By Lori Boyd
I grew up in a family of medical professionals and consequently developed the heart of a caregiver before I could even say the word stethoscope. With my father being a physician and my mother a nurse, I gained a natural appreciation for the human body with its fascinating abilities and mechanisms. I found that I liked the fit and feel of a white lab coat and decided to pursue a career in nursing.
Every facet of creation reflects the wisdom, power, and love of Almighty God, and our earthly bodies are among His most beautiful and awe-inspiring works. From the microscopic red blood cell to the vast integumentary system, the details of our human anatomy can only be the product of a divine Creator.
Over the past 17 years, my bedside experience in nursing has been primarily with cardiac patients. The heart is an extraordinary organ! It begins beating twenty-two days after conception and does not stop until death. Its function affects every system, every tissue, and every organ in our bodies. While working with patients in the early and advanced stages of cardiovascular disease, I developed a greater appreciation the body’s innate ability to heal and its built-in responses that compensate when other systems fail. I took special interest in the role of the sympathetic nervous system and its effect, which is commonly referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response.
When we find ourselves faced with difficult, dangerous, or stressful situations, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Through a series of nerve impulses and the subsequent release of hormones, our bodies experience a variety of physical changes, including an increase in heart rate, an increase in blood pressure, an increase in sweat production, an increase in respiratory rate, and pupil dilation. These changes are designed to help us survive threatening situations by preparing us to either fight for our lives or run for our lives!
When I consider this amazing God-given capability within our human bodies, I can’t help but recognize a spiritual application for the Christian. The Bible describes a type of “fight or flight” response when we, as children of God, are faced with the threat of temptation. Confronted with certain temptations, we must stand ready to fight, but there are other situations in which we are simply commanded to run.
The apostle Paul, when writing to the church at Corinth and later in letters to young Timothy, encouraged those Christians to run from temptation. He instructed them to flee:
- sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18)
- idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14)
- the love of money (1 Timothy 6:9-11)
- youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22)
There are occasions where we are not expected to fight temptation; instead, we should immediately remove ourselves from the threat. Run away! Remember the story in the Bible of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife: “But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Genesis 39:11-12, emp. added).
As important as it is, running is not always the appropriate response. At times, we encounter circumstances, spiritually, that require us to fight. We are exhorted in Scripture to “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 1:3). In other words, fight for what you believe! We are also told, “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Stand firm against the actions of the devil, and he will run from you!
How then do Christians prepare themselves for the spiritual “fight or flight” response? Just as the sympathetic nervous system causes physical changes in our bodies that prepare us to deal with situations in the world around us, we also have Biblical instruction on how we prepare to deal with temptations as we encounter them in our daily lives.
- We pray. “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
- We read and study the Word of God. It is our offensive weapon––the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). It was Jesus’ strategy for opposing the devil in the wilderness: “It is written…” (Matthew 4:1-11).
- We recognize our weaknesses. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:14).
- We confess our sins to one another. “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Lean on your fellow Christians for help and accountability. Pray for each other!
Fighting or fleeing––both take courage, and both take preparation. Through prayer, Bible study, recognition of temptation, and support from other Christians we can have the strength and readiness to take action when confronted with the threat of sin. In our physical bodies, this response is designed to support self-preservation; in our spiritual lives, however, it’s an eternal matter of soul-preservation.