Healthy Habits

Do the Unthinkable

"We can all adopt spiritual lifestyle changes, intentionally practicing spiritual disciplines that will make space in our lives for Christ to walk with us." by Dr. David E. Winters

I am forced to do the unthinkable in my office every day. This task is at best socially unacceptable, and at worst, a deal breaker in most relationships. Even after many years of doing what I do, I still approach this aspect of my job with great trepidation. What is this awful responsibility? I ask people about their weight.

I am a Family Physician, and a large part of my practice involves preventive medicine. Obesity is an epidemic in our society, and involves the risk of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and diabetes, leading to the increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and cerebrovascular accident (stroke), primary causes of disability and death in the US. I cannot properly care for patients without addressing their weight.

In the medical world, the word “obese” is not pejorative; rather it is a calculable descriptor of the ratio of weight to height. While society uses this word as an insult, in medicine it simply means someone who is carrying around more weight than is ideal, and whose health is thereby at risk.

Our spiritual health is at risk when we carry burdens that are too heavy to shoulder. We are left weak and exhausted and find ourselves susceptible to temptations of many kinds. Life becomes unbearable, and many exist from day to day trudging along under heavy loads that prohibit joy. Ineffectiveness, doubt and discouragement creep in.

Jesus Christ invites us to lay our burdens down at His cross. Much like Christian, the main character  in John Bunyan’s classic book “Pilgrim’s Progress,” we experience incredible relief when the Son of God takes our heavy load of guilt and sin. Christian explains the paradox of life with God this way: “He has given me rest through His sorrow, and life through His death.”

This is not about casting off burdens and taking up a carefree existence. Christ takes away our load of sin, forever to be forgotten in God’s complete forgiveness. But there are some burdens we can’t leave behind. The burden of a wayward child, the burden of health concerns, the burden of unemployment, the burden of financial extreme, the burden of a broken marriage—these can remain when sin is forgiven.

In Matthew 11, Jesus invites us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (NIV). We find in these words three life-giving directives:

 “Come to me” He gently asks us to allow Him to help us. He has created us as agents of free choice and waits for us to acknowledge our need. He refuses to force us. He calls us. His grace is prevenient (comes before and is available), but we need to respond.

 “Take my yoke”—The metaphor is clear. We don’t shift our life’s circumstances to Jesus and then run away. Instead, He walks through life alongside us, shouldering our burdens with us. He doesn’t offer escape from life’s trials. What He desires is a relationship with us, and He offers us eternal life.

 “Learn from me”—There are no lectures from afar. This is not long-distance learning. He guides us through everyday life, good and bad, helping us grow in wisdom and knowledge of Himself. Imagine that—the Lord of all creation, coming to help us, taking each step with us, as He teaches us His ways.

We don’t remain in the shadow of the cross. Because Christ Jesus is resurrected and alive, we live confidently in God’s presence, where there is no darkness, as we “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). This is the life with Christ that Paul speaks of when he encourages us to “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you” (Phil 2:12-13). Jesus gives us daily salvation from our corrupt culture with its materialism and decadence. He saves us from discouragement, anxiety and complacency. He saves us by not allowing us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (I Cor 10:13). We have been saved through the power of the cross, and we are being saved in our daily walk with our imminent Savior.

So, do the unthinkable! Allow God’s Son to carry your load with you. Learn from the Lord of the Universe how to be gentle and humble in a society that seems to value brashness and arrogance. Practice complete dependence on Christ in a world where independence and self-reliance are applauded.

I will continue to ask patients in my office about their weight and encourage those overweight to adopt healthy lifestyles. In the same way, we can all adopt spiritual lifestyle changes, intentionally practicing spiritual disciplines that will make space in our lives for Christ to walk with us. Only when we lay our load of sin at His feet and allow Jesus to share our daily burdens, can we say with Paul, “I want to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings” (Phil 3:10). God will help us understand this mystery of Christ with us. 

Dr. David E. Winters has been an active Salvationist his entire life. Shortly after completing his medical training, he and his wife Diana (nee Rader) were appointed to the Salvation Army Chikankata Hospital in Zambia, where he served for four years as the senior medical officer. Dr. Winters was the lead physician in a 6-physicialn Family Medicine practice in suburban Chicago and is now enjoying retirement in the Lancaster, PA area.

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