A major reason for the gift of the health message to the Seventh-day Adventist Church was to fit its members and leadership for service to others. When one considers the poor state of James White’s health at the time of the Otsego vision in 1863, one understands that there were changes that needed to be made then that we would do well to make in our lives now, changes that might extend our usefulness and longevity in service.
One of the most common excuses offered by those encouraged to exercise, rest, and take time for recreation is “I don’t have the time!” Time taken in caring for our physical and mental health is time well spent. We do not have time not to care for our health. Based on our under-standing of the balanced development of body, mind, and spirit, it is essential for us to include health reform in our daily journey. This is a key characteristic of the Adventist health message and advantage: addressing the needs of the whole being.
“Since the mind and the soul find expression through the body, both men-tal and spiritual vigor are in great degree dependent upon physical strength and activity; whatever promotes physical health, promotes the development of a strong mind and a well-balanced character. Without health no one can as distinctly understand or as completely fulfill his obligations to himself, to his fellow beings, or to his Creator. Therefore the health should be as faithfully guarded as the character.”1
Ellen White counseled, “As we near the close of time, we must rise higher and still higher upon the question of health reform and Christian temperance, presenting it in a more positive and decided manner.”2 This advice is even more pertinent than ever as we see the burgeoning amount of illness brought on by the noncommunicable diseases, which are mainly diseases of lifestyle. The world faces unprecedented chal-lenges both in the developed countries and the emerging economies by the issues of obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, tobacco-related diseases, and coronary artery disease. We are called not only to practice temperance in our lives but also to share it with a dying world. We are familiar with the tremen-dous mission that lies ahead of God’s church in proclaiming the three angels’ messages. We intellectually assent to the fact that the health message composes part of the great warning of Revelation 14:6–12 and is also a means of meeting the needs of the community, as well as preparing for the harvest. Do we believe it enough to live it?
Right now we are seeing a resurgence of interest among many churches in meeting the health needs of the community. In 2006, a church in Tennessee opened an exercise facility and had 200 members at the time. That same church now runs a health center and has grown to 3,000 members! 3 In 2011, Rick Warren challenged his church when he stated that he had gained three pounds each year over the 30 years he had been pastoring his church and was going to try and lose this weight. He asked whether anyone would want to join him in this venture, which became known as the Daniel Plan. Just two years later, Saddleback congregants had lost more than 270,000 pounds!4 These are just two examples of much that is happening in the world of health reform. What would happen if each one of us were to take hold of the acknowledged Adventist advantage, which has been publicized in Time magazine, National Geographic, CNN, USA Today, and various other media, and live it, model it, and share it?
We should be careful not to produce another measure to “assess” the spiritual-ity of others by measuring the size of the jeans, the intensity of the workout, the strictness of the diet, or even one’s energy level. We need to come to the point where we understand that allowing Christ to take control of every aspect of our lives as leaders and as a people is a matter of the heart.
In his book Dramatic Prophecies of Ellen White, Herbert Douglass shares the following challenge, including an excerpt from Counsels on Diet and Foods, page 35: “Heart reform comes before health reform. Ellen White kept her priorities straight—preserving health is primarily a spiritual challenge: ‘Men will never be truly temperate until the grace of Christ is an abiding principle in the heart. . . . No mere restriction of your diet will cure your diseased appetite. . . . What Christ works within, will be worked out under the dictation of the converted intellect. The plan of beginning outside and trying to work inward has always failed, and always will fail.’”5 In the same vein, the challenging words of Hudson Taylor echo in my own heart: “Christ is either Lord of all, or is not Lord at all! . . . If He is Lord, let us treat him as such.”6 He takes control of every aspect of my life. “Men will never be truly temperate until the grace of God is an abiding principle in the heart.”7
As a church, we have been blessed with a privileged revelation of how to live life to the full. To care for the body temple has become a sacred duty, to then spend and be spent in service to a broken world crying out for a grace-filled revelation of Jesus Christ through His followers and the truths entrusted to them all these years.
Will you answer that call and honor Him in body, mind, and spirit and thus “preserve every power in the best con-dition for highest service to God and man”?8
1 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1954), 360, 361.
2 Ellen G. White, Counsels on Health (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1957), 467.
3 Leslie Leyland Fields, “The Fitness-Driven Church,” Christianity Today, June 2013, 38. Available at www.christianitytoday.com /ct/2013/june/fitness-driven-church.html.
5 Herbert Edgar Douglass, Dramatic Prophecies of Ellen White (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 2007).
6 Roger Steer, Hudson Taylor: Lessons in Discipleship (OMF International, 1995), 34.
7 Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases, vol. 5, 64.
8 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 319.