As the son of a pastor, it was one of the most frequent prayer requests — if not the most frequent — that I recall hearing as I grew up: the prayer request for healing. The healing prayer requests, while varied, often centered around issues related to Type 2 Diabetes complications, heart trouble, cancers, and other ailments.
Unfortunately, most of these prayer requests seemed to go unanswered, with those requesting prayer often getting worse, or even succumbing to illnesses.
Years later, as I entered adulthood, I developed an interest in educating people about healthy living, so I started a blog. I recall, at some point in my personal research for blogging material, coming across a certain medical term that took me by surprise by its simplicity, and that gave me revelation. Coming across this term also added kindling to the fire within me to reveal healthy living to others, especially in the church, in need of such information.
The term was lifestyle disease.
Lifestyle disease is simply defined as disease caused by the lifestyles of people. Lifestyle diseases are not spontaneous, but rather, result directly from our day-to-day life practices. They include such diseases as hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, stroke, colon cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s and heart disease. All are diseases that disproportionately affect the African-American community of which I am a part, and almost all I recall being the subject of those altar call prayer requests at one time or another.
I think we might be missing something in the church.
Paul encourages the church in Rome in Romans 12:2 to be careful not to “be conformed to this world,” meaning, that while they existed in a culture where lifestyles were very much counter to Jesus’ teachings, they should be very intentional about protecting themselves from such influences, fixating instead on the Word of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ so that they could produce the fruit thereof. To not be intentional would almost definitely ensure that they would be swallowed up by the culture and taint their witness and effectiveness as followers of Christ.
Our approach to health and wellness in the church must have this same approach.
The world’s way of living, which includes constant busyness, cheap fast food and processed foods, microwave dinners, excessive fried foods, sugary drinks, energy drinks, and pastries, has been proven time and time again to be toxic to our physical bodies. And yet, these are often consumed in abundance inside of our churches. After-church dinners I recall almost always had fried chicken, white dinner rolls, pound cake and sweet tea. When we feed our children in church, we give them “kids food,” which usually includes pizza, artificially colored fruit punch, candy, and hot dogs, all of which are likely setting our kids up for future lifestyle disease.
The reason that we often don’t see this is because the church has, in a way, relegated physical health to a place of inferiority in relation to our spiritual health. This is why we have the contradiction of praying for healing from diseases while simultaneously engaging in lifestyles that cause those same diseases. We must renew our minds.
We must realize that God made us not only spirit beings, but “spirit, soul, and body” as 1 Thessalonians 3:23 describes. All of these parts matter to God. We must realize that to have dysfunction in any of these aspects of our being means that other aspects are affected as well. A body of Christ that is physically unhealthy is a body of Christ that is that much less effective in the work of the Kingdom to which we are called.
We must realize that God provided us with the very resources — fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, meats, water, sunlight, air, etc. — that we need to keep our bodies healthy. He also gave us work which necessitates us moving our bodies as they require.
Finally, we must realize that to pray in faith for healing from lifestyle diseases must require that we apply the faith-work of abandoning disease-promoting lifestyles in favor of healthy lifestyles. In the Black church, this will require continued education and encouragement to understand that our physical health does matter and that we have a major part to play in maintaining it.