Ministers often lead frantic, frenzied lives, and like physicians are faced with intense stresses. They are called to enter into the tragedies, heartaches, and tears of many lives—the very gut-level of existence. These involvements can extract a high price, especially if there has also been neglect of body.

It is neither selfish nor neurotic to be maturely thoughtful about one’s bodily health. In one of his essays Montaigne wrote, “It is not a soul, it is not a body that we are training up; it is a man, and we ought not to divide him into two parts.” Ministers, and all of us, would do well to re-evaluate our physical condition in this light. My recommendations for good health stem from long years of professional surveillance of the human scene, and from professional reading, teaching, and research in the leading cause of death, cardiovascular diseases.

In one of his books Paul Tournier quotes another physician: “Man doesn’t die, he kills himself.” I state further: He kills himself with his stresses and excesses. How many of our American businessmen are on that diabolical status treadmill of security and material success, at great cost to their spiritual, mental, and physical health? Executives tell me that much of today’s business is transacted over the banquet table, often after several drinks. When I find their blood pressure elevated and prescribe a simmered-down way of life, they protest, “But it will hurt business!” Was man made for business or was business made for man? Similarly, many ministers mistakenly think they give their best to their work only by pushing themselves to the limits of their endurance.

My very first prescription for better health is: Exercise. Ponce de León traveled the world in his fruitless search for the key to long life. Now, cardiologists are bombarding their patients and the public with a new conception of “The Fountain of Youth.” To push back the walls of death, exercise in boyhood, in youth, in young manhood, in middle age, and beyond.

Jesus exercised vigorously as he walked the Palestinian highways. Those who have actually walked in his steps have said that only one in full strength of manhood could cover the territory he covered within the indicated time. I picture Jesus, not as a pale-faced ascetic clothed in a skirt, but as a vigorous man bronzed by the Syrian sun, glowing with the radiant health of a well-exercised, well-disciplined body.

The Prophet Amos proclaimed “Woe to them that are in Zion.” Today, woe to them that are in automobiles, in escalators and elevators, in chairs in front of a TV set—to those equipped with a host of labor-saving devices that rob them of their strength and stamina—and perhaps even their very life.

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Neither yard work nor golf provides adequate physical activity for a man. Most golfers have a caddy carry their bag, roll it on wheels, or ride an electric cart between shots. Thus they minimize the very beneficial effect of physical activity. Ride a bike, swim, join the Y, use your hiking boots—get up! Many thousands have taken up jogging to good advantage. It’s an excellent way to exercise if your doctor says you are up to it. To be active is to live; to be sedentary is to die.

A second important prescription for good health is: Abstain from nicotine. The clergy should stand firmly with the doctors in this matter. Floods of research have pointed an accusing finger at smoking. This damaging habit invites early coronary disease, emphysema, lung cancer, bladder cancer, and chronic cough from chemical bronchitis. Great numbers of physicians have stopped smoking, and the American Medical Association will no longer accept tobacco advertising in any of its journals.

Prescription number three is: Abstain from alcohol. The medical profession is deeply concerned over the rising incidence of alcoholism in this country. Alcohol is guilty of killing tens of thousands on our highways and of inciting many other deaths through murder, suicide, and health destruction. It places many behind bars as raving maniacs. Others drink their way to cirrhosis of the liver and perhaps death. Recent cardiac publications have discussed a new entity called “alcoholic cardiomyopathy,” or “beer drinker’s heart,” a condition that can occur in persons who drink heavily and consistently for many years. We have learned that alcohol is a cardio-toxin that poisons the mitochondria of the heart muscle cell, blocking the transfer of chemical energy into physical energy. The clergy should stand firmly with the medical profession in denouncing the increasing alcohol consumption.

The fourth mandate for good health and longevity is: Do not become overweight. One of the curses of this affluent nation is its widespread obesity. We who have the finest economy in the world, the finest supermarkets, look it. I constantly urge people to lose weight in order to reduce heart work, lessen frequency of anginal pain, lower blood pressure, and slow down degeneration of the artery walls.

Pastors, shape up, skinny down, and don’t hesitate to bid parishioners to do likewise. I believe it is a form of discipleship and consecration to keep thin and healthy. Paul spoke bluntly in Philippians 3:19 about those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly.”

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Another edict is: Limit animal fats in the diet. In recent years medical science has come to realize that generous eating of animal fats is one of about ten factors leading to arteriosclerosis. It is interesting that in Leviticus 7, written 3,500 years ago, we are told: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Ye shall eat no manner of fat, of ox, or of sheep, or of goat.”

When people want to debate with me the relation of fats to arteriosclerosis, I simply point out that this is only one of a number of known factors. The limitation of fat is logical, for fats contribute nine calories per gram of food, and limitation of fats aids in weight control. Greasy blood is clotty blood, and since we know red cells stick together more easily when the blood is fatty, it’s hardly worth an argument. Far better to be safe than sorry.

Still another decree for the preservation of good health is: Reduce salt intake. Dr. Richard C. R. Connor reported that the salt consumption in Glasgow, Scotland, was about 10.3 pounds per year per patient while in Monmouthshire, England, it was 6.7 pounds per patient. The incidence of coronary heart disease is much higher in Glasgow than in Monmouthshire; this suggests that we would do well to cut down on salt consumption. Most of us crowd too much salt into our diets, and it tends to make us waterlogged. Experiments in which rats and guinea pigs consumed a lot of salt have produced a surprisingly high number of animals with high blood pressure. Heavy salt intake is one of five factors implicated in hypertension, taking its place alongside heredity, obesity, nicotine, and stress.

In this attempt to present a formula for preserving health, a final edict is necessary: Avoid fatigue and stress. Just what is stress? How can we set limits on such a thing? Were our ancestors more afraid of being scalped by the Indians than we are of being scalped by the Internal Revenue Service? What may disturb one person may not so affect another. Almost all of us are sometimes guilty of “generating ten dollars’ worth of adrenalin over some ten-cent incident.”

We all must deal with daily tensions, anxieties, and stresses. Here I believe that the Christian faith has much to offer. Our Lord wants us to lead balanced, rested, orderly lives. Too often Christians represent not the Company of the Committed but the Company of the Overcommitted. We become tired and anxious and stressful, and this is reflected in our spiritual lives. We need to avoid the wheel-spinning of an excessive Christian activism.

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I remember Norman Vincent Peale best not for his book, The Power of Positive Thinking, but for his short article, “The Power of the Positive NO.” How often Christians equate consecration with activism, with doing everything they are asked to do within the Christian structure. It is far better to do a moderate number of things well than to do many poorly.

Many men and women pay a high price in body and mind for their excessive application to work without proper periods of respite. Jesus gave this directive: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for their were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). How often as professional men we rush about, miss meals, and live in a frenzy. Yet not one of us is indispensable.

Walking relaxes tension. So does prayer. Quoting verses of calm assurance in prayer is often helpful. “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).

Ministers and physicians are often honored as representatives of the fine and noble. They owe it not only to themselves but also to others to lead exemplary physical lives, and protect their health. A man may be a committed evangelical, firm and correct in his doctrinal beliefs, but if he is an overweight trencherman his testimony may be sorely impeded. A doctor who advises a patient to stop smoking undermines his counsel if his own consultation room is permeated with smoke. The same can be said for a doctor who tells a patient to lose weight while his own fat bulges over his beltline.

Pastors, to improve your ministry, to avoid chronic illness, to extend your lifespan, it is very important to attain and maintain normal weight, to exercise until the angel of death appears, to avoid nicotine and alcohol and excesses of caffeine, fats, and salt. Finally, try to live balanced, integrated, fulfilled lives, avoiding fatigue and controlling reactions to stresses to the best of your ability. You are urged to use the power of prayer, the power of the positive no, the power of a nap, and the tension-reducing power of exercise to temper stress, worry, and anxiety. Remember the desire the Apostle John expressed in his third epistle: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.”

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