The human constitution involves physical, psychological, and spiritual dimensions, or simply put, body, soul, and spirit. Each aspect interrelates to the one next to it; the body interrelates to the soul and the soul interacts with the spirit. So the soul, positioned in the middle, interacts with both the body and the spirit.
Spiritual growth in grace occurs through choices of faith which operate in the soul. When you walk by faith you grow in grace. Faith arises in the soul and accesses the Spirit who is joined to our spirit. Faith comes by the specific word or, we might say, the words of God (Rom. 10:17). In other words, faith is based on truth found in the Word of God and based ultimately on the Living Word who sets us free.
The soul is made up of your mind (where truth is understood), affections (where truth is embraced as truth), and will (where truth is depended on). Faith involves the whole soul. When the soul exercises faith based on the truth of God, the Holy Spirit energizes the human personality with divine life.
So, can the body influence this process? Yes. The body can weigh down the soul which can hinder the exercise of faith necessary to walk in the Spirit. Although spiritual dullness can stem from harbored sin or spiritual attacks of the enemy, sometimes the cause is far more mundane. An unrested or undernourished body can cause feelings of discouragement, dullness, and irritability (what we might call soul-sluggishness). Because faith operates from the soul, spiritual growth can be hindered when unwise lifestyle choices in the physical realm adversely affect the soul.
The Holy Spirit works through our faculties, not around them. We are not robots. Faith is always a soul response to the Spirit’s leadership and power. Faith cooperates with the Holy Spirit. A “fit” soul increases readiness for faith responses while an unfit soul decreases this readiness. Therefore, there are practical helps for spiritual health that can be applied on the physical level to better influence the soul.
Sleep deprivation is an enemy of spiritual growth. Why? Because lack of sleep causes soul sluggishness which hinders the necessary wherewithal to exercise faith. Proverbs many warnings against being a sluggard remind us that too much sleep is also a hindrance. We need appropriate sleep. It is part of God’s design for the rhythm of life.
Proper rest, appropriate sleep, is not too much and not too little. The needed amount of hours will vary among individuals based on their physical make up, but everyone needs their rest. When you are sleep-deprived your mind is dull. When your mind is dull and your will is sluggish, it becomes difficult to make wise choices. And beyond the routine choices we sometimes haphazardly make when the soul is dull, important faith responses can be greatly hindered.
God’s design involves appropriate sleep at the appropriate time. While some have work shifts that demand unusual sleep times (e.g., the biblical watchman who must be on guard in the night), God designed for people to sleep at night. Job spoke of “the night, when deep sleep falleth on men” (Job 4:13; cf. 33:15).
Understanding the importance of rest, Jesus said to His disciples, “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). God designed sleep to refresh the body, which in turn refreshes the soul, which in turn provides the opportunity to refresh the spirit. Therefore, God “giveth his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).
When getting proper rest is providentially out of our control, we can look to the Lord for supernatural physical strength. But normally, God works according to natural means. We need to appropriate proper rest.
Another physical reality that affects soul health and threatens spiritual health is a lack of food, or in many cases, a lack of nourishing food. When individuals get overly hungry, they can get grouchy or become moody. Clearly, the soul has been adversely affected. Since the Holy Spirit works through a cooperating soul, the opportunity for faith choices is hindered when the soul is out of sorts.
Proper nourishment promotes good physical well-being, which promotes good psychological well-being, which enhances the opportunity for spiritual growth through necessary faith choices.
“Bodily exercise profiteth little” (1 Tim. 4:8). While some focus too much on that which profits little, others almost completely ignore appropriate physical fitness and miss out on the benefits. Again, if the condition of the physical body is unfit, this can weigh down the soul, hinder faith choices, and negatively affect the spiritual realm. We all need proper exercise to prevent this disastrous cycle.
Proper rest, food, and exercise—all very practical matters—can positively impact spiritual health.
John Van Gelderen