How to Have a Healthy Spiritual Immune System
On July 2, 2014, Louis Zamperini, a great American hero, died at age 97 in Los Angeles. Louis Zamperini was an Olympic runner for the US, but that’s not primarily what he’s known for. Instead, he is most remembered as a WWII veteran who survived–not only 47 days on a tiny rubber raft in the Pacific–but also his capture and endurance in a Japanese prisoner of war camp known as Execution Island.
In 2010, author, Laura Hillenbrand published the story of Louis Zamperini in the book, Unbroken. On Christmas day, 2014, the movie Unbroken will be released in theaters across the nation. View the Unbroken trailer here.
Louis Zamperini’s story is one of the most inspiring I’ve ever read. He’s the kind of person you want to be like. Yet, few of us will ever have to contend with the rigors of survival at sea or endure the horrors of a prisoner of war death camp. By contrast, we might even feel ashamed at the relatively puny things that we struggle with by comparison. Yet, these things are so common in life and they can destroy us if we’re not prepared for them.
Our culture today seems to be preoccupied with physical health and well-being. It is noble to desire and drive towards maintaining good health. But many of the struggles, trials, suffering, and even our own foibles can undermine our health regardless of how well we eat or how much we exercise.
Holistic health–the health of the whole person: body, mind and spirit–involves far more than mere physical health. And failure to attend to our spiritual well-being can cause great harm to our physical and mental health.
There is a strong link between our spiritual health and our physical and mental health. Consider the following words of wisdom:
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” — Proverbs 14:30
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” — Proverbs 16:24
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” — Proverbs 17:22
For the remainder of this article, I’d like to focus on our spiritual health.
Diseases of the Spirit
The diseases of the spirit are different in kind than those of the mind or body. But the diseases of the spirit are no less destructive and even deadly. I see two general kinds of diseases of the spirit.
1. Internal Diseases of the Spirit
Internal diseases of the spirit are those spiritual diseases to which we are predisposed. We find ourselves falling victim to these diseases at times even when we sincerely desire to avoid them. Some of these diseases of the spirit include: anger, rage, envy, jealousy, bitterness, unforgiveness, hate, self-centeredness, and self-indulgence.
We can categorize those diseases as sin. We have all been infected with the sin disease. We inherited it from our parents and they from theirs and so on. No one had to teach us to do wrong. We are inclined to do so even though we might detest it and seek to remove it from our lives.
“Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” — Proverbs 20:9
For instance, if we harbor bitterness toward someone who has harmed us–no matter how trivial or serious–and we withhold forgiveness from them, we are harming our own health. Someone has said, “Refusal to forgive others is like taking poison ourselves while hoping the offending person will die.”
In 1950, Louis Zamperini returned to Japan to seek out his tormentors from his POW camp days and forgive them. Louis later wrote, “I think the hardest thing in life is to forgive. Hate is self-destructive. If you hate somebody, then you’re not hurting the person you hate; you’re hurting yourself. It’s a healing, actually, it’s a real healing…forgiveness.”
But when we allow these diseases to take root in our lives and grow like cancer, we become “carriers” of these diseases infecting others around us.
2. External Diseases of the Spirit
External diseases of the spirit are attacks on our person that come from outside of us. These can include all kinds of hardships, sufferings, and circumstances beyond our control. Examples of an external attack on our spirit might be the diagnosis of a physical disease like cancer, experiencing a traumatic natural disaster, or a being hit by a drunk driver. Mere physical or mental health is insufficient to get us through some of these trials that come our way. We need to be armed with spiritual vitality as well.
Sometimes these external assaults on our spiritual health can result in a flare up of the internal diseases of the spirit. For instance, something as minor as a flat tire can set us off into a rage, making everyone around us “pay” for what happened to us.
The physical and emotional stress and discord that such a diseased response causes has far-reaching effects on our health and that of others. This is why it’s so important that we cultivate spiritual health.
It’s important for us to recognize that while we cannot necessarily control whether we had that flat tire, We are truly “diseased” when we think that the event itself is the cause of our response. It’s up to us to respond to those situations in a healthy manner.
Symptoms of Spiritual Illness
Symptoms of these spiritual sicknesses can include any or all of the following:
- Apathy about life in general
- An attitude that “It’s all about me!”
- Idolatry–living for and ascribing ultimate worth to something or someone who is less than divine. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a great career. But when we live solely for that career and allow it to define who we are, such action is debasing and demeaning of God and us. Think of how puny it would be to merely refer to Louis Zamperini as an Olympic runner. Instead, look at what God did in his life and through him for others! You are much, much more than that which your career defines you as.
- Lack of a moral compass–our conscience can become twisted and perverted. We need a higher standard.
- No lofty purpose for living. Viktor E. Frankl, Nazi concentration camp survivor wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
- Repeating sin patterns like anger, selfishness, lying, deceit, gossip, etc.
Removing the Root Cause of Spiritual Illness
Before talking about building up our immune systems, we need to ensure that we are taking steps toward eliminating the root cause of spiritual disease instead of merely dealing with symptoms. Sin, or going our own way away from God, is the root cause of all spiritual disease.
All of us sin and have sinned– But God, out of His great love for us, sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin on our behalf and reconcile us to Himself.
God asks us to believe Him and accept His gracious gift and free mercy. He extends us forgiveness through Christ. The question is whether we will humbly receive His free gift or spurn and reject Him.
Boosting our Spiritual Immune Systems
Once we have dealt with the root cause of our spiritual sickness , we can begin to focus on boosting our spiritual immune system. Let me offer three ways to do this:
1. Develop a Healthy Spiritual Mindset.
God made this very simple for us. Developing a healthy spiritual mindset begins and ends with trusting that God loves you unconditionally–period! With the knowledge that He loves you, love Him back and love others. This prescription is not necessarily easy, but it is simple. Following this prescription leads to a life filled with peace and joy. We also arrive at the end of life knowing that we’ve left a legacy for others. We’ve made a difference.
2. Deepen Your Relationship with God.
Get to know Him and His character and allow Him to transform you. We get to know Him better by engaging in practices like reading the Bible (His Word), praying (conversation with Him), spending time alone with Him in solitude, worshiping Him, etc. It is by spending time with Him that He changes us. For in His presence we cannot remain unchanged. As we spend time with Him, we take on God’s character. We become more loving, patient, gracious, merciful, kind, just, truthful, faithful, etc.
3. Spend Time with Spiritually Healthy People.
This is important for several reasons. First, we become like those with whom we spend time. Second, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That is, we can accomplish more with others and often we cannot do what we need to do alone. Third, the nature of the changes that God wants to bring about in us are chiefly relational. We cannot grow relationally apart from the input and help of other people. We spur each other on toward love and good deeds.
On the flip side, the Scripture warns, “Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character.” We have to approach this strategy in all humility, however, knowing that we all sin. But there’s a difference between someone who is seeking to abandon their sin and another person who gives themselves to their sin with abandon.
Surround yourself with people who are pursuing relationship with God and actively cultivating their spiritual health. And reach out to those in love and care who do not yet seek or love God.
What are you doing to ensure your spiritual health? Vibrant health is so much more than a healthy mind and body. Take the steps today outlined in this article to boost your spiritual immune system!
 Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All Scripture passages in this article are taken from the NIV.
 Hebrews 10:24.
 1 Corinthians 15:33.