten alone.” 

Susan Perry and Jim Dawson also shared what they uncovered about the importance of sleep. Click here to read about their research 

Alien Anxiety

“A recent survey of primary care physicians in the United States revealed that at least one-third of office visits were prompted by some form of anxiety.” —Lanny Hunter & Victor Hunter 

The Greek word for anxiety means to be pulled in different directions. In the context of “Aliens and Strangers,” it means being pulled between Earth’s way and Heaven’s way. Other biblical definitions for anxiety that the Amplified Bible brings out include—

  • being perpetually uneasy…about your life (Matthew 6:25) 
  • a troubled mind unsettled, excited, worried, and in suspense (Luke 12:29) 
  • drawn in diverging directions, his interests are divided and he is distracted from his devotion to God (1 Corinthians 7:34) 

Unchecked anxiety can negatively impact our physical, emotional, mental, and even spiritual health, so it’s imperative—if we are going to live differently than Earthlings—that Christians handle their anxiety in an alien way. 

Peter gives us an alien response to our feelings of worry and anxiety—

Cast all your anxiety on [Jesus] because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)

Notice that Peter doesn’t say, “Don’t be anxious,” but he does say, “Here’s what to do with your anxiety.” Being anxious is not a sin, but hanging on to your anxiety may cause you to behave in a sinful way. 

So what do we do with our anxiety? In a word cast it off—throw it somewhere else! The verse tense here means it’s something we must keep on doing, so Peter is really saying keep on casting your anxiety on Jesus. 

Why can we keep on casting our anxieties on Jesus? Because He cares for you. Jesus has taken charge of your care; He’s made it His goal that you aren’t missing out on the abundant life He paid for! This verb is in what’s called the indicative mood. That means it is something that has happened in the past, and it is happening now, and it will continue to happen forever and ever! 

Even if you cast an anxiety on Jesus 30 seconds earlier, you can do it again right now because that’s how much He cares for you! 

At the risk of oversimplifying it, here is the prescription for anxiety in four steps: 

  1. Recognize that you are anxious—admit it to yourself and to God. 
  2. Remind yourself that Jesus cares for you. 
  3. Reject your anxieties by counteracting your worry with God’s truth—I like to read something like Psalm 23.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3. 

“Your natural tendency when you’re feeling anxious is to focus on yourself and your problems. The more you do this, the more you forget about Me and all the help I can supply. This worldly focus only increases your anxiety! Let the discomfort you feel at such times alert you to your neglect of Me. Whisper My Name, and invite Me into your difficulties. … A problem-preoccupation makes you anxious. So I urge you to cast all your anxiety on Me—trusting that I care for you. You may have to do this thousands of times daily, but don’t give up! Each time you cast your worries and concerns on Me, you are redirecting your attention from problems to My loving presence.” —Sarah Young, in Jesus Always 

Join me next week as we continue our series called Aliens and Strangers. If you’ve missed any messages in this series, you may find the complete list by clicking here.

A Surprising Way To Relieve Stress

Paul writes some pretty straightforward words to the Christians at Philippi about how to overcome anxiety.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a problem-free nor a stress-free life. That’s simply not possible. Our bodies were created to deal with stress in a healthy way. But stress that is unhealthy, or unnecessarily prolonged, or not flushed properly from the body becomes anxiety. Anxiety is the culprit responsible for a whole list of bad things!

When we face a stressor, our bodies release a hormone called cortisol. The main function of this hormone is to prepare us to fight or flight. Sometimes this looks like over-engaging in problem-solving, and sometimes it looks like a complete withdrawal from life. Sometimes cortisol leads to sleeplessness and a diminished appetite, and sometimes it makes people sleepy and craving comfort food.

But the bottom line is the fight-or-flight response is very me-focused!

The strategies Paul lists for us take the focus off me and put it on God. He especially counsels us to pray to God and to praise God. Between these two healthy responses is something unexpected. He writes, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

What in the world does gentleness have to do with relieving stress?!

First, let’s consider the motivation: The Lord is near. I think this could mean:

  1. The Lord’s name is near, as in we are called “Christians” and so we should act in a way that glorifies God.
  2. The Lord is near to help us.
  3. The Lord’s return is closing in where we will have to give an account of how we have lived our lives.

Then there is this word gentleness. This word means:

  • moderation
  • considerate of others
  • patience toward our situation and toward others
  • or as The Message says: Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working with them and not against them.

Cortisol is naturally removed from our physical bodies through rest and exercise. Anxiety is naturally removed from our emotional lives the same way—resting in God’s presence (honk!) and gently and considerately exercising a blessing for someone else.

THE BEST WAY TO DE-STRESS IS TO BLESS! 

When anxiety builds:

  1. Honk
  2. Bless
  3. Repeat

Don’t let stress win by making you self-centered. Defeat stress and anxiety by praising God and blessings others. And then make that a daily habit!

The Power Of Laughter

“Laughter increases the number and activity of some white blood cells called ‘T’ and ‘B’ cells, natural killers that fight viral infections and some types of cancer cells. It multiplies the antibody IgA, which fights upper respiratory tract infections. A hearty chuckle builds up gamma interferon, which stimulates the various components of the immune system.

“Laughing speeds up our heart rate, and some have likened this to ‘internal jogging.’ It’s an aerobic activity that works the diaphragm and increases the body’s ability to use oxygen. That’s why after a big laugh you often feel the need to sigh and take a big breath of air. It sure beats thirty minutes on the treadmill.

“As we laughed, our blood pressure temporarily is elevated; however, that is followed by a prolonged, mild decrease in blood pressure. Laughter also lowers various hormone levels—the kind associated with the fight-or-flight response—and makes us feel less stressed, more relaxed. That’s why people say things like ‘I laughed so hard I couldn’t get up’ or ‘I laughed so hard I fell over.’

“Science is figuring out that laughter is good for the body, something the Bible told us long ago—Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 17:22.” —Lynn Eib, in Peace In The Face Of Cancer

To read other quotes from this exceptional book, click here and here.

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