One of the things that uniquely characterizes us as human beings is a capacity to have a personal relationship with God, our Creator. He made us not only to live in this world but to enjoy a personal relationship with Him, starting in this life and continuing on into eternity. If we are totally focused on the material things of this life and this world, we will miss out on most of what life is all about.
Augustine is famous for saying: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee." How true that is. God has put within us a sense that there is something more than life on this earth. Your body will age, you will become more forgetful, you will lose your social support, and your nest egg will get smaller. But when we consider our relationship with God, we get to the one domain of wellness that need not deteriorate over time.
Our relationship with God can continue to grow no matter what is happening in the other areas of our lives. We can find God's presence and love just as invigorating on the day we die as we did on the first day we came to know Him personally. It is that vibrancy and inner joy that only God can give that make for spiritual wellness, and we must pursue them with vigor.
I remember Ned, who died at 50 years of age from a devastating cancer. He had known that death was coming for almost a year. But what a year it was! He chose not to pursue chemotherapy, which surely would have been futile, and opted instead to maintain as much quality of life as he could.
He was absolutely excited about the prospect of seeing Jesus face-to-face, and he shared that excitement with everyone he could. He read his Bible with renewed enthusiasm, knowing that he would soon meet the writers. His prayers often ended with "See you soon!" His faith could hardly have been more robust—an inspiration to all.
Most of us surely want to come to our deaths the same way. The problem is that we rarely experience that sort of vigorous faith if we wait until just before we die to cultivate it. It comes only by living close to God long before that time. The next thing we must do as we are staying well to the glory of God is, like Ned, maintain our spiritual vigor. Where do we start?
Step One: Know God personally. Ron, age 71, was admitted to a hospital's psychiatric wing because he was severely depressed. It was brought on by his wife's unexpected announcement that she was divorcing him—after 48 years of marriage. Her reason? While attending a high school reunion, she renewed a romance with a man she had dated in her teens. "I want to marry him," she explained to her husband: "and in order to do that, I want out of our marriage."
Hearing this, the dejected, suicidal Ron consulted with a psychiatrist who recommended the hospitalization. While being treated he was asked a rather unusual question. The doctor wanted to know if he had any spiritual resources to help him with his recovery. Ron took to heart what the doctor suggested. After being discharged, he went to church, something he hadn't done for quite awhile. There he heard that when Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), He was claiming that people could come to know God personally through Him.
Ron's experience teaches us that it's good to turn to God when we are in a crisis. It is tempting to think that if we have neglected God for most of our lives, it's not appropriate to turn to Him when we are hurting. Yet God's purpose in bringing us into some of the difficulties we face may be exactly that: to pierce the deluded self-sufficiency we have clung to for so long and draw us to Him. Jesus' invitation still stands: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Like Ron, all of us have offended God in many ways and have failed to live up to His divine standards. We have sinned against Him. As a result we deserve His eternal punishment. In His love, however, He allowed His Son, Jesus, to leave His presence and be born into a world that would reject Him. It was God's plan for Him to die, not for His own faults, for He had none, but in payment for ours. The fact that God raised Him from the dead demonstrated that God accepted Christ's payment.
Now if we are willing to confess our sins, turn from them, and trust that Jesus' death was enough to satisfy God's righteous judgment against us, our sins will be forgiven. Then God, by His Spirit, actually comes to live within us. We begin a personal relationship with Him that will go on for all eternity. That is where spiritual wellness begins.
Step Two: Surrender control. From that point forward, the next step to spiritual wellness is to progressively surrender the control of our lives to God, permitting Him to be our Lord. To do this we need to allow His Spirit to transform our desires and our behavior to conform more to what the Bible teaches. It requires that we turn away from the sins we enjoyed in the past, because we have found something better. As we do, we will learn to recognize the promptings of the Holy Spirit to do what is right.
Surrendering to Christ's lordship is typically on-again, off-again since we frequently succumb to the temptation to regain control. Our goal should be to progressively turn over more and more control to Him so that by the time we come to the end of life, He is in full control.
Step Three: Pursue God's glory. Once God's Spirit lives in us, and as He is increasingly in control, our values and goals will change. We will no longer find our deepest satisfaction and joy in the things of this life. The psalmist invites us to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). We will get a taste of what God is like and conclude: "In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).
The greatest treasure we could ever have is God Himself. We will continue to enjoy the wonderful things God has given us in this life but recognize them as His gifts to us and use them to give Him praise. We will also be aware that our time on earth is preparation for our eternal life in His presence. No longer will we experience our greatest thrills when people think well of us, rather, it will be when we can help them think well of God.
The psalmist rightly says: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory" (Psalm 115:1). When that happens, our passion will increasingly be to glorify God. True wellness is inseparably related to a passion for God's glory. Life takes on a far greater meaning because it is not all about us—it is about God; it is not all about the here and now—it is about eternity.
I know of many seniors who have avoided a destructive self-focus. I remember Jean, who at 96 lived in a less-than-ideal nursing home. Her roommate was demented and frequently cried out. Yet Jean was totally focused on the world outside of herself. Not knowing what a computer or word processor was, she daily pulled out her old typewriter and wrote a note of encouragement to a missionary. I would rarely see her when she wasn't surrounded by the letters she would get in return. She loved to read portions to me.
Here was one dear soul who escaped the tendency of our culture to focus on oneself and the present. She chose to focus on others and on eternity. God was glorified.
Don't get the wrong idea here. God's glory can be pursued in many different ways. It is not all about sitting in church and worshipping Him while discounting the enjoyable things in this life. This morning I watched a beautiful sunrise over Lake Michigan and sat wondering why the God who designed such beauty would be willing to enjoy it with me. God was glorified.
When I go out for a run and thank God for the strength He gives me, He is glorified. When my wife, Dorothy, and I are enjoying being with each other and are grateful God brought us together, He is glorified. When patients come to the office for follow-ups and report that they are feeling much better, God is glorified.
Having a personal relationship with God, surrendering control to Him, and pursuing a passion for His glory, serve as the foundation upon which we can build spiritual wellness. If we are wise, by God's help, we will do so with vigor.
Adapted from Wellness for the Glory of God, Copyright © 2014 by John Dunlop, MD. Used by permission of Crossway: a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
1. Listen to Dr. Dunlop explain what it means to age well in all spheres of life on a recent FamilyLife Today® broadcast.
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3. You are never too old to invest in your marriage. Attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway and learn how to build intimacy, improve communication, and leave a godly legacy.