Sunshine and Exercise

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christwe rejoice in our sufferings, 

knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 

endurance produces character, and character produces hope 

(Rom 5:3-4)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In April 2019 after I published my book, Simple Faith, I was burned out. Physically and emotionally exhausted, my motivation also flatlined. I thought to myself, take it easy a couple weeks and you will bounce back. Weeks passed; no bounce back. Clearly, in my writing and editing this time I had pushed myself too far.

Burnout’s Physical Component

In June I returned to my usual swim routine of swimming half a mile a day. During my eight months of editing, I had often cheated on my routine swimming only a quarter mile to make more time to work. Besides, I thought, I am too distracted to concentrate on or enjoy my swim. 

Returning to my routine did nothing to relieve the burnout, but I noticed that my burnout was more pronounced in the evening, much like sunset dementia—a condition where Alzheimer’s patients manifest dementia more clearly when tired at the end of the day. At first this observation really bothered me—am I beginning to manifest Alzheimer’s disease, like my father or my grandmother? In prayer, I found the strength to take another interpretation. If burnout has a physical component, then a physical solution is warranted.

Negative Self-Talk

Initially, this insight helped little. I said to myself, what good is this? I barely have the energy to complete my workout, let alone step it up. One day in the gym, I even made fun of myself joking with a friend—what am I going to do, buy a pair of running shoes and start running intervals? Later, I was so embarrassed at myself. Then I thought, why not? I haven’t had a knee problem since the 1990s. Perhaps, I could cross train and avoid knee injuries.

Physical Training

In July I ordered a pair of running shoes online. The days after placing the order I was so uncertain about my ability to jog again that, when they arrived, I hid the shoes from my wife, thinking she would ridicule me for wasting my money on such a foolish idea. Still, I put on a new set of shorts and new tee-shirt and started jogging every other day. All along hoping that no one would see me.

To keep things easy, I began running intervals. Jog a hundred paces, then walk a hundred paces. Days became weeks. Now, three months into jogging I have abandoned running intervals to jog continuously at a slow pace.

As I write at the end of September, I have never felt better. Although my workout leaves me physically exhausted, the burnout has gone; my head is clear; and many of the old-age sorts of complaints have vaporized. 

Heart, Mind, and Body

The New Testament assumes that heart, mind, and body are inter-related parts of an undivided, unified whole that I have often described as Hebrew anthropology. The alternative is Greek anthropology where heart, mind, and body operate independently. 

Why did Jesus need to experience bodily resurrection after the cruxifixction? Jesus was not a ghost, that is, a spirit without a body, and he was not a zombie, a body without a spirit. Jesus rose from the dead—re-created whole—retaining physical scars, but displaying no emotional scars, as might be expected of a resuscitated body. Bodily resurrection exemplifies Hebrew anthropology because heart, mind, and body are interrelated, not separable in a complete, healthy person.

Sunshine and Exercise

I have often been chided for my advice to people depressed to get more sunshine and exercise, both natural anti-depressants. In my own burnout narrative, this advice worked but only after several months of effort.

The spiritual principle at work here, other than recognizing the importance of Hebrew anthropology, is that pain presents us with a Gethsemane moment. In our pain do we turn to God and give it over to him or do we turn into our pain and have a pity-party? (Matt 26:39) Elsewhere, Jesus says plainly: “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matt 10:38) 

In a world of chronic problems and endless ways to avoid pain, this teaching sounds harsh. Many friends and family members when hearing of my burnout have advised me to find a good counselor or simply to get my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants. Is sunshine and exercise a harsh response? Yes, it is harsh, almost masochistic. But if God communicates with us through our pain and we medicate our way through it, what have we learned and how has the experience transformed us?

Many answers can be given to our Gethsemane moments, but our responses ultimately define who we are as Christians, as the Apostle Paul suggests in the verses cited above.

Sunshine and Exercis

Also See:

Value Of Life

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Run_2019  

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Prayer of Faith

Celtic Cross
Celtic Cross

Heavenly Father,

All praise and honor be to you

author of our faith,

the faith in which we find salvation from our sins and

in which we find peace and joy each and every day.

For while we were yet dead in our sin,

Christ died for our sins (Rom 5:8)

that we might have life eternal.

We confess that we have sinned against our neighbors and against you.

Forgive our sin–

turn our heart of stone into hearts of flesh

that we might forgive the sins of those around us.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

open the eyes of our hearts

that we might grow in faith day by day and

confess to the world that Jesus is Lord in our life.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer of Faith

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Welcome_NY_2019

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A God Who Listens

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

I sometimes joke that when we talk to God, secular people call that prayer, but when God talks to us, they call it psychosis. While Christians are accustomed to God answering prayer, one of the most astonishing attributes of God is that he listens. For example, in the Book of Judges we read:

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD. They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.” (Jdg 3:7-10)

Pattern in Judges

Brueggemann (2016, 59) records this pattern: “(1) doing evil, (2) angering YHWH enough to produce historical subjugation, (3) crying to the Lord in need, and (4) raising up a deliverer.” Crying out to the Lord may seem like a strange prayer, but the point is that God listens to people in their suffering, even when it is well-deserved. As the Apostle Paul writes: ”God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)

Why does this hearing attribute of God astonish us? Well, if you do not believe that God exists or that he exists but is aloof (only transcendent), then God’s attentiveness comes as a complete surprise—why would an almighty God pay attention to an insignificant, little me? The short answer is that he loves you—enough to die for you—like a parent loves their child because you are created in his image.

Biblical Accountability

God’s willingness to listen also denotes accountability, as we read:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner [immigrant] or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. If you lend money to any of my people with you who is poor, you shall not be like a moneylender to him, and you shall not exact interest from him. If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.” (Exod 22:21-27)

Mistreating the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, or the poor can evoke the wrath of a listening and compassionate God. Note the penalty for mistreating widows and orphans—you will die by sword and your wives and children will suffer without you. Thus, we see that ignoring God does not imply that you can do anything that you want.

The pattern in the Book of Judges is especially interesting because we read: Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Jdg 17:6) This description might equally apply to our own times.

Modern Examples of Accountability?

Modern example of this accountability might be found in the life of Friedrich Nietzsche, who could described as the patron saint of postmodernism. Nietzche, the son of a pastor, philosophied that “God is dead,” which implied that the Christian foundations of Western morality no longer had any relevance (Hendricks 2018). His work served as the philosophical foundation of the Third Reiche in Germany and communism throughout the world. Both atheist regimes brought about enormous suffering particularly through the Second World War, but also through concentration camps and widespread starvation, even as we witness today in North Korea.⁠1 

Could the defeat of Nazi Germany (1945) and the collapse of communism with the fall fo the Berlin Wall (1989) be viewed as the wrath of God being poured out because of the suffering caused? Was Nietzche’s own insanity⁠2 (1889) a random events?

Personally, I think that we serve a God who listens.

References

Brueggemann, Walter. 2016. Money and Possessions. Interpretation series. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Hendricks, Scotty. 2018.  “God Is Dead: What Nietzsche Really Meant.” Online: http://bigthink.com/scotty-hendricks/what-nietzsche-really-meant-by-god-is-dead. Accessed: June 8.

McGrath, Alister. 2004.  The Twilight of Atheism:  The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.  New York:  DoubleDay.

Footnotes

1 While some see atheism still on the march, Alister McGrath (2004, 1) dates the heyday of atheism from the fall of the Bastille (1789) to the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989).

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich_Nietzsche.

A God Who Listens

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Hebrew_Heart

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