At lunch after worship with the Hot Springs church of Christ, as I took the next bite of my seafood fettuccine alfredo at the Olive Garden with some of the church family I’d just met, I noticed something I’d picked up on just the week before: The sisters who look like they’ve been drinking out of the Fountain of Youth seem to be ordering either the soup and salad or the salmon and broccoli lunch. As the conversation naturally wandered this way and that from the history of Hot Springs, Arkansas, to firsthand observations of how the Apartheid affected the church in South Africa, to how the English sometimes refer to a paper cutter as a “guillotine”, to the joys of living in the mountains at Hot Springs Village, one broccoli-eating sister casually mentioned in passing that she enjoys rising early enough to see the Morning Star still in the sky during her morning devotions, and is out walking her mountain by 6:30am so she can be present to witness creation as the sun is rising. I love that. And part of me knows I need that. And though my high carb lunch was sandwiched between a challenging 3.3 mile, two-hour hike from downtown Hot Springs to the Hot Springs Mountain Tower the day before, and another two-hour, fettuccine burning hike around Garvan Woodland Gardens after lunch, the truth is, ever since we’ve hit the road living in our van, every day is so different that I’ve not found the groove I once had when I had climbing on a consistent basis my own a handy mountain right in my own backyard. For a few weeks, as we were traveling, I began to train for another half marathon, but injured my knee cross-training on my bike in too low a gear and by the time my knee healed, the thrill of running was gone.
Then there’s “Johnny”. “Johnny” is the moniker Mark and I have given to his alter-ego --- not the Mark we know and love who consistently does what is in the best interest of his wife, but “Johnny” who brings into the van six-packs of Hershey’s bars, bags of Lay’s BBQ potato chips, and king-sized packages of Reese’s peanut butter cups, at which point, in the style of one of those blame-shifting blondes in the 1960’s, black and white film noir movies, I hurl the accusation “You’re no good for me, Johnny!!!” right before we happily divide the King Size Reese's, chuckling at the reality that no other human is actually to blame for another person’s poor choices. The struggle is real and I, for one, am aiming to order more salmon and broccoli.
Last year on a very windy day, we’d met up for the first time with the preacher, Adam Kendall-Ball, to have a lovely meal atop The Waters Hotel in downtown Hot Springs, and though our schedule did not permit us to stay in town for a church gathering, still we very much wanted to acquaint ourselves with Adam as we passed through town. We’ve much to learn from the perspective of a man who has had such unique experiences, that after lunch we determined that the next time we passed through, we would worship with him and the Hot Springs congregation he had been preaching full time for after leaving South Africa just a few years ago.
You’ll find on this congregation’s website that this congregation’s vision is to “encourage a deeper meaning of His Word in our lives, and to spread the message of eternal salvation to those who hunger and thirst for the glory of our heavenly home abiding in His Holy presence throughout eternity” and that they want to help other souls “find hope, encouragement and strength!” They describe themselves as fellow Christians from diverse cultures, singles and married, young, old and in-between, employees, employers and retirees, who are reaching out to anyone planning to move to Hot Springs, Arkansas, who are new to the community and are seeking a church home, as well as long-time residents who are seeking fellowship, support and opportunities to serve the Savior, Jesus Christ.
What we discovered during our visit was a tight knit church family who were in the exciting process of appointing elders. We also heard firsthand how deeply grateful they are to be the congregation with whom Adam had chosen to work. The Sunday morning we visited, Adam preached a sermon many of us can relate to, about the similarities between tending to our physical health and our spiritual health, both of which take at times some self-denial, which can be challenging, but the results of which are beyond worthwhile. Truly, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet.” (Hebrews 12:11-13).
Adam pointed out the opportunities God sends our way to build in us a strong spiritual immune system to help us fight diseases of the soul caused by sin. Just as we take extra precautions to avoid catching illnesses in the winter when we see illnesses are all around us, likewise we must be all the more vigilant when we know we are in a situation that would easily lend itself to taking from us our spiritual vitality. And the world is all about that, is it not? Sexual sin is as lethal to the soul as heroine is to the body. Pornography as addictive as cocaine. Evil companions (including most popular media today in which people find “companionship”) are like junk food. They’re fun in the moment and we think they won’t set us back that much, but “don’t be deceived”, God warns, over time they are certain to slowly corrupt our character (1 Corinthians 15:33) and weaken our spiritual immune system.
God frees us from the cycle of spiritual disease and death by warning us to
maintain a healthy appetite for all the elements that make for spiritual vitality. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” Jesus promises in Matthew 5:6. We see imagery throughout scripture of the value of ingesting all that is good for the soul.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34) and so is ours, for in doing the will of God, our souls thrive. You survived to this day because when you were an infant you were given the milk needed to keep you alive. Likewise, the Word of God is like milk. (1 Peter 2:2). It nourishes the young in Christ.
This world is a desert and your soul needs water. The Word is that water. It is life giving, refreshing and a cleansing agent all at once. (Ephesians 5:26; John 15:3; Psalm 119:9; 1 Peter 3:21)
Your exhausted spirit needs renewed energy and nutrition every single day. That’s why God gave you the Word as bread for your soul. (Matthew 4:4; Amos 8:11)
You need solid food for your soul and the Word is like Meat (Hebrews 5:14) because it gives strength especially for the spiritually mature.
God wants you to love life and see days (1 Peter 3:10), to experience deep joy and simple pleasures --- and the greatest of all simple pleasures is the Word because of how it transforms our lives. It is sweet to the taste. (Psalm 19:10). In fact, it is the ultimate honey for the soul (Psalm 119:103). When it comes to this spiritual honey, we are never told to “pace ourselves”, like we are told with regard to physical honey. Why in Proverbs 25:27 does God tell us not to eat too much honey? Because like all innocent pleasures of the world, overindulgence would be your ruin, and He wants better for us. The only way to not overindulge, is to fix our eyes not on what leads only to more craving, but “on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3.)
Adam reminded us how our bodies thrive when we exercise, both physically and spiritually, and how the spiritual prize for which Christians race is far more precious than even a gold medal. We run to obtain eternal life (1 Corinthians 9). Talk about high stakes! So with eternity at stake, what’s our training plan? Well, first God says we are to have diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but be imitators of those who “through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12.
Like so many things in life, staying spiritually fit is about consistency. How do I get the ability to stick with living life God's way when the going gets tough? When I've got to lift something super heavy. Or monotonous? Or painful? Or scary? What will keep me from passing out on the race track?
Well, one thing’s for sure. It’s not the dabbling occasionally in what is good for our souls, but rather consistent movement in a healthy direction that lends itself to increasing strength. This becomes especially challenging when pain, in whatever form, enters the picture. And here’s the surprising reality: It is that pain itself that produces endurance. Mike Fishbaugh has noted that one “secret of endurance is to remember that your pain is only going to last for a little while, but if you keep enduring, your reward will be eternal."
The Lord states plainly one source of stamina when He says, "The testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:3). You mean when bad stuff happens I can use it to build character? Absolutely. It’s like weight training. "Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance, with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass, and/or endurance… The body adapts to exercise and needs to be constantly challenged in order to continue to grow and change." What's true for the body is true for the soul. The harder the things you go through, the more chances you have to become stronger spiritually.
And then there’s rest. Science is only now beginning to discover the restorative nature of good sleep to our minds and bodies. Adam reminded us in his sermon that in Mark 1:35, even Jesus rose early in the morning and went alone to a deserted place to pray, so that he would have the strength to carry on with his work and his mission.
Let’s not underestimate during our waking hours the value of being still and knowing God is God (Psalm 46:10), and at bedtime may we recall that rest is a gift of God who “gives sleep to His beloved” (Psalm 127:2). “When you lie down your sleep will be sweet” He whispers to those who keep sound wisdom in Proverbs 3:24. For we who adore God, and sense His undeserved smile upon our lives we can say with confidence as we drift off “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).
Hot Springs Church of Christ
112 Mockingbird Street
Hot Springs, Arkansas 71913