[Bread and water don’t sound appetizing,
but it will after listening to your new Health Coach]

Nobleton Community Church
February 4, 2024
text: Isaiah 55:1-9; John 6:35; John 4: 13-15
Reverend Paul V Lehmann

Listen to the audio here

Many health insurance providers are now supplying patients with opportunities for some personal “health coaching.” Isaiah offers the same kind of spiritual health advice to the people of God.
It’s no secret that we are becoming a nation full of unhealthy people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a third (35.7%) of Americans are obese. Carrying an unhealthy weight leads to all kinds of related conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer — in other words, most of the leading causes of death. In 2008, the medical costs related to obesity in the United States were estimated at $147 billion, or $1,492 more per obese person than a person of normal weight. And yet, despite the constant warnings in the media and the pleading of doctors, obesity rates continue to rise. In 2000, no state had an obesity prevalence over 30 percent, while in 2010, 12 states exceeded that threshold. It’s fairly clear that people aren’t generally good at doing what’s best for their own health.
Some health insurance companies have decided to take another approach, however. Rather than merely continuing to pay the mounting costs, these companies in partnership with doctors and nurses are attempting to help people manage their health, not only through massive doses of information but also through the personal attention of a “health coach.”
The truth is, of course, that it’s hard for us to make changes in our lives strictly by our own willpower. The spirit may be willing, after all, but the flesh is weak. Twinkies taste better than tofu, and sometimes we need a partner to remind us to not eat more than one or two cookies, or take an extra piece of pie.
Health coaches aren’t exactly like football or basketball coaches with all the yelling, whistles, and drills for endurance, but their technique can be no less effective. Years ago, II coached two basketball teams because I had two of my grandkids on them. Joseph and Zachariah.  When I coach, I don’t like to give the boys drills just for the sake of a drill, but ones that can translate for them into game situations. That way everything they are learning is applicable when they are playing another team. It is the same way with our spiritual conditioning and practice.
All we need is someone to remind us that we don’t have to live this way and that better and healthier lives are ahead if we’re willing to put in the hard work of taking charge of our own health
John Wooden, legendary coach of UCLA’s men’s basketball team from 1945 to 1975, is well-remembered for his pithy sayings that inspired his players to excel off the court as well as on. More than many coaches, Wooden saw his responsibility as developing more than just muscles, coordination, and game-day strategy. He saw himself as molding the whole person. Here are a few John Wooden gems:
“Failure is not fatal but failure to change might be.”
“Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.”
“Don’t beat yourself. That’s the worst kind of defeat you’ll ever suffer.”
“Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.”
We can then see how this helps us in our daily walk when we are faced with real-life problems. It just takes someone like a coach to help us.
As we’re going to see, that someone is God.
Having a partner on the way is always better, since, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help” (4:9-10). Then at the end of verse 12, we read; “a cord of three strands is not quickly broken” referring to the extra help of God. Just as we must include God in marriages, we shouldn’t hesitate to ask Him to help us (like a health coach) to eat right.
The presence of a health coach, even if he or she is only on the other end of a phone line, can make a huge difference in the life of someone who’s struggling physically.
One recent study by The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that patients with health coaches were able to lose five times more weight than those who tried to lose it on their own. You want to make changes in your health? Get a coach!
How does the “health coach” idea work? Here’s an example at least at one health insurance Company: Each year, the patient fills out an online health assessment based on an annual physical, including blood work. The company provides an incentive for people to get the exam and fill out the assessment by lowering deductibles for those who do so. The patient fills out the online form using the data from the exam. Any red flag numbers that come up are brought to the patient’s attention and he or she is then offered the services of a “health coach,” usually a registered nurse, who will be in contact with the patient by phone to help the patient manage the problem and make changes.
The health coach talks with the patient to understand his or her condition and then helps the patient set goals for living a healthier lifestyle and/or managing a chronic disease like asthma or diabetes or a host of other conditions. The health coach checks in with the patient on a regular basis, offering tips and encouragement for maintaining better health through things like nutrition counseling, weight-loss strategies, how to take medication effectively and advising about appropriate exercises. The patient isn’t required to have a health coach or listen to his or her advice, but for those who want to find a way out of their current health situation, the coaches are a valuable resource.
What’s true for our bodies also seems to hold true for our spiritual lives, which makes sense because, as the Bible teaches us, the two are linked. Health coaching for the soul is as helpful and necessary as the coaching one might get from an insurance company, except in the case of spiritual coaching we’re not trying to cut down, but rather trying to fill up on God’s spirit and provision for our lives.
Water is important in this week’s text:
God speaks to the exiled people of Judah through the prophet Isaiah in a way that sounds a lot like a health coach calling a suffering patient. God is advising them on strategies that will restore their spiritual health and relationships with God as he prepares to lead them back from exile in Babylon. The people have long been dehydrated and starving as a consequence of their sin and banishment to a foreign land. Now God gives them some nutrition counseling about how to be nourished again.
“Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters,” the Coach begins. In chapter 8, God tells Isaiah that one of the reasons that the people’s health is so bad is that they refused to drink “the waters of Shiloah” (8:5) — a reference to a canal along the eastern slope of Jerusalem that some scholars have connected to the Pool of Siloam (John 9:7). These waters seem to represent the sustaining strength of God for his people, but they rejected it and chose to run thirsty. As a result, all they would receive is the “mighty flood” of foreign invasion instead (8:7). And yet, as God promised to Noah during another catastrophic flood, God would still sustain and be with them (54:9-10). God now invites his thirsty people to “come to the waters” and drink deeply, once again, of God’s love for them.
Spiritual dryness can become a chronic condition for the people of God if they do not come to the “living water” and drink deeply on a regular basis (John 4:10).  Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he would give her this living water. She was all for this, because she thought he was talking about water for her physical body, and this sounded like a good deal. She wouldn’t get thirsty again, and wouldn’t have to keep coming to the well to draw water anymore. She totally missed his comment about whoever drinks of this water—that is the water from a well like this one will be thirsty again, but the water that He would give her would become in her a spring of water, welling up to eternal life. Somehow she missed the fact that He was talking about spiritual water.
As any health coach will tell you, drinking at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day will benefit you a great deal. Actually, it is recommended that men drink 125 ounces a day, and women 91 ounces.
Regular and sustained disciplines of prayer and engagement with God’s word will also sustain the thirsty soul. God invites us, as he invited the people of Judah, to come and drink deeply and be refreshed by his love and his promises.
Then, not only is water important, but also our Diet:
The Health Coach then goes on to talk about diet. Obesity is most prevalent among the poor because unhealthy, processed foods are cheaper and easier to prepare. Maybe you are like me, and think when you hear reports on the News about all these people who are obese,— that’s not me. I’m not obese. I don’t weigh 300 or 400 pounds. When you look at the weight charts, it is annoying how they calculate what you should weigh. For someone like me who is 6’ tall, they used to say I should weigh 168 lbs. Twice in my life since high school, I have weighed that, and I look like I just came out of a concentration camp. Maybe because I have a “large frame” –I look thin at 190 lbs. It is interesting that they have now changed the chart so that the accepted weight for a man 6’ tall is now 199 pounds. (I guess because Americans are getting bigger, and it is more accepted to be big).  Now granted I have 38 lbs to lose to get to that. Anyway, my problem Jeannene keeps reminding me, is my diet. Also of course I must exercise and walk. I must change my diet and get serious about eating healthy or nothing will change.
Now spiritually speaking, God urges people to get off the fast, cheap and easy spiritual diet and instead come to the free and abundant banquet he offers through his grace. This isn’t food you have to work to be able to afford, but rather the gift of a gracious host (55:1). Indeed, the Health Coach identifies the problem with the people’s health: They are spending their money on cheap, undernourished alternatives. Also, they are working hard to sustain a spiritual diet that won’t satisfy them (55: verse 2).
Historically speaking, the Assyrian invasion (a precursor to the Babylonians,) led the people to hard times when there was plenty of milk and honey, but little else (7:22-24). Spiritually speaking, in chapter 55, they were nearly starving on the diet of slavery in Babylon when the Health Coach says to them, “Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food” (55:2). That “food” is the richness of God’s own word and promise based on God’s covenant with David (55:3). As rain comes to the earth and brings forth seeds that lead to bread, so God’s word goes out and sustains his people if only they will come and eat. It’s a word that is never “empty” but always accomplishes God’s purpose
Bread, if it is the right kind, can be healthy too:
God urges us to change our diets, too. So much of our diet, both physically and spiritually, comes packaged as sugary-sweet and enticing fat grams and calories, whether it’s on the shelf at the grocery store, or the virtual store. We grow fatter, dumber and sadder the more we consume the junk of our culture. God, the ultimate Health Coach, urges us instead to fill up on bread that sustains — The Bread of Life, as Jesus called himself in John 6, the manna from God that is there to nourish us daily. That bread enables us not only to be healthy but to help others as well as assist spiritual health coaches. Jesus once said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34). We should embrace the same diet!
If we’re going to make that change, however, we know that we will do better if we don’t try to make it on our own. We need our fellow Christians to help us in community, and we need to embrace God’s offer to coach us through prayer as we make the change:
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near …” (55:6).
God is, after all, the expert whose “thoughts are not [our] thoughts, nor are [our] ways [his] ways” (55:8). If we’re going to be healthy Christians, we need a Coach who knows the best way to make us whole!
Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land.
I am weak, but Thou art mighty;
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more