The husband and wife were each 85 years old and had been married for 60 years. Though they were far from rich, this elderly couple managed to get by because they watched their pennies. Though not young, they were both in excellent health, largely due to the wife’s insistence on healthy foods and exercise for the last decade.
One day, their good health didn’t help when they went on a rare vacation and their plane crashed, sending them off to Heaven. They reached the pearly gates and St. Peter escorted them inside. He took them to a beautiful mansion, furnished in gold and fine silks, with a fully stocked kitchen and a waterfall in the master bath. A maid could be seen hanging their favorite clothes in the closet. They gasped in astonishment when he said, “Welcome to Heaven. This will be your home now.”
The old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. “Why, nothing,” Peter replied, “remember, this is your reward in Heaven.”
The old man looked out the window and right there he saw a championship golf course, finer and more beautiful than any ever built on Earth. “What are the greens fees?” grumbled the old man.
“This is heaven,” St. Peter replied. “You can play for free, every day.”
Next, they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch, with every imaginable cuisine laid out before them, from seafood to steaks to exotic desserts, and free flowing beverages. “Don’t even ask,” said St. Peter to the man. “This is Heaven, it is all free for you to enjoy.”
The old man looked around and glanced nervously at his wife. “Well, where are the low-fat and low-cholesterol foods, and the decaffeinated tea?” he asked.
“That’s the best part,” St. Peter replied. “You can eat and drink as much as you like of whatever you like, and you will never get fat or sick. This is Heaven!”
The old man pushed, “No gym to work out at?”
“Not unless you want to,” was the answer.
“No testing my sugar or blood pressure or…”
“Never again. All you do here is enjoy yourself.”
The old man glared at his wife and said, “You and your bran muffins. We could have been here 10 years ago!”
That old man may have hit on something when he complained about his bran-muffin diet and having to take care of his body for so many years. The reality of that is beginning to come home to roost. I used to make fun of people who spend their days organizing their schedules around their doctor’s appointments.
Since our move to Florida, my bride and I have discovered that we pay more attention to our doctors and their advice than ever. We all are very busy, and the great majority of the busyness is due to the various doctors’ appointments we are driven to keep. I guess that is because we are getting older. Most of our friends here are in the same boat. Within the past couple of months, I have visited my dentist, my dermatologist, my family doctor, and my eye doctor. We schedule social events and golf tee times around our doctor’s appointments. Like any doctor these days, not keeping those appointments not only has a financial penalty but rescheduling often means another two- to six-month wait for the new appointment.
That old man may have wished he had not taken such good care of his body, but you and I have the responsibility to be good stewards of all that God has given to us, including our health. But even more important than our physical health is our spiritual health. The very same question should be asked of ourselves spiritually: How do I maintain or improve my spiritual health? What do I do to make sure that I do not deteriorate over time spiritually?
In Mark 4, Jesus was talking to the crowd that had gathered around him about this very thing. He was challenging them to get in shape spiritually. He told them, “For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25). In other words, there is no such thing as marking time spiritually speaking. You cannot just “maintain” your spiritual health and expect it to stay the same. God is looking for people who are continually “working out” to improve their spiritual health in every way, and He honors those who do.
It is very easy to become complacent spiritually and to decide we do not need to keep on eating the “fiber” of God’s Word, which is good for our spiritual health. Or we may say that it does no good to continue to put forth the “calisthenics” of prayer in our attempts to stay fit spiritually. But the truth of the matter is that if we do not continue in those disciplines, along with the “vegetables” of worshipping together with others and sharing with others our secrets for spiritual fitness, we will become flabby, and our spiritual cholesterol (that’s sin!) will increase to dangerous levels.
The challenge for good physical health is to maintain a good diet and get plenty of exercise. The challenge to good spiritual health is the same: a good diet of God’s Word, and plenty of exercise in the form of prayer, worship and meditation on the Word of God. The benefit of maintaining a good regimen for physical health is a longer and healthier life here on earth. The benefits of maintaining a good regimen for spiritual health is a long and fruitful life here on earth and will also include that litany of praise from God Himself: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Only one thing to say then: Bring on the bran muffins!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]