Deacon is our family dog — a Chinese Pug so ugly he’s cute. Deacon Jim Bob is his full Texas name (in honor of Wilshire deacon officers Jim Nation and Bob Law, who reigned at the time of his birth). A dog is a man’s best friend, they say. A deacon is a preacher’s best friend. So… .

Deacon has been friendless lately. Halitosis. For two years the vet and my dental hygienist wife have warned he needed dental care — cleaning, gum treatments, that sort of expensive thing.

For two years I have taken the “live and let die” approach. The stench finally got to me. Self-defense, not animal kindness, drove us to the vet. Six extractions, two weeks of antibiotics and $200 later, the dog is once again pet-able.

Spiritual hygiene is preventive medicine and proactive maintenance for the soul. Just as eating right, vitamins and minerals, flossing, cleaning, and brushing are daily disciplines that keep teeth and gums healthy, so there are spiritual routines that keep the soul alive and well.

Consider these:

• Worship. The God who made us deserves our closest attention. One hour per week of glorifying God is not just clocking in and doing our time for heaven’s sake; it’s allowing God to seep into us as spiritual antiseptic.

• Scripture. Torah reading, Bible study, recitation of the Koran: whatever the faith, foundational texts are flashlights in a dark world.

• Prayer. No intimacy can grow without genuine conversation. The heart needs the stretching that comes from praying for enemies as well as friends.

• Service. Whether within the community of faith or the community at large, putting hands and feet to faith is on-the-job training. Loving your neighbor as yourself is a practiced credo.

• Stewardship. Jesus was a realist. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Putting your money into the circulation of the kingdom of God will draw you into its warp of well-being too.

Richard Foster, author and spiritual hygiene advocate, says that Christians are asking the wrong question with their W.W.J.D. (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets. Most already know what Jesus would do, but they don’t stop to ask before doing what they do. Then it’s too late. The right question is, How do I become the kind of person who will naturally do what Jesus would do if he were I? Can’t fit that on a bracelet, but you won’t need a bracelet as a reminder if you do things right the first time.

Sometimes, as with Deacon, healing comes after surgery. But those who doggedly and daily practice good spiritual hygiene will find their lives and their friendships fresh and clean.

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