Dieting For Disciples

Dieting For Disciples
Lee Ann Alexander

The story did not start out funny. My mother called me to explain she and my father had completed a full battery of health screenings as part of their insurance regulations. If you are like me, a certain amount of tension arises with doctor visits.

My father saw the nutrition specialist first. She asked about his meal prior to the visit. He proudly recounted the lineup, “Baked tilapia and a spinach salad.”

When my mother went in for her consultation, the nutrition specialist gave a good report but recommended one change, “You need to feed your husband more carbs.”

For those who know my father, that part of the story is more than a little humorous. With his lifelong adages such as “everything is better with gravy” and “ice cream settles the stomach,” carbohydrates are not and have never been in short supply in the family diet. But similar to cramming the night before a final exam or breaking out the otherwise unused packet of floss the night before the semi-annual dentist visit, my dad’s meal before the doctor visit had toed the line with fish and green vegetables seemingly indicating a lack of carbohydrates to the doctor who didn’t know the rest of the story.

Diets can be almost as difficult to evaluate as they are to follow. I am not sure that I have ever intentionally dieted in my lifetime. Still the reality is that every day I am on a diet by default from the food I choose to eat and not eat. It’s simply a matter of if I’m observing a healthy and balanced diet.

A nutrition specialist I am not, but I do see a parallel when I think about the way I approach my personal journey to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not know the date of the final exam; I cannot ingest a final healthy meal of prayer and Bible study just before the test to have a good evaluation of my spiritual disciplines. The choices I am not making every day will affect my spiritual health as much as any special things I do or conferences I attend to perk up my spirituality.

Health care professionals advise that fad diets do not sustain long-term results and can even be damaging to your body when you ingest or withhold certain foods or liquids in excess. The charm of getting results with a short-term investment, like with the infamous cabbage soup diet or (yikes) the tapeworm diet, wins over followers even though doctors stress the best way is a long-term lifestyle of balanced nutrition and exercise.

Could it be that I have fallen prey to short-term schemes for discipleship? In a world stressing “do more, faster, with less” have I looked for shortcuts to closeness with the Master? I want a three-point recipe for an effective prayer life and five steps for getting more out of my Bible reading in less time. But such motivations betray a misplaced direction. Jesus advised His disciples to abide in Him (John 15:1-11).

That emphasis on being immersed continually in God’s presence convicts me that prayer must be elevated to a higher priority than the closing few minutes squeezed into the end of my day. It also convinces me that my study of God’s Word must be systematic. If Scripture emphasizes the wholeness of God’s Word and how it should not be added to or taken away from (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6; Revelation 22:18-19), I don’t think it’s a stretch to say I should also study the whole of Scripture. I have concerns with other faith traditions that seem to ignore certain parts of the Bible in establishing their doctrines. By the same token, what does it say about me if my study of Scripture is not thorough and comprehensive?

On a church-wide level, this logic is one of the main reasons we have curriculum. If I relied on my preferences as a teacher, my students may leave my class with holes in their understanding of the Bible and its teachings because I may spend more time on my personal candy sticks and neglect other important areas. A curriculum’s scope and sequence ensures biblical theology is covered systematically. On a personal level I have no less obligation to ensure my personal devotion includes a plan for thorough Scripture study rather than simply flipping to a passage of choice each morning.

If we believe discipleship is our lifelong growth process as Jesus’ followers, a balanced diet is crucial for spiritual health. Perhaps fad dieting has given healthy eating an unfair stigma as miserable and difficult; however, intentional, reasonable lifestyle changes with food can be adapted by a family in such a way that they come to enjoy the cuisine and appreciate the resulting energy and health benefits. With the Lord’s help, we can expect even greater benefits from intentional investment in personal and church-wide discipleship efforts.

Lee Ann Alexander
Associate Editor/UPCI

The above article, ‘Dieting For Disciples’ was written by Lee Ann Alexander. The article was excerpted from September 2016.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.