When I was a boy, I joined a 4-H Club. Our local chapter was small. A half-dozen rowdy boys gathered once a month for an after-school meeting led by a local farmer who volunteered his time to sponsor us. We chose club officers, and one year I was elected president of this auspicious group. The major accomplishment of my presidential administration was adopting a resolution that our 4-H Club’s official refreshments would be potato chips and Mountain Dew. (The Pepsi-Cola Company began marketing Mountain Dew nationwide in 1964, and the 4-H Club was the first place I tasted it.)
4-H Clubs have been around for more than a century, thanks in part to an innovative schoolteacher named Jessie Field Shambaugh (the “mother of 4-H”). Jessie was born in 1881 near Shenandoah, Iowa, to a farm family with the appropriate last name of “Field.” Both of her parents were teachers as well as farmers. Eventually “Miss Jessie” became a school superintendent, earning $33.50 a month. She had a special place in her heart for rural children, so she created after-school programs featuring agricultural competitions like soil testing and corn judging. Students who excelled were awarded green four-leaf-clover pins bearing the letter H on each of the leaves, representing Head, Hands, Heart, and Health. At our meetings, we recited the 4-H Pledge:
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
4-H was a pioneer in youth mentoring, leadership development, and hands-on learning. According to the website www.4-h.org, 4-H continues to serve nearly 6 million American children in rural, suburban, and urban areas. Beyond the exciting discovery of Mountain Dew, my main memory of 4-H involves the way every club member was required to do a project. I raised garden vegetables. Other club members built fences on their farms or raised animals to show at the county fair. If you were part of the club, you weren’t just there to enjoy the refreshments; you were expected to get your hands dirty and do productive work.
4-H isn’t exclusively a Christian organization, but it’s easy to see how those four words starting with H apply in the Christian life.
Head. Scripture says, “Set your minds on things above” (Colossians 3:2). When we pray for wisdom and “humbly accept the word” (James 1:5, 21), God gives us clear thinking and guides our decisions with biblical truth.
Heart. Biblical faith requires more than intellectual assent; it also requires active engagement. When Christ captures our emotions, personalities, and energies, he leads us to love God and others proactively and wholeheartedly (Mark 12:30-31).
Hands. Faith doesn’t stop with the head and the heart. It serves others, looks after orphans and widows, and cares for the physical needs of the poor (James 1:27; 2:14-17).
Health. I’m not sure how potato chips and Mountain Dew fit with this last point, but I am sure the heavenly Father cares about our physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. Authentic, active faith involves every part of us—head, heart, hands, and health. As a result, when we’re part of the church, we don’t just go to enjoy the refreshments. We get our hands dirty and serve.
Personal Challenge: On a piece of paper or in your personal journal, write down the four words that start with H: Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Next to each word, write down one way your faith in God shapes each category.