Nutrition for the Soul

As a fitness aficionado, I have learned that three critical elements must be addressed to maintain physical fitness: cardio conditioning, weight training, and stretching. Invigorating cardio sessions challenge the heart and bring mental clarity. Intense strength training builds muscle and strengthens bones while sharpening concentration. Stretching releases toxins stored in the muscles and preserves the body’s ability to respond to physical demands as we age. Our physical well-being requires us to train in each of these areas.

Recent studies are touting, however, that another element is more important than these three elements combined. Nutrition not only influences our body responses, but may be up to 70 percent responsible for body composition and physique. Therefore, eschewing water and lean, healthy food will derail the best gym efforts.

The same mindset can be applied to spiritual health. What’s on your spiritual menu? In a recent sermon, Roger Dohrer, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Claremore, OK, likened the onions, leeks, and garlic the Israelites craved to the food of this world. (Numbers 11:4-6.) The Israelites − God’s chosen people predisposed to a holy appetite — had gradually worked the choice morsels of their foreign home into their diet. They began to flavor and season their own dishes with the familiar and readily available choices around them in Egypt.

Thousands of years later, we are no different. Raising a daughter and teaching young people (and myself, for that matter), I find it tempting and even justifiable to use the morsels of this world in my spiritual meal preparation. Sources other than the Bible are used to find entertaining new ways to liven up a familiar Bible story, tidbits are picked up from others without first comparing them to Scripture, and what is going on in my circle of friends is accepted without question. This is how appetites are ever-so-slightly changed away from a God who demands holiness and purity to a melting pot of obscurity. By adding “gut reactions” and feelings to Scripture, by using the world’s adages to frame perspectives, and the world’s examples to perpetuate our humanistic bent — by teaching anything not present in Scripture, we are diluting God’s word and adding bitter herbs to the manna God provides.

The Israelites became so unfamiliar with God’s provision they balked at the manna He provided them. The sweet bread that flowed freely from heaven was foreign to their defiled palates. They no longer craved God’s goodness but rather the bitter herbs from the land from which they were rescued. Had they maintained a daily diet of God’s provision, the bitter choices would have remained unpalatable. However, because we humans are adaptable creatures, the Israelites trained themselves to prefer that which was not in their best interest.

When my daughter was young, everyone freely gave advice on what and how to feed her. One prevailing thought was to expose her to a particular food at least 10 times before allowing her to decide she didn’t like it. This wasn’t bad advice. While there are some foods she still will not eat due to consistency or strong flavor, most of the foods she was repeatedly exposed to she now eats without complaint. Applying this principle to the spiritual realm — What have you steadily allowed in your diet that adds bitterness rather than sweetness to the diet God prefers for you? How does your diet measure up to God’s prescription? Are you eating a “clean” diet of Scripture, prayer, and holiness? Or are you ingesting the lies of this world that encourage you to “trust your gut,” rely on yourself, and pursue happiness?

The principles governing spiritual health are no different from those governing physical well-being. Both require a consistently clean diet, exercise, and stretching. Now consider the spirit will long outlast the physical body. Investing equal or greater time exercising spiritual muscles as physical ones seems obvious. Dedicating equal or greater time to Bible reading as to menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking does too. As for the stretching, by sharing our God-given knowledge with others God increases our understanding and imparts wisdom. That sounds like a win-win for everyone.