February is National Heart Awareness Month in the United States. The American Heart Association (AHA) wants us to be able to recognize the warning signs of heart attack or stroke, but also wants us to make healthy choices in all areas of our lives.
Doing all we can to strengthen our physical heart is important, but our spiritual heart health is even more crucial. Its effects last long after our physical heart stops beating forever. What steps can we take now toward heart-healthy living?
The AHA has a great deal to say about healthy eating, such as eating more fruits and vegetables, limiting sugar and fats, avoiding highly processed foods, increasing home cooking from scratch, and more.
What are we feeding our spiritual hearts? Take an inventory of how you spend your day. What are you allowing into your mind and heart?
- What are you watching on TV or the internet?
- What music or talk shows are you listening to?
- What are you reading?
- Which friends do you allow to speak into your life and to give you advice?
How are these things affecting your faith? Are they bringing you down, or building you up? Are there certain things you need to curtail or cut out altogether?
What we feed our minds affects what we believe and how we feel emotionally. Be sure to get in a full meal each day of time in God’s Word.
David wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. I praise you, O LORD; teach me your decrees” (Psalm 119:11-12 NLT) and “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you.” (Psalm 63:1)
Jesus prayed for the disciples and for us, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17)
If you’re skimping out on this aspect of heart health, what can you do to improve your heart-healthy diet?
The AHA also makes recommendations in regards to mental health, sleep, stress management, and not using tobacco products.
When it comes to mental health, we can often deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re perfectly normal, when in fact we’re off our rockers! Everyone else can see it, but we’re completely in the dark. We think that everyone else is living with the same perceptions that we have!
God says, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the LORD, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10)
God knows our hearts more deeply than we ever will. He can help us see where we’re off kilter and aimed in the wrong direction, and help us right our course. Ask him to help you discover your own heart–you may be surprised at what you learn!
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” (Psalm 139:23)
Now about rest and stress. It’s hard to rest when your mind is not at ease. But we read, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) We are to rest in God, trusting in him! If we’re all wound up with worry and stress, we’re not trusting that the Creator of the universe is big enough to handle our circumstances. Seems rather silly, doesn’t it? When we hand our problems over to him, he helps us in our weakness with his own strength.
Spending time talking to and listening to God in prayer is an important part of a heart-healthy lifestyle. We ask for his wisdom and strength to live a life pleasing to him, and trust him with the outcomes. Leaving it in his hands can be the hardest part, but it’s a vital part of the process!
“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Psalm 51:10)
How can you grow in this area of a heart-healthy lifestyle of prayer?
Finally, the AHA encourages physical fitness as part of improving heart health.
Did you know that the Bible mentions fitness as well? Paul wrote, “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8) He also wrote to the church in Corinth, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25)
Our spiritual health requires spiritual training.
Strength training requires working against an opposing force, like gravity. There are times in our Christian walk that we are opposed by those who disagree with our values and way of living, but standing firm increases our strength to stand the next time around. We must remember, though, that “We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:11-12). The people opposing us are not the real enemy, Satan is. When he uses people to oppose us, we are to “Put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.” (Ephesians 6:13)
Endurance training requires effort over time, such as long-distance running. Our Christian walk requires effort on our part to remain true to God for the long haul, come what may! “Make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
“Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)
We only develop endurance by pushing through when we would rather give up. James encourages us, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (James 1:2-4) That’s a promise to hold onto!
Our spiritual fitness grows and is sustained through this thing we call life. We can throw in the towel when things get hard, or we can call on God’s strength to carry us through.
How do you normally respond to the trials of life? Are there changes you can make to draw closer to God in those times?
Let’s work on heart-healthy diets of Bible reading and prayer, and train for greater strength and endurance in this life we now live!
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