Have you ever considered that your physical body is important to your spirituality, to the practice of connecting with God?
For a long time, this question never entered my head as I pursued my Christian faith. Being totally honest, I was often suspicious of bodily activities within the religious sphere. I treated them as if they were somehow dangerous or detrimental to my journey with Jesus, rather than a potential aid.
Now I have realised that engaging my mind, spirit and body together is critical for deeply knowing God, especially within this chaotic and distracting world. Connecting with God entirely, we must apply ourselves entirely using everything we have at our disposal. Our relationship with Jesus is an intimate and immersive experience for our whole being that will encompass our whole lives. Following Jesus is not a part-time thing. It’s an all-in life. What’s more, we’ve literally been intentionally created to live this way.
The disconnect between the physical and the spiritual
Religious thought has long contemplated the relationship between the physical and the spiritual realms. Historically (and this is a broad generalisation), our earthly bodies haven’t emerged well from these discussions. Our physicality has often been relegated or ignored in favour of spiritual or intellectual pursuits, perceived as loftier goals.
Gnosticism is one example. Borrowing from the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, Gnostics taught that redemption comes from nurturing the intellect and deprecating our corporeal existence – what we might call ‘mind over matter. Within that worldview, the physical body was at worst intrinsically evil and at best useless ‘flesh’. Consequently, it was an object subject to inevitable decay to be kept far from spiritual and intellectual life. The mind and spirit were preferred and prioritised. The flesh was dishonoured and dismissed.
Although gnosticism isn’t exactly a word in popular use today, much of its thinking subtly is, including within faith-based circles. As a result, we can forget that the body itself has a role to play in our spiritual journey. This was exactly where I ended up. Subconsciously swayed by prevailing thinking within our culture and some religious spheres, I spent years failing to engage with the potential that my physicality and physiology had to deepen my faith and experience of Jesus.
Removing the disconnect
Fast forward the clock, and that has all changed. I have learned that holding such a disconnect between mind, body and soul is to completely miss the point of God making us human. Such a boundary risks intellectualising or theorising our faith, ultimately uncoupling it from reality. We have not been created as just a spirit. We are a spirit with a mind and a body. And that’s not a mistake. To connect with our Heavenly Father and to follow the example of His son, Jesus, we need to learn to engage mind, body and spirit together. What we do in the physical can genuinely impact what happens in the spiritual. Take a moment to let that sink in.
Faith and physicality
Although I never consciously acknowledged that my physical body was of use to my faith, I did, without realising, use my physicality a lot when engaging with God. I still do, and you probably do too. My hands naturally raise when I worship. I physically kneel when I am desperate to hear God or struggling to focus on communicating with Him. Like a monk in a stained-glass window, I sometimes snap my palms together when I pray. I close my eyes. I lay my hands on people when I want to see God heal them, just as Scripture says. These are all physical actions and yet they have spiritual impact. I am, often without thinking, engaging my body to further my spirituality.
There’s no intrinsic magic or formula to these physical moves. They just somehow help, as if I was always designed to operate this way. As I position myself in certain postures, I find it easier to connect with what I am trying to do, or more specifically, who I am trying to communicate with. Using my body mindfully, I have learned, is an antidote to the stresses of everyday life which seek to distract me from spending peaceful time with Jesus.
The biblical perspective
Right from the start of the Bible, the Word teaches us that our physical bodies have an important role to play in connecting with God. This role extends to our individual spiritual formation, our corporate pursuit of God and our interactions with each other. In Genesis 1:31 we read God made us, in all of our physicality, physiology and psychology, and He called it “very good”. That theme of purposeful physical design continues throughout the Bible.
Although we know from passages such as Romans 8:5-8 that the body is not the crowning part of our human experience, we must equally acknowledge that it is not dispensable, vain or useless. Rather, as Paul teaches us, the body is holy and to be honoured. It is a valuable vessel through which we glorify God in our day-to-day lives. The body is a designed masterpiece that has a significant role to play in our Christian journey of relational intimacy with Jesus. Consequently, there is much we can learn about using our body intentionally to help facilitate fruitful spaces within which to engage with God.
The body as part of our worship
Consider this scripture from the Apostle Paul to the Roman Church:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1
Paul is speaking about the spectacular new life that we find in Jesus Christ. However, he explains it, somewhat surprisingly, using sacrificial language from the Old Testament. The practical outcome of these chosen words, though, is staggering. While the concept of “offering our bodies as a living sacrifice” may initially seem foreign to us, when we study it a little deeper, we realise that Paul is making a foundational and (at the time) radically counter-cultural point.
Unlike the religions of the day that elevated the spiritual and spurned the dirty, fleshy body, the word for bodies that Paul uses is specifically talking about our whole being – body, mind and soul. All of them. Body, mind and soul, Paul suggests, all belong to God and therefore all are relevant to how we live lives of reverential worship and praise to God. Spiritual worship includes offering one’s whole life to God and that includes our physical bodies.
The body as a temple
If it helps to think about it another way, reflect on these words from 1 Corinthians. Paul is speaking again, but this time using an analogy of a temple:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
There’s that concept again. Our physical bodies are the chambers within which God’s Spirit dwells. They are very much part of the picture, not an ignored footnote. We are not just spiritual beings. Consequently, Paul argues, we need to remember that taking care of the body is an essential part of the Christian experience and calling. As with other gifts from God, Christians are to exercise responsible stewardship over their bodies. We cannot ignore our physicality or disassociate it from our faith or spirituality. We must learn to listen to our bodies and seek to take good care of them. God created us with a body. How we use it matters.
Jesus and physicality
Even if none of the above has swayed you, consider finally the gritty but beautiful physicality of the incarnation. Jesus, fully-God, came to earth in fully-human form and took on a flesh-and-blood body. The King of the universe experienced toddlerhood and puberty. He used his hands to carve wood as a carpenter. His physical legs carried Him between towns, spreading the good news of the Kingdom. He physically touched the diseased and unclean. Reaching out to the marginalised, He ate food with sinners and tangibly healed people in their bodies as well as redeeming their souls.
Ultimately, Jesus’ body was physically beaten, pierced, crucified and killed before its glorious resurrection – the very moment that secured salvation for us all. Physicality mattered for Jesus. It matters to God. It is an essential part of the human experience. Consequently, your body matters too and, just like Jesus, you can use it for God’s glory.
Connecting to God entirely
Our Glorify Body Series, available on the Glorify App, is all about taking small and mangeable steps on the journey of connecting our physiology with our spirituality as we go deeper in relationship with Jesus. Amid a stressful world, it considers how we can intentionally use our bodies to know God more closely and steward what He has given to us.
As an example, try this visualisation to calm the mind and relax the body:
Through techniques such as this, along with scriptural meditation, stretch-exercises and mindful movements, the Body Series explores how physical actions can make peaceful, effective and fruitful space for deep and intimate engagement with Jesus. We hope that you will join us.