Some time ago, I shared a reflection on what we can learn from Jesus’ life and example about self-care. (You can find that post here: Learning Self-Care from Jesus). Jesus has much to teach us about taking care of ourselves as we follow him in loving God and neighbor. But we can also learn about self-care from Jesus’ first followers. In this post I want to share three ways that we can learn to care for ourselves from the first Christians, all three from stories found in the Acts of the Apostles.
- When in doubt, wait (and pray)
The first example of self-care that we find in the early church is something of a surprise. Jesus is getting ready to ascend into heaven, but before he does, he orders his apostles “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4). There will come a day when they will be his witnesses to the end of the earth, but first they are asked to wait.
Waiting is hard to do, isn’t it? Most of us do not like to wait, and we can even feel guilty when we do. But sometimes, the most faithful thing we can do, when in doubt about our next step, is simply to wait (and to pray). I remember a time in my ministry when I learned this truth in a powerful way. This took place at a church where I was serving as the pastor. We made the difficult decision to close our church’s preschool, which had been struggling. But we wondered what to do with all of those classrooms. We decided to wait, and to pray. And less than a year later we were given an opportunity we could never have dreamed of, to host a new, bilingual preschool. And that ministry has been thriving ever since.
Ten days after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles’ wait was over; the promised Holy Spirit was poured out upon them at the perfect, God-ordained time – the Day of Pentecost, when “Jews from every nation under heaven” were present (Acts 2:5). Waiting for that day was the most important thing those first Christians could do.
Can you think of a situation in your life where this might be true for you? If so, wait without guilt, and pray in faith, for the promise of the Father will come to you, too.
- Break bread together
Here is another way to care for ourselves following the example of the early church: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). How important it is to break bread together! A simple meal shared together can be a source of timeless comfort and strength, no matter the struggles we face in this life.
Almost all cultures and religions place high value on hospitality and on shared meals, and Christians are no different. Jesus modeled this throughout his ministry, and the early church continued to do the same. Those first Christians worshiped and prayed and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, but they also broke bread together. And by breaking bread together, they became a community that was ready to face enormous challenges. Their example continues to inspire us.
Back when my children were young, I remember reading studies about the importance of families eating together. My wife and I decided to make a concerted effort to have our family dinners together, and I am so thankful that we did. No phones, no television, sharing our ups and downs around the dinner table, as a family. There were nights when it was impossible, of course, and once a week we would get pizza and eat while watching a movie together. But the rest of the time, we broke bread together, by sharing a family meal around the table. It was a habit that helped to form our family, and that served us well through all the challenges we faced together.
Sharing a meal together is a simple but life-giving practice that we can learn from the first Christians, who regularly broke bread together “with glad and generous hearts.” Is this a way of self-care that you already practice regularly, with family, friends, or your church? If not, what might be some simple steps you could take to break bread together more often?
- Don’t be afraid to change your mind
The two most important leaders in the early church, Peter and Paul, shared a surprising characteristic: they both were willing to have their minds changed. We see examples of this in back-to-back episodes recorded in Acts 9 and 10. In Acts 9 it is Paul who has his mind changed. Saul (as he was known then) was a Pharisee who was actively and passionately persecuting the first followers of Jesus. He was convinced that they were dangerously undermining Judaism. But on the way to Damascus, he received a vision and heard the voice of Jesus say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) To the surprise of many, Saul changed his mind completely, and began to “proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20). Paul went on to become one of the most important leaders in the early church.
In the next chapter of Acts, it is Peter who has his mind changed, through a vision that he had while in prayer. Before this vision, Peter was convinced that he should not associate with Gentiles. But his mind was changed during this time of prayer. He responded by going to visit Cornelius, a devout Gentile who wanted to learn more about Jesus. And as Peter said, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). Peter’s mind was changed, and he began to share the gospel with Gentiles.
Now, you might wonder why being willing to change our mind is important to our self-care. The answer is simple: Because not doing so is exhausting! Always needing to be right about everything is stressful and unnecessary. Being willing to repent (which in Greek literally means to change your mind) is a step toward a better, even more peaceful way, to live. And it is also a more faithful way to follow Jesus, who began his ministry by calling us to repent and believe in the good news (Mark 1:15).
Are there some beliefs of yours that might need revisiting? Take these questions to God in prayer, with an open mind and an open heart, and let God guide you.
I am honored to serve as a writer for the Christian devotional app, “Good Ground.” You can learn more about the app in this post or on their website. The above reflection was shared as part of their “Self-Care Saturday” series.
4 thoughts on “Learning Self-Care from the First Christians”
This is an interesting look at self care … But all great advice. I especially like the last point about being willing to change our minds. That can actually be life giving, and can get us back on the right track at times.
I think the hardest of these is being flexible enough to change our minds (or have them changed). Thanks for this!
Thank you for sharing these musings