“Flourishing Physically and Mentally” with Eric Bryant

“Flourishing Physically and Mentally” with Eric Bryant

So we are in this series on Flourishing, and we’ve been using the Gateway survey to determine how we are flourishing in our lives and areas in which we need to make progress.  Now if you haven’t taken the survey, please do so this week as we are eager to share our results with you over the next couple of Sundays.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Qualitative Social Science has used research to determine how to thrive in our fast-paced world. Here’s what is interesting, social scientists have done experiments showing the ways to flourish are often what the Bible teaches we should live.

We are looking at thriving with our relationships, with our finances, in our purpose, and today we are talking about flourishing mentally and physically.

Now the questions on mental and physical health were simple.

How would you rank yourself with 0 being Poor and 10 being Excellent for the following questions:

  • In general, how would you rate your physical health?
  • How would you rate your overall mental health?

To be totally transparent, I struggle with being physically and mentally healthy, but I want to let you in on a little secret that has helped me tremendously and I know can help you. It’s something that I have learned to make progress through Restore.

Everything is spiritual.

All aspects of our lives are interconnected. Becoming healthy spiritually can lead to the pursuit of becoming healthy physically and mentally.

We are invited to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’- Matthew 22:37-39

When we are connected to God He brings life to our heart, to our soul, and to our mind.

God is love and when we enter into a relationship with Him, His love can fill us and overflow into the lives of others including learning to love ourselves.

When I was in my 20s, an older pastor at the church where I was serving gave me a framework that really helped me. He asked me list out my priorities and I said:

  1. God (I mean he’s a pastor asking me this question so I knew this would be the right answer)
  2. My wife
  3. My Family
  4. My career

He said: “Actually no. Your priority needs to be your marriage, your family, and then your career but God needs to be guiding you in all of these areas.”

Neither of us said anything about my physical or mental health at all. I was in my 20s and it was the 1990s!

What he was trying to help me see is that my relationship with God is not just a part of my life. God is the source of life! He is to be the center of my life!

Too often we live compartmentalized lives. We are one way on Friday night and another way on Sunday morning and another way at work and another way at home.

The Scriptures points towards a life of integrity.

Integrity means what’s on the inside matches what’s on the outside and we are the same person everywhere we go.

When we lack integrity, when we are compartmentalizing our lives, we are living fragmented lives so as a result we experience disintegration. In essence our lives are slowly falling apart.

God cares for you and wants to protect you from what can be harmful and destructive.

God also cares for those in our lives who do not yet know Jesus. That’s why He calls us to live a new life.

Too many people who call themselves Christians lack integrity.
They may have the facts about Jesus in their heads but don’t have the love of Jesus in their hearts.

It’s for this reason that many struggle with faith.

  • It’s not because of the teachings of Jesus.
  • It’s because people who say they follow Jesus don’t seem to be like Jesus at all.
  • The church is known to be judgmental, hypocritical, and political.
  • That is not who true followers of Jesus are called to be!

If that is you, you aren’t sure about faith because of the way people who are called Christians have treated others, I want to say I am so sorry for how we have misrepresented Jesus.

I also want to encourage you. Don’t let the evil choices of others keep you from the God who loves you.

  • What if there is more to life than what you think there is?
  • What if there is a loving God with whom you can know personally?
  • What if there is life after death?
  • What if there is a new life He is offering you right now in which you can experience love, joy, peace, kindness, patience, gentleness, goodness, and self-control?

Whether you call yourself a Christian or you are not sure, are you open to more in life?

If so, don’t settle for Jesus being a part of your life. Ask Him to be the center of your life!

To flourish, we need to surrender how we live our lives to God so that we allow Him to guide us and direct us and reroute us towards what’s best.

God cares about our health as demonstrated by the way Jesus healed so many people – some with physical maladies and some with mental ones. Sometimes God heals us instantaneously. Other times, He wants to go with us on a journey that brings healing.

From the Scriptures on Flourishing Physically and Mentally

Let me share a few examples of how God can guide us towards flourishing physically and mentally.

Church planter and spiritual mentor Paul who wrote half of the New Testament addresses issues common for believers to work through. Paul writes:

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV

God cares about what we eat or drink or watch or do, and He is willing to guide us in that.

Deborah had a dream in which she realized how important her eating was to Jesus. She decided to only eat when she was hungry and stop when she is full.  I am so impressed with my wife’s discipline in this area. I really struggle with this.  In the past, I rarely seemed to wait long enough to get hungry, and I didn’t know how full I am until an hour afterwards when I am regretting my choices.

I also struggle with a sugar addiction and a scarcity mentality. Sometimes to reset I fast from sugar. And when I do my prayer life grows exponentially because the goal of fasting is to pray whenever you think of what you are not eating or not drinking. The catch is I might go 40 days without sugar and then when my fast ends I am tempted to only eat sugar for the next 40 days!

Making Wise Choices

So here’s the thing: God has gently reminded me I need to make wise choices.

““I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-13

Is there anything you are taking into your body either what you eat or drink or what you watch that has become your master? Here’s how you can tell: are you willing to fast from it for 40 days? Can you even go 40 days without it?

A married man with 3 young kids is in my online men’s community group. He was sharing the story about how if it was a bad day he would console himself a glass of wine, and when it was a good day he would celebrate with glass of wine. As he began to realize how often he was having a glass of wine and how dependent he was becoming on it, and then his wife decided to begin the year with 40 days of no alcohol. They were so amazed at how much better they felt, how much better they treated each other, and how much better they parented that they decided to continue their fast through the entire year.

Are there things you are depending on for comfort, to relieve stress, or to get away from the problems of life?

We need to be aware that some of those things can actually become addictions. If anyone has pointed out you’re doing something too much, prove to yourself you aren’t addicted by taking a break from it for an extended period of time.

Instead we can learn to go to God. To spend time with Him in prayer, reading the Scriptures, go on a prayer walk, spending time in nature, reaching out to friends from your Gateway group.

We can learn to replace bad habits with good habits.

And if this is something you’ve gotten really good at, you can help others learn to do this. Who are you mentoring spiritually? To whom are you reaching out to help them find faith?

God has also gently reminded me that my body is not my own, and my body is a temple!

You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body…. But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit…. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” – 1 Corinthians 6:17, 19-20 NIV

When Jesus is our leader, our bodies are even considered a temple!

We see this progression in the Scriptures where 

Heaven Meets Earth

  • In Eden (Genesis 1-2)
  • In the tabernacle (Exodus-Ruth)
  • In the Temple (1 Kings – Malachi)
  • In Jesus (The Gospels)
  • In the Body of Christ (Acts – present day)  (We are not only representing Jesus to the world. We are to bring heaven to earth wherever we go!)
  • The New Heaven and New Earth (Revelation 21-22) At the end of all things when God makes all things right.

Are you asking God to guide you when it comes to what you are eating, what you are drinking, what you are watching, or what you are doing?

By the way, my issue may not be your issue. I may struggle with self control with eating too much.

Some of us may struggle with worshiping the temple rather than the God of the temple. We spend too much time worrying about our health and fitness. Check this out:

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:8 NIV

Some of us may struggle with eating disorders or have suffered from body shaming.

The Struggle Of Accepting Who I Am

When I was in college, I really wanted another growth spurt. My Mom is 4’11” but her brother is 6 ft tall! Their parents were 5’6” and 5’3” so I asked my uncle what he did to grow so tall. He said he ate lots of peanut butter, drank lots of milk, and would hold onto the monkey bars and dangle from them for a long time.

Well I didn’t want to dangle from the monkey bars while in college but I did have a meal pass. I started drinking 48 ounce glasses of whole milk at every meal. What I did not realize is that your body cannot process that much milk. Soon I wasn’t just drinking milk with my meal, I was only drinking milk as my meal! After a few days my body was struggling to digest all that milk. Not only was I struggling to stay awake when studying, but I was struggling to stay awake in class and even when riding my bicycle to class!

So I had to quit my milk binging. I realized I probably wasn’t gonna grow anymore. I was sharing my disappointment with a friend, and she said somethings so interesting. She said: “you know Eric, I think God made you exactly the way you need to be. You are far more approachable and other guys who might be taller or bigger.”

I went through a season of grappling with why I look like the way I look at why I come from the family I come from. In our teenage years we tend to want to be anything but like our parents. We try so hard to pretend as if we are someone we are not. But eventually we make peace with our background, what we look like, and the struggles we tend to face. At least we need to work towards that.

My relationship with God helped me move from not liking what I looked like or where I came from to being content with who I am to eventually grateful for who God created me to be.

This is an uphill battle! We are constantly bombarded with messages that we are not enough. And our teenagers are getting the brunt of it struggling with their identity at such a young age and in such extremes.

In our bonus podcast this week, Andrea Wiggins, one of our Spiritual Overseers and a Fitness Trainer and Gloria Mann from Gateway Pflugerville and a Licensed Professional Counselor shared their insights on this very topic.

It was in college that a passage of Scripture really impacted me. It’s one that I have gone to often over the years. I encourage you to read all of Psalm 139. Meditate on it. Memorize a verse or two of it.

Here’s a snippet of it:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!” – Psalms 139:13-17 NIV

So if you’ve never had someone tell you, let me be the first.

I think God made you exactly the way you need to be.

  • You are in the exact time in history and place on this planet that gives you the best opportunity to come to know him.
  • God loves you. You can trust Him.
  • He created you on purpose and for a purpose! He will help you overcome the challenges you are facing.
  • He wants you to know Him personally. Not a head knowledge – not know about God but know Him personally – to experience his presence and peace. The word “knowledge” in the Hebrew mind means experiential knowledge.
  • He can be closer than a brother.
  • He can be your Heavenly Father.
  • He can meet our deepest longings that no friend or spouse or parent could ever meet, for He is always there for us.
  • You can trust that God created you just as you are and He can help you become the best version of who He created you to be.

Maybe some of the ways you struggle to trust God is because of your family of origins, your background, or some of the struggles you’ve had since you were born.

If you are still struggling with coming to a place of peace about your family of origin or your genetics, be honest with God about that.

We may not know on this side of eternity why God may have allowed things or people in your life that have been hard. You may have suffered because of the evil choices of others. God can bring good even out of the evil and chaos when we trust Him.

Just know in your worst moments, God mourned with you, hurt with you, and even gave His life by dying on the cross to rescue you. And He can heal you and even help your greatest moments of pain become areas of strength as you help others struggling in similar ways. I know so many who have suffered abuse help others heal from abuse. I know so many who have struggled with addictions help others with their addictions.

Have you considered that perhaps God placed you in your particular family so that you come to know Him and help all those older than you and all those who come after you find Him through you?

The Harvard flourishing program points out some cognitive exercises that can help us become healthier mentally and physically. They include gratitude, savoring and recognizing the good, and imagining one’s best possible self.

What the social scientists point to is the experience I just described from my own life.

I want to encourage you to develop more gratitude, to savor and recognize the good in your life, and to imagine one’s best possible self.

To become a better version of myself, I have found it is only possible with God’s help. When I try to change I get sucked back into my old patterns quite quickly. My relationship with God is what has helped me move forward faster!

We have more unhealthy temptations that adversely affect
our physical and mental health than ever before!

The good news though is we have way more knowledge
of what is healthy for us and what isn’t than ever before.

We also have more than we need with God’s help, accountability, medical advancements and medication, and counseling to make the changes necessary to move towards health.

We say “no perfect people allowed” at Gateway in part because being authentic is what leads to Transformation!

  • If you don’t admit you have a problem, you will keep having that problem.
  • If you don’t admit you need help, you will never get the help you need.

And we need to realize you can love Jesus and still struggle with your health.

“One of the great tragedies of depression is the isolation & shame people carry as a result. We need communities of faith that normalize depression. Life is hard. At some point we break. Depression is not a sign of weak faith. It’s a sign that we are human & in need support.”

– Rich Villodas, a pastor from Brooklyn and author of Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World

The Scriptures include a great deal about our mind.

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” – Romans 12:1-2 NIV

We can learn how to think differently and God can help us renew our minds!

For more on mental health From The Human Flourishing Program:

“[There are] interventions that can help address various forms of psychological distress. These…  interventions address depression, anxiety, and forgiveness. They are essentially oriented towards the good in removing or recovering from what are sometimes conceived of as three central negative emotions: sadness (in the case of depression), fear (in the case of anxiety), and anger (experienced in unforgiveness).”

– From The Human Flourishing Program:

Or consider this on anxiety…

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” – Philippians 4:6-9 NIV

And when we follow Jesus look at what happens!

“for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 2:16 NIV

The Flourishing Program from Harvard also points towards the following to help you make progress:

  • Acts of Kindness
  • Virtuous action
  • Volunteering
  • Being involved in a church

An article came out recently from another Harvard study saying: “Regularly attending religious services is associated with lower risk of deaths of despair

That’s why every week we point towards growing with us, serving with us, and healing with us! You belong here, and together we could help each other to flourish.

Remarkable how much healing comes through having others willing to listen. Be that person willing to listen!

Are you healthy? Help others get healthy!

So consider your next step today.

What is God inviting you to to do as your next step?

  • Maybe it’s to take your physical health more seriously.
  • Maybe asking God for guidance in what you eat, drink, and watch. Or maybe fasting from something you go to that could be what you go to instead of going to God or to community.
  • Maybe joining a group (community groups and Restore are both starting up new groups)
  • Perhaps he will lead you to visit your doctor or go see a counselor to find healing or healthy ways to work through your anxiety, depression, and forgiving others.
  • Growing in your faith by spending time with God through Digging Deeper

We all have a next step! Ask God to guide you and to have the courage to move forward!

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