The Integrated Christian: Nurturing Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health

Work Life BalanceOver the past few months I’ve overworked myself into a slight state of depression, which is something I’ve done several times over the past 30 + years. By depression I mean the mental and emotional exhaustion I bring on myself when I’m overloaded for too long with too many projects (maybe burnout is a better word). Being overworked for extended periods leads to chronic stress, fatigue, frustration, irritability, recurring migraines, and a strong desire to withdraw from social activities (i.e., isolate) to avoid added stress and potential conflict. Much of this is my own doing, and I’m still learning my limitations and when to say “no” to the requests of others (this can take a while to learn).[1] Sometimes I see my crash coming, like a fall in slow motion, and can intervene in order to mitigate the mental and emotional damage. The prescription for phase one of my recovery is to make time for rest and eat a meal (I learned this from the angel of the LORD and how he treated Elijah when he was dealing with mental and emotional exhaustion; see 1 Ki 19:1-7). Afterwards, I reorganize and lighten my workload and give myself a few weeks to recover. Lastly, I try to abide by biblical principles of creating and maintaining my work/rest balance. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “we should not mistake worn nerves, physical weakness or depression for unspirituality. Many times, sleep is more needed than prayer, and physical recreation than heart searching” (Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, p. 67).

Concerning the work/rest balance, Solomon wrote, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:6). In this statement, Solomon is giving a comparison of one thing being better than the other. He’s telling us it’s better to have a healthy amount of rest (one hand full) and have enjoyment than to be constantly working (two fists full) and be consumed with never-ending pursuits that are meaningless, like chasing after wind. What Solomon sets forth in Ecclesiastes 4:6 is a picture of the integrated person who balances work and rest. This is not always easy to accomplish, especially when we live in a society that glorifies and promotes an unhealthy and often relentless pursuit of success, wealth, and social status. Concerning the words of Solomon, Matthew Henry wrote, “Moderate pains and moderate gains will do best. A man may have but a handful of the world, and yet may enjoy it and himself with a great deal of quietness, with content of mind, peace of conscience, and the love and good-will of his neighbors, while many that have both their hands full, have more than heart could wish, and have a great deal of travail and vexation with it.” (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 1037).

The Bible addresses the necessity of rest. God, who designed our brains and bodies, desires that we perform optimally, and has given the ideal standard for work and rest. In the Mosaic Law, God mandated regular physical rest for His people. God said, “Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves” (Ex 23:12; cf. Ex 34:21). Rest was for everyone, even animals, whom God cares for greatly. However, it’s possible to go too far with rest, which can be harmful as well. Solomon wrote, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, then your poverty will come as a robber and your want like an armed man” (Prov 24:33-34). Again, there must be balance and consistency in practice in order to avoid self-harm.

One should take breaks as needed, spending time alone with God in prayer. In the Gospel of Luke we learn that Jesus “would often slip away to the wilderness and pray” (Luke 5:16 NAS). The NET Bible states, “Jesus Himself frequently withdrew to the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16 NET). It’s interesting that Jesus withdrew from other people and ministry on a regular basis to a secluded place where He would commune with His Father. I’m sure the time away from the hustle and bustle of crowds was nice too. On one occasion, Jesus instructed His disciples, saying, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31a). Mark then tells us, “For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat” (Mark 6:31b). Making time for rest is a necessity for those who work hard, perhaps especially for those who work hard in ministry, considering they face conflicts on two fronts, one physical and the other spiritual. As Christians, we are both physical and spiritual beings, and these work together like a hand in a glove. Imbalance in one area greatly impacts the other. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “It is a serious thing to remove the element of relaxation and play from any life. We cannot be normal physically, mentally or spiritually if we neglect the vital factor in human life. God has provided that our joy shall be full.” (Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual, p. 61).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] During my years of schooling, I had to work a full-time job through my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate degrees. I personally enjoy work and am thankful for it. For decades I lacked wisdom in a few areas, most notably: 1) understanding and identifying when my stress levels were peaking for too long (a journey of self-discovery), and 2) learning to restructure my life and make time for rest. Failure to manage my workload caused me to burn out on a few occasions. Furthermore, not everyone gave good advice. I once had a doctoral professor say, “You can rest when you’re dead.” That’s really dumb advice, and those who follow it will pay a price physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually. Finding that work-rest balance was not easy, and Lord knows I failed more times than I’d like to admit. Failure to make time for rest resulted in my being overly stressed, and on three occasions I developed shingles, which was my body telling me I was overworked. Sadly, I had continued to ignore the warning signs of stress.

Ministering with Integrity: Trusting the Lord to Provide

The apostle Paul was committed to the Lord and to the ministry to which he was called. The Lord was faithful to provide for him and to meet his basic needs. Sometimes others supported Paul and his ministry, and in this way, were conduits of God’s grace. At others times, Paul’s needs were met when God opened doors for him to have employment. Either way, God provided. And Paul trusted the Lord, whatever his situation, whether he had few resources or many. Paul told Timothy, “If we have food and shelter, with these we shall be content” (1 Tim 6:8). And Paul practiced what he preached, saying, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil 4:11-12). Here is a stable soul; one that trusts the Lord to provide.

Paul PreachingPaul was on mission for the Lord, as he said, “I am compelled to preach, and woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). Certainly, there were times when others recognized Paul’s ministry and helped support him financially. In this way, they were partners with him in the Lord’s work. When writing to the Christians in Philippi, he said, “you sent a gift more than once for my needs” (Phil 4:16), then said, “I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).

However, because Paul was not always financially supported by others, there were times he had to work to meet his needs. Luke tells us that Paul was a tentmaker by trade (Acts 18:2-3). This meant Paul had skill working with his hands. When addressing the elders at the church at Ephesus, Paul said, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me” (Acts 20:34). And to the Christians in Thessalonica, he said, “we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you” (2 Th 3:8). This meant that Paul had to do physical work at times in order to meet his daily needs. This is true perhaps for the majority of ministers today who work a full time job to pay the bills and then volunteer their spare time to study the Bible and teach it to others.[1]

Sowing and ReapingBiblically, it’s right that a pastor be compensated for his work of ministry. Paul wrote of “those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5:17), saying of them, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim 5:18). Paul wrote elsewhere, saying, “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you?” (1 Cor 9:11), and “the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14), and “The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him” (Gal 6:6). Concerning Paul’s statement in Galatians, Arnold Fruchtenbaum wrote, “The point is that if one is benefiting spiritually from any teacher—be he a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, an author, or a radio teacher—if one is being blessed by these ministries, if he is learning Scripture from them, then he is obligated to share his material goods with the teacher. He should be financially supporting those from whom he is receiving spiritual benefits.”[2] I love that Fruchtenbaum covers this issue with a broad understanding, for there are many good ministers in the world doing the Lord’s work. However, it also seems that for every good minister, there are a hundred false teachers, all promoting their false doctrines that keep people enslaved to lies.

The Bible teaches that those who give to support God’s ministers will themselves be honored and blessed by the Lord. The apostle Paul commended the Christians at Corinth for their “participation in the support of the saints” (2 Cor 8:4), and went on to say, “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:6-7). Furthermore, Paul said, “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor 9:10-11). Warren Wiersbe states, “the Christian who practices grace giving will always have what he needs when he needs it. Furthermore, the grace of God enriches him morally and spiritually so that he grows in Christian character. In his walk and his work, he depends wholly on the sufficiency of God.”[3] Sowing and reaping is a biblical concept. Charles Ryrie states, “Generosity will be rewarded by additional grace. This undoubtedly includes sufficient material provision for the giver as well as development of his character. In other words, God gives or ‘begraces’ the giving Christian with sufficient money and character in order that he may continue to want to and be able to give.”[4] And according to Wiersbe, “There is no such thing as ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’ in the Christian life. The giving of money is just as spiritual an act as the singing of a hymn or the handing out of a Gospel tract. Money is seed. If we give it according to the principles of grace, it will multiply to the glory of God and meet many needs. If we use it in ways other than God desires, the harvest will be poor.”[5]

Though I believe it’s valid for ministers to make their ministry needs known to others, I personally think it’s wrong to solicit others for money. I believe this for three reasons. First, I should live by faith and trust the Lord to work supernaturally in the hearts of others. As a minister, I can depend on the Lord to provide for my daily needs, trusting that “The LORD Will Provide” (Gen 22:14), and that “God will supply all [my] needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:19). Second, it is contrary to the grace of God, which focuses more on giving than receiving. When Jesus sent out the disciples to minister to others, He said, “Freely you received, freely give” (Matt 10:8). That’s grace! God had blessed His disciples with an ability to minister to others, and they were to perform their work for the benefit of others and without cost to them. That resonates with me, and it’s how I want to minister to others, with the attitude that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Third, I don’t want my ministry to be confused with the many charlatans who exploit others for personal gain. I would rather have my ministry remain wholesome, even if it means I have to work a secular job to make ends meet. God is faithful to those He calls into service, and He will provide. He always has, and He always will.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Years ago I used to think of secular work as separate from Christian ministry, but the Lord corrected me concerning this artificial distinction. I came to realize that Christian ministry means sharing God’s love and speaking His truth with everyone, everywhere, all the time. When at my place of employment, I share the gospel when opportunity permits, talk Scripture and theology with those who will listen (always with an attitude of love and grace), show compassion to the needy, pray for those whom the Lord places in my path, and try to model the Christian life for others to see.

[2] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Faith Alone: The Condition of Our Salvation: An Exposition of the Book of Galatians and Other Relevant Topics, ed. Christiane Jurik, Second Edition. (San Antonio, TX: Ariel Ministries, 2016), 57.

[3] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 661.

[4] Charles C. Ryrie, The Grace of God (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1963), 64.

[5] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1, 661.

A Biblical View of Work

God is presented in Genesis as the Creator of the universe, the earth, and all that is in it (Gen 1:1). He created everything over a period of six days (Gen 1:2-31). The result of God’s work was satisfaction, as “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The Lord also created mankind in His image with the capacity to think, feel, and act (Gen 1:26-27). The first humans, Adam and Eve, were created by God as theocratic administrators to rule over His creation. He created them to work, and work is good. God created the Garden of Eden and gave Adam the task of caring for it. Moses wrote, “the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). The word cultivate translates the Hebrew verb עָבַד abad, which means, “to toil…to till the ground…to work…to work for someone, to serve.”[1]

Sin changed everything when Adam rebelled against God. Because God is righteous, He introduced a curse on the creation, which meant Adam and his descendants would experience resistance from the earth; resistance in the form of diminished agricultural yield. God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face, you will eat bread” (Gen 3:17b-19a). Just as Adam had rebelled against God, now the earth would rebel against him. Whereas Adam previously could “eat freely” from the produce of the land (Gen 2:16), now he would have to fight and struggle to eat. Labor still yielded food and other necessities for life, but the effort needed was greatly increased (by sweat). Though impediments in labor abound, work is still regarded as a good thing. Solomon wrote, “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and to enjoy his labor, for this ability to find enjoyment comes from God” (Eccl 2:24).

Later, in the Mosaic Law, God mandated work, saying, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Ex 20:9). The original work-week was six days. However, to prevent people from overworking themselves, God also mandated a time of rest, saying, “but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you” (Ex 20:10). Here, the physical rest was for everyone and even included animals, whom God cares for. God intended the Sabbath to benefit people, as Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Keeping the Sabbath is not obligatory for Christians; however, the principle stands that we should not be workaholics, but should intentionally structure our lives so that we make time for rest.[2] All things in moderation, including work. Solomon wrote, “One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind” (Eccl 4:6). Here is wisdom.

Gleaning Wheat     In the Old Testament, the poor were to receive special treatment concerning loans (Ex 22:25), and free participation in annual festivals (Deut 16:10-14). However, when able, God expected the poor to work for their meals. The Lord instructed landowners who grew crops, saying, “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God” (Lev 19:9-10). During harvest time, the farmers were to leave a portion of their fields uncut and their vineyards with fruit left on the trees and vines so that the needy person in their community could come and work the fields for themselves and have something to eat. Moses wrote:

When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. (Deut 24:19-21)

The unharvested portion of the field was for the less fortunate in society, but they had to come and work for what was left, and this provided them food to eat. Working for food is a biblical principle, as Paul said, “if anyone is not willing to work, neither shall he eat” (2 Th 3:10). No work means no food. Of course, this assumes one has the physical and cognitive ability as well as the opportunity. Naturally, a special dispensation would be granted to those who could not help themselves because of a disability.

The lazy person does not like to work, and he suffers for it. Solomon wrote, “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing” (Pro 20:4), and, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his hands refuse to work” (Pro 21:25). The sluggard is mentioned several times in Proverbs. Wisdom counsels him to learn from the ant, which works hard and prepares for the winter (Pro 6:6-8). Wisdom addresses the sluggard’s laziness (Pro 6:9-10), which leads to his deficiency (Pro 6:11). Because of his poor work ethic, the sluggard craves much but gets little (Pro 13:4), fails to feed himself when he has opportunity (Pro 19:24), begs and gets nothing (Pro 20:4), lives in fear (Pro 22:13), lacks good sense (Pro 24:30), and experiences poverty (Pro 24:34). In the end, “The desire of the sluggard puts him to death, for his own hands refuse to work” (Pro 21:25). John Kitchen writes, “the craving of the sluggard digs his grave, for, if he can muster any energy and take any initiative, it is spent on that which is frivolous (‘desire’) and not on what is essential (‘work’). In the end, such a lifestyle destroys him.”[3]

The Bible promotes a strong work ethic. Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl 9:10a). And the work we perform is not merely for self or others, but unto the Lord. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col 3:23-24). With this realization, we should work wisely and with good energy, producing a good product or service, knowing we are working and serving the Lord Himself.

Personally, I love to work and be productive. If anything, I tend to overwork, and that to my own harm. Over the decades I’ve overworked myself into fatigue, burnout, and even depression a few times. That’s no fun. Managing my stress levels has been a struggle, and I’ve had to make it a discipline to force myself to stop working, take some rest, and find something enjoyable to do. This benefits me physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually. Lewis Chafer wrote. “It is a serious thing to remove the element of relaxation and play from any life. We cannot be normal physically, mentally or spiritually if we neglect the vital factor in human life. God has provided that our joy shall be full.”[4] Of course, other matters for good health include proper sleep, good nutrition, hydration, socialization, etc. All things should be done in moderation.

Dr. Steven R. Cook

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[1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 773.

[2] As Christians, we are living in the dispensation of the Church age and are not under the Mosaic Law as the rule for life (Rom 6:14); rather, we under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). The Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Ex 31:13, 17), which covenant was fulfilled in Christ (Matt 5:17), and rendered obsolete by His death (Heb 8:13). Christians are under the New Covenant, which Jesus ratified with His death, and the sign of the New Covenant is the unleavened bread and red juice which picture Jesus’ sinless humanity and shed blood on the cross (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:23-25).

[3] John A. Kitchen, Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary, Mentor Commentaries (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor, 2006), 482.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, He that is Spiritual (Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan Publishing, 1967), 60-61.