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All of us at times respond in anger to such things as criticism or frustration. But many women have a tendency to respond angrily with little or no provocation. Those who have this personality type not only are at increased risk for heart disease but also are prone to develop it at an early age.
One study conducted on people receiving heart scans showed an association between angry facial expressions and abnormalities in heart function. Another study showed the converse—that humor served to protect the heart. No wonder the Bible tells us that "a happy heart makes the face cheerful" and "a cheerful look brings joy to the heart" (Prov. 15:13,30, NIV)!
As Spirit-filled believers, we have the power to lower our risk for heart disease. So why aren't we using it?
I've spent many years in clinical practice and in seeking insight from the Lord on matters pertaining to health. Needless to say, I've treated numerous Christian women who have been successful in taking charge of their lifestyles to improve their health.
But I've also had my share of patients who failed. From them I've learned that although there are many reasons a person may fail in this attempt, two stand out. One is that we tend to rely on our own abilities, underestimating the difficulty involved in changing our lifestyles. Another is that all too often (deep down in our "never admit" zone) we're getting a lot of satisfaction from indulging our flesh.
Anyone who has ever tried to break an old habit or develop a new one knows the task can be challenging. And implementing a "heart-healthy" lifestyle is no exception. You must change several things—what you eat, how much you eat, how often you eat, the way you prepare your food and your level of physical activity.
But even before you attempt to make changes, you must acknowledge the difficulty of the task. Sometimes when I counsel Christian women on how tough it is to change old habits, they grandly proclaim the first part of Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ" (NKJV). Sadly, they don't recognize that it's the second part of this verse—"who strengthens me"—that is so vital to our success.
Yes, we can do all things through Christ, but we must never forget it is the Lord who gives us strength. The likelihood for long-term success through sheer determination alone is not very high, but when we humble ourselves and receive power through the Holy Spirit, we can walk in victory.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit has given us "everything we need for life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3, NIV). He has equipped us to live soberly and to practice self-discipline with moderation in every aspect of our lives.
I don't think Jesus gave us the "authority to trample on snakes and scorpions" (Luke 10:19) only to render us powerless in resisting a second serving of cheesecake. If, however, we want access to this level of authority, we must first recognize the source. Then we, like the apostle Paul, can experience God's power "made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9) and receive the strength we need to change our lifestyles and improve our health.
Too Good to Resist
The second reason for failure is that we aren't serious enough about subjecting our flesh. In my years of practice, I've had female patients with high cholesterol tell me they refuse to cut back on hamburgers, pork chops and steaks. I've seen women with diabetes who would rather increase their dosage of insulin than walk for half an hour each day. And I've watched women with high blood pressure pour on the salt for no other reason than to satisfy a craving for salty foods.
Throughout Scripture we're admonished to keep our flesh under subjection. But the reality is this: We have become so cozy with the self-indulgent tendencies of the world that we hardly notice when they rub off on us. For many Christians, the attributes of self-control, sobriety, discipline and moderation have yielded to a mind-set that says, "If it feels good (or, for that matter, if it tastes good)—do it!"
Often when we speak of issues such as self-indulgence and yielding to the flesh, the first thing that comes to mind is sexual sin. But there's more to lust than fornication. Giving in to the cravings of the flesh in any way, including indulging ourselves with food, is a dangerous venture.
The Bible links this form of sin to self-indulgence and gluttony, as this vivid description of Israel's rebellion shows: "Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked; filled with food, he became heavy and sleek. He abandoned the God who made him and rejected the Rock his Savior" (Deut. 32:15).
A heart-healthy diet is different from the typical American diet. It is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. It requires that we cut back on foods high in saturated fat and trans-fatty acids, and instead eat more foods containing monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.
Living in a heart-healthy way also requires us to exercise regularly and strive to maintain a healthy weight. These dramatic changes cannot be realized if we are unwilling to deny the flesh.