The Word Became Flesh
With all it’s needs, weaknesses, fragilities, and limitations – God took on a human body.
If we’re not careful we can get buy into a kind of modern-day gnostic heresy, where we deny the value of the body and the reality of our need to care for it.
Deny Yourself – Not Your Humanity
Denying oneself does not mean living in denial about your humanity. That’s not what Jesus did and it’s not what He’s asking you to do. God made you a human being with physical and emotional needs. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment are not luxuries or self-indulgences to squeeze in if you have time.
Loving Jesus first and taking up your cross daily doesn’t mean neglecting the needs God made your body with. It’s about crucifying your sinful attempts at being your own God. It may seem odd but neglecting self-care to push yourself beyond your God given limits can actually feed a sinful craving for self-sufficiency. So often our pride gets in the way, ultimately leaving us weak and vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.
Accepting your God given limits and actively choosing to receive God’s gifts of Sabbath rest, food, play, and solitude are acts of worship and obedience.
Practice What You Preach…Like Jesus
Jesus, being fully God and fully man regularly set aside time to be alone and to enjoy meals with friends.
The Scriptures record that Jesus often got away from the people for some solitude. Even though they sought him out, with legitimate needs He could have met, He instead disappointed them with priorities that differed from theirs (Mk 1:35, Luke 5:16). He even needed breaks from His own ministry team (Matt 14:22-23).
Jesus isn’t an Egyptian task master driving us with unrelenting standards. He’s the one that says, I want to lift your heavy burdens and give you rest. What he is calling you to is easy to bear (Matt 11:28-30).
While man does not live by bread alone, Jesus didn’t shy away from caring for the body. Whether washing feet, frequently attending dinner parties, supplying the wine, fish, and bread by miraculous means or cooking breakfast for the disciples after the resurrection – Jesus embraced reclining at the table with friends. Sometimes letting the work wait to sit still in the presence of our King is the better choice, at least that’s what Jesus told Martha (Lk 10:38-42).
Leaders – It starts with you.
As a leader, it starts with you. Have you ever been on a flight and heard the flight attendant say “In the event the cabin loses pressure oxygen masks will fall, if you’re traveling with a child, put your mask on first…”. Put your mask on first?! That doesn’t sound very loving. But wait, what happens to the child if you pass out? Who will look out for them and care for them?
It’s this point that Paul was trying to make when he told the leaders at Ephesus, “Guard yourselves and God’s people.” You guard yourself first because who will feed and shepherd the flock if you get knocked out of the game (Acts 20:28). If the church is the hope of the world and its future is in the hands of its leaders (Bill Hyble quote) this only makes sense.
Moses, Jesus, Paul, and James all exhort us to love our neighbors as our self (Lev. 19:18, Mk 12:31, Rom 13:9, Jas 2:8). In Ephesians, we read husbands love your wives like your own body. Both of these commands presuppose that you are taking good care of yourself, just as Christ cares for His body (Eph 5:28-30).
Schemes of The Enemy
Paul and Peter exhort us to be mindful of the schemes of the enemy so that we can stand firm and continue in the good works that God has prepared in advance for us (1 Peter 5:8, Eph. 6:11, 2 Cor 2:11). If we neglect taking care of our self it leaves us weak and vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.
Yet we are so prone to it. In fact, we are so inclined to neglect things like rest that God commanded it! Paul has to urge Timothy to make sure he takes care of himself (1 Tim 5:23), Moses father-in-law has to confront him to say “You have to stop this insanity! You’re going to burn yourself out, and then where are the people going to be?” (rough translation of Ex 18:17-23).
The enemy even uses our passion for God and our role in His kingdom against us.
“If you really trusted God you wouldn’t be struggling with this.”
“You wouldn’t be feeling this way if you really loved Jesus.”
“If people knew about your struggle why would they want to follow Christ.”
“If anyone finds out your ministry will be ruined.”
“You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, therefore you don’t need rest, food, water, or anything or anyone.”
Just like with Jesus during the temptation, Satan twists the scriptures to try and trip us up and keep us trapped in a weak, vulnerable, and ineffective place.
Pride is the Enemy
Pride is the enemy, humility is the answer. We have to humbly accept the frailty of our humanity. Our dependence on God, His body, and the means by which he has provided for the care of our body.
We have to be willing to allow others to share our burdens with us, to confess our struggles, and reach out for help so that we can be healed.
Self-care isn’t selfish or self-indulgent, it’s good stewardship of the resource of our body that enables us to make the best use of it and the time God has given us. It’s a spiritual discipline that acknowledges the realities of our finite bodies and worships God through taking care of the gift He has given us, so we can accomplish the good works He’s prepared in advance for us.