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Let's Get Physical


But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!"
(1 Kings 19:1-8)

Robert Murray McCheyne was a gifted and grace-filled preacher of the gospel in Scotland. He entered Edinburgh University at the age of fourteen in 1827, after which he went on to lead a Presbyterian congregation to over a thousand by the age of twenty-three. He was used of God to kindle revival and renewal among many in Scotland. With a passion for souls and a zeal for God, Robert Murray McCheyne worked tirelessly, but he worked so hard that his health finally broke. Before dying at the tender age of twenty-nine, he reportedly wrote: "God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message."

The story of McCheyne reminds us all of the danger of discounting the physical side of life and ministry. Out of a misguided zeal for God, we can fall into the trap of neglecting to take care of our bodies. The Christian must guard against a gnostic view of life that degrades and discounts the body. Taking care of the Lord's business is not at odds with taking care of ourselves.

In the story of Elijah's depression under the juniper tree, we see the danger of running our physical tachometer in the red (1 Kings 19:1-8). In looking into the sullen face of Elijah, there is little doubt that exhaustion played a big part in his melancholic mood. We are inclined to make something profound out of depression when in many cases it is rooted in physical weariness. We tend to over-adrenalize our bodies while adding our agenda to God's will with depressing effects. Without energy reserves the body cannot effectively fight the onslaught of stress, and so exhaustion sets in accompanied by a depressed spirit. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matt. 26:41). Given that reality, it should come as no surprise to find God lovingly prescribing two nights of bed and breakfast for his servant Elijah (1 Kings 19:5-8). God's remedy does not discount the physical side to life or ministry (Psalm 103:14; 127:2). Zealotry must be balanced with rest, nutrition and disengagement.

As God's people, we tend to have a spongy view of the body. We have our shibboleths when it comes to smoking and drinking but we fail to rest sufficiently, eat nutritionally, and laugh loudly. May God make us better stewards of our bodies; they are not ours to abuse or misuse (1 Cor. 6:19-20). In the name of Christ take charge of your physical health, value and protect your sleep, feed your emotions with good conversation and laughter, watch your diet, and exercise regularly. The Lord Jesus reminded his disciples and us that we need to come apart and rest and replenish our bodies or we will simply come apart (Mark 6:31-32). Don't be killing that horse!