Beginning Prayer: Show me your way, teach me your path, guide me in your truth.
Passage for today: Romans 8:12-16
When I read this passage of Paul’s letter, and he’s all, “down with the flesh, up with the spirit!!” and talks about dying to the flesh, sometimes I find myself thinking that he’s talking about the needs of my physical body; like somehow whatever my body wants and needs is bad, and living by the spirit means I should deny my body’s needs. But is this actually what He is talking about here?
I think the answer is yes and no.
Yes, because our physical bodies are actually an amazing conduit to understand spiritual things, including growth. These bodies that we live in are the carriers of our souls, minds, personalities. They carry our light and purpose into the world. They are so important, and often we can learn about larger spiritual concepts by employing our bodies. For example, the practice of fasting (skipping a meal or intentionally removing an indulgence for a certain period of time), is a great way to teach the spiritual concept of, “I can’t always get what I want.” It teaches us to wait on God, to notice what we’re depending on besides him, and to look to Him to meet all our needs. If you’ve never done that before, it might be an interesting exercise to try. (Just note, fasting is not dieting, so if it’s your first time or if you have health issues, make sure you talk to someone who has done it before or to your doctor.)
But living by the spirit means doesn’t mean I should ignore body’s needs and cues. When he talks about denying the flesh in this passage, he’s actually talking about denying our sinful nature, not our actual body. Our “sinful nature” or “flesh” is the part of us that wants to sin. The part of us that, like Paul talked about in chapter 7, wants to do what’s right but actually does the very thing we hate. Left to ourselves, we are prone to live for ourselves. Paul is saying that to live the Christian life is to live like Christ and die to whatever parts of us that would cause us to put a barrier between us and God.
But that’s different than my actual body, and what I’m learning is that God has created our bodies to give us cues that help us understand its limits. It tells us when we’re tired, when we’re hungry, when we’re full. We actually have physical cues when we are in danger or anxious. When we experience trauma, we hold it within our body. Our body doesn’t even know the difference between good stress (planning for a wedding or a fun event) and bad stress (a traumatic event) it just recognizes stress, then produces adrenaline to sustain us. That adrenaline has to crash at some point, and when it does, so does our body.
If we are going to learn to work with our bodies the way they are designed, seeing our physical bodies as a partner in our life, not an enemy, we have to learn to speak the language of our bodies. Sometimes, when we’re nervous or anxious about something and our heart rate speeds up, we could say to our heart, slow down, and it might even slow down, but that’s actually not the language our body speaks. What might be better for our body is to take a deep breath, providing needed oxygen and blood flow to the heart to help it return to its natural pace. That is speaking the language of our bodies.
As we learn to surrender and submit and listen to the leadership of the Holy Spirit, learning how to do that in our minds (like we talked about yesterday) and our bodies is key to growth, since it’s the “misdeeds of our bodies” (as Paul describes it), or our bodies living by the sinful nature, that can lead us down a path we actually don’t want to go.
It’s why communities working together to overcome addiction have come up with the acronym H.A.L.T to help avoid relapse. They talk about how important it is to recognize that so many of our triggers are tripped when we are H(hungry) A(angry) L(lonely) T(tired). Notice that two out of the four most common triggers have to do with the state of our body.
So, what does it look like to listen to and surrender our body to the lordship of the Holy Spirit? It starts with this picture Paul gives us in the passage we read this morning. It’s interesting to me that right after Paul talks about dying to the misdeeds of the body, he goes right into our identity as adopted, loved children of God. I think this is a very intentional application.
The foundation for us to be able to obey God comes from beginning to understand how much He loves us. This picture of adoption that Paul gives us is so beautiful because it reminds us that God does not love us because He is obligated to, He loves us because he has chosen to. He picked us--every part of us--to be His precious children.
For some of us today, this could be life-changing news because your body has been nothing but rejected, maybe even abused. Remember our definition of abuse? Used for something it was not made for? Maybe it was someone in your life who took advantage of you or rejected you--told you you were worthless and worth less because of the way you looked. Maybe the pain of the rejection is so big that you have always thought of your body as “rejected.”
Or maybe it’s you that has abused your own body. I can resonate with that as someone who had an eating disorder for many years. I often beat up my body--feeling like it had betrayed me because it didn’t look the way I wanted it— so I punished it and starved it and overfed and over-exercised it and missed my actual life while trying to create a perfect one.
Or maybe you’ve neglected your own body taking care of everyone else’s bodies, and you refuse to listen when your body is telling you it needs rest, it needs care, it needs exercise, it needs fresh air, it needs to eat, it needs a shower! I’ve been there too.
God has chosen, accepted and adopted us--every part of us. You and your body are SO loved by Him, chosen by Him, enough for Him. He has healing, hope and wholeness for your entire being. He loves every single part of you--like a good Father loves his precious little girl. And it’s that love that motivates us to trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Trusting the leadership of the Holy Spirit means we’re willing to listen not to the indulgences of our body but to the cues of it. To learn how to trust the way God made it, and slow down enough in our lives to listen to its true needs.
Here’s the difference:
My body seems to want to eat a box of donuts. But does it really? Responding by indulging my sinful nature (my “flesh”) asks, “Why shouldn’t I eat this entire box? I deserve it.” Listening to cues in my body looks like taking a second to engage the leadership of the Holy Spirit and asks, “What am I really hungry for right now?”
My body seems to want to indulge in my addiction of choice. But does it really? Responding by indulging my sinful nature (my “flesh”) says, “Just this once. I’ll start again tomorrow. I can’t stop.” Listening to cues in my body looks like taking a second to engage the leadership of the Holy Spirit and says, “I do not have the power to resist, but the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in me, and if I will ride the wave of my craving with that power, I will make it to the shore.”
My body seems to want to rest, but I have too much to do. Does it really want to rest? YES!!! But, the indulgence of over-busyness for my sinful nature (my “flesh”) feels like success, achievement and approval, so I can’t slow down, so, I ignore my body’s basic needs--striving for perfection instead of “good enough.” Filling my days and schedule so full I have no margin, and I’m constantly exhausted. A spirit lead body says, “God has given me 24 hours in a day. He has given me enough time in each day to eat, sleep, rest, exercise, connect with other people and wait on Him. If my schedule does not allow for that, something needs to go.”
Whenever we aren’t taking care of ourselves properly, we offer the enemy of our souls a way into our hearts and minds, but when we are, we offer the spirit a voice to do what Paul says it will do in verse 16 and whisper gently to our souls, “You are God’s beloved child--already accepted, already enough already loved--stop trying to earn it anywhere else.”
God, I give you my body today. I thank you for eyes that can see, ears that can hear, legs that can move. I thank you that I have a heart that is pumping blood and white blood cells that are fighting off infection. Thank you for breath in my lungs and laughter in my belly. Help me to treat my body like a partner in this life, and help me use it to carry your light and hope into the world today.
Yesterday we talked about allowing God to reclaim our imaginations, and so today, we are going to use our imaginations to do something called, “Riding the wave of our crave.” All cravings, when they first come up, feel large and overwhelming, like they could barrel us over and take us out. At some point today, when you feel your urge or craving coming on, I want you to picture it like a wave, but instead of resisting it or allowing it to overtake you, just picture yourself riding the wave, all the way through, with God by your side. Let the craving peak; I promise it will, then, ride it out, all the way to shore, until it subsides. See if that allows you to go through it, not just avoid or ignore it, and see if God shows you anything along the way.
(See if you can commit to memory, or commit to remember, this verse this week.)
“If your sinful old self is the boss over your mind, it leads to death. But if the Holy Spirit is the boss over your mind, it leads to life and peace.” (Romans 8:6, NLV)