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The Spiritual Discipline of Not-Overeating? Part 2

Updated: May 24


(This week, we continue with part two on the rarely thought-of spiritual practice of not overeating. We periodically hear about "fasting," but what about the everyday discipline of not overeating?)


John Wesley is widely regarded as one of the most influential theologians and religious figures in Christian history, not just in the evangelical era. Wesley was deeply concerned with the practical implications of theology for living as a believer.


Wesley's sermons, letters, and hymns addressed a wide range of theological and ethical issues, providing guidance for both discipleship and spiritual formation. His development of bands or groups (we might call them ‘cell groups’ today) for discipleship and personal accountability showed that he was concerned with not only his own spiritual formation but also that of others. The twenty-two questions that were asked at each meeting are deeply convicting, such as:


  • Did the Bible live in me today?

  • Do I get to bed on time and up on time?

  • Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy, or distrustful?

  • Is Messiah real to me?[1]


You are God’s instrument!

Wesley was very health conscious. Phillip Ott writes, “Because of the symbiotic relation between body and spirit, a well-working body was fundamental to Wesley’s wholistic view of health. Furthermore, a sensible regimen was viewed as the natural way of realizing a life of health and wholeness.”[2] Wesley explained that just as the quality of music depended on the quality of the instrument being played, it was essential that our bodies (God’s instrument) be taken care of.


“If these instruments, by which the soul works, are disordered, the soul itself must be hindered in its operations. Let a musician be ever so skillful, he will make but poor music if his instrument is out of tune.”[3] 

Wesley strongly believed that God cares about both our earthly and heavenly lives. As a result, he authored a medical guide for ordinary individuals called Primitive Physick.[4]


It is not by chance that Wesley died at eighty-seven, while his friend (and sometimes rival) George Whitefield passed at a mere fifty-five. Whitefield famously said, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” It is reported that “In one week, he often preached a dozen times or more and spent 40 or 50 hours in the pulpit.”[5] Many would find that commendable, but in his own words, he wore himself out for God.


If that were today, we would call him a workaholic. “Whitefield pushed himself so hard and preached with such intensity that often afterward he had ‘a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quantity of blood.’”[6] By the end of his life, he was overweight and gray, looking much older than his fifty-five years. Conversely, Wesley weighed 128 pounds by “Eat[ing] a little less than you desire.”[7]


Without a body, our soul is useless to this world. Wesley preached this. “An embodied spirit cannot form one thought but by the mediation of its bodily organ.”[8] Even if our bodies perform well, we need to care for them


“to answer their necessities, to provide for their sustenance, to preserve them in health, and to keep them tenantable, in some tolerable fitness for our soul's use. … [because] If but one of these slender threads, whereof our flesh is made up, be stretched beyond its due proportion, or fretted by any sharp humour, or broken, what torment does it create.”[9]

 

My Own Spiritual Formation

One of the reasons I am drawn to Wesley is because, while he was passionate, he was disciplined. In my own experience in spiritual formation, I have found that when I treat my body wrong—most often through indulgence—I feel weak in my soul. In addition, a heavy schedule of traveling for ministry not only makes it difficult to have proper devotional times, but to eat properly.


A friend of mine brings healthy foods with him whenever he travels. He gives stringent instructions to his hosts regarding what he can eat and when he needs to eat. He is not a primadonna but someone who has the passion of Whitefield but is seeking to live with the wisdom of Wesley.


I found my way into the field of spiritual formation after a season of depression brought on by burnout. I led three ministries and a business while earning my master’s degree. I was quite proud of the amount of weight I could carry until I hit a wall. What I was doing was not healthy. I would often feel stressed from early in the morning until I went to bed.


Wesley is a great example of someone who found a balance between taking care of his body and his soul while having a powerful impact on this world as one of the primary leaders in the First Great Awakening (along with Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards).



 

[1] “John Wesley’s 22 questions for self examination,” The United Methodist Church, accessed May 1, 2024, https://www.umc.org/en/content/john-wesleys-22-questions-of-self-examination.

[2] Phillip Ott, “John Wesley on Health as Wholeness,” Journal of Religion and Health30, No. 1, (Spring 1991): 43.

[3] Ott, “John Wesley on Health as Wholeness,” 50.

[4] Jeremy Steele, “10 fasicnating facts about John Wesley and United Methodism,” accessed on May 4, 2024, https://www.resourceumc.org/en/content/10-fascinating-facts-about-john-wesley-and-united-methodism.

[5] “George Whitefield: Did You Know?” Christianity Today, accessed May 4, 2024, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-38/george-whitefield-did-you-know.html.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Steele, “10 fasicnating facts about John Wesley and United Methodism.”

[8] John Wesley quoted in Ott, “John Wesley on Health as Wholeness,” 50.

[9] Ibid.

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