Sermon Podcast Audio
Since the beginning of the new year, we have been talking about something that is usually on everyone’s mind when a new year begins — how to get fit. We have talked about the obvious things, the things people aren’t usually afraid to talk about, some that often we even joke about. We began with discussing how to become BodyFit. The important part isn’t the number on the scale or the size of that dress or those jeans, but how to be healthy so that we can fulfill the purpose that God has for us here on earth. Being healthy ensures we fulfill our purpose for as long as possible and impact as many people as possible.
Then we talked about getting RelationFit. We looked at our relationships and asked if there were people who we needed to forgive or seek forgiveness from or if there were some relationships that we needed to cut off because they were pulling us away from following Jesus.
Last week, we looked at our emotions. We saw that emotions are not bad or good, but we can’t ignore them or get lost in them. And ultimately, we need our emotions to pull us toward God.
These topics are honestly pretty easy to discuss. We all know if we could be a little healthier. We know that our emotions may get the best of us at times and we need to work on that. Or we know that we need to do some work on some of our relationships. Sometimes, we are even willing to talk to our friends, coworkers, or even strangers about these issues.
But today, I want us to talk about the dirty little secret that many of us carry around. The thing that most, if not all of us, have been impacted by either personally or through someone we know.
The thing that NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE wants to talk about. Ever.
Today we are going to tackle the incredibly difficult subject of mental health and how to be MentalFit.
This is a topic that is all around us. If you watched the local news in the last couple of weeks, you saw this topic come front and center. On January 9th, Dan and Wanda Lienemann returned home to find their son, Drew, an 18 year old senior at Waukee high school, a straight A student and captain of the football team, had attempted to kill himself. Drew would never recover and two days later he was pronounced dead.
Tragic. Senseless. This is what we think when we hear stories like this. But the reality is that some of us right now either suffer like Drew suffered, are related to someone who is suffering, or know someone who does.
Within the last month, I have had conversations with some in this church who have asked for prayer for their family members who are contemplating suicide, cutting themselves, or have sought help with depression and anxiety.
This is a very real issue. And to be honest, I almost cut this topic from the GetFit series. But after discussing it at some length, we thought it was just too big of an issue to ignore. We need to have an honest conversation about this.
The Bible and Mental Health
I want to be straight with you from the beginning. The Bible does not have a lot to say about mental health. There are no verses that specifically talk about dealing with severe chronic depression or PTSD or anxiety disorders. Bipolar disorder, autism, ADHD, eating disorders, antisocial personality disorder, Schizophrenia…none of these are mentioned directly. Go ahead. Type schizophrenia into your bible app and you will find it doesn’t appear.
We do read stories of people who seem to suffer in some way. King Saul suffered at the end of his life. Job struggled during his losses. Jeremiah is referred to as “the weeping prophet.”
And the problem with the Bible as it relates to this topic is that there are a few instances where we read stories that appear to be dealing with mental illness and we try to draw hard and fast conclusions about what it is and how to deal with it.
For example, we read about the people who were demon possessed, and based on the way they acted, we see mental illness and extrapolate that all mental illness must be the result of demon possession and the solution is to cast that demon out. Don’t laugh. Many, and I mean many people grew up with this belief. We will deal with the misconceptions in a bit.
But while the Bible doesn’t specifically say anything about mental health, it does have a lot to say about our minds. And it does have a lot to say about sin and the effects sin has had on our bodies, and that includes our minds. So, let’s jump right in and start by defining mental illness.
Mental Illness Defined
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illnesses as “medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning” and “often results in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”
Often when we think of mental illness, we think of mental institutions, people in straight jackets, padded cells. Images from movies feed our stereotypes.
Serious or chronic mental illness is less common, affecting about one in seventeen adults. However, roughly one in four adults suffer from short-term illness in a given year. And the number for kids is one in five.
The serious and chronic issues can be: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
The short-term illnesses, include: depressive episodes, short term anxiety, and such. So there is a wide range of possibilities here when we look at this.
Regardless of whether it is short term or chronic, all mental illness impairs a person’s basic functioning and disrupts the kind of social connections God created us to enjoy with him and others.
So, there is your psychology lesson for the day. What is the root of it? Why do we have to deal with this?
The Root Cause of Mental Illness – Total Depravity
Well, it all began in a garden. Many, if not all of you, may have heard the story before: Adam and Eve. A tree they were told not to eat from. They rebelled and ate from it anyway. And in that moment, sin entered the world. God’s perfect creation was ruined.
The consequences of their actions would not just affect them spiritually, being separated from God, but there would be physical consequences as well. Genesis 3 tells us that there would now be pain in the world. Difficulty. Hardship. And man and woman would now have to suffer the consequences of their rebellion and sin.
Often we fail to realize the full effects that this moment has on us today. When we see evil in the world, like the Paris attacks or the shootings at San Bernardino, we see the effects of sin. We see catastrophes and natural disasters where hundreds are killed, injured or displaced, like the crisis in Syria with refugees seeking safety, or the flooding and severe weather over Christmas that killed over 20 people. We look at those things and can see sin’s effects.
We can even understand the effects of sin on us physically, but only when it applies to those things we most understand. We have a heart issue. We feel the pain in our joints. We have headaches or the flu. We understand that sin has effects there as well, but for some reason, when it comes to our minds, we sometimes seem to forget that sin also did damage there as well.
We understand that temptation starts in the mind when things lure us away from God. But it also affects how healthy our minds might be. Just as this world was corrupted by sin and our physical bodies are affected by sin, so too are our minds corrupted.
When man sinned, it affected every part of us, including our minds, including the issues and problems we wish we didn’t have to talk about. We are wrecked by sin and its consequences.
The Apostle Paul wrote
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” —Romans 5:12
And Paul also wrote
“…to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” —Titus 1:15
Sin has had a devastating affect on us spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even mentally. But even knowing that, sometimes we allow our prejudices and preconceived ideas to distort our image of someone that may be dealing with mental illness or has a family member dealing with it. We need to set aside our misconceptions.
The main misconception, especially among Christians, is that mental illness is only a spiritual problem. This idea manifests itself in a few ways.
- One way is the belief that a person’s sin is the reason they are going through mental illness, and if they would just repent, it would go away.
- Or we assume that the person struggling just doesn’t have enough faith. If their belief in God was stronger, he would take it away.
- And right along with #2 is the idea that mental illness can be overcome with prayer and Bible study alone. Lifeway research even did a study that showed one-third of Americans and roughly 50% of evangelical fundamentalists, and born again Christians believe that sufferers can overcome serious mental illness with prayer and Bible study alone.
- And one more way is the idea that mental illness is the result of demon possession.
So, is it a spiritual problem? To be honest, yes, in some cases it is. In some, but not all cases, it can be a spiritual issue. But more often, it is NOT a spiritual issue. It is a medical issue.
Pastor Tim Keller says it this way, “We must beware of giving people the impression that through individual repentance for sin they should be able to undo their personal problems. Obviously, we should not go to the other unbiblical extreme of refusing to acknowledge personal responsibility for sinful behavior as well…While we can’t fall into the reductionism of believing all problems are chemically based and require medication, we also cannot fall into the reductionism of believing all problems are simply a matter of lacking spiritual disciplines. Schizophrenia, bipolar depression, and a host of other psychological problems are rooted in physiological problems that call for medical treatment, not simple talk therapy.”
Does acknowledging this mean we take God completely out of the equation? Absolutely not! It is just an acknowledgement that there are physical, chemical, or psychological issues involved as well. Prayer can help. God does still heal in miraculous ways.
But more often than not, more prayer, more faith, more repentance are not the only remedy for mental illness. Medicine is sometimes needed. Even in the Bible, Paul recommend wine to Timothy for medicinal purposes to help with a stomach issue. Paul writes,
“Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” —1 Timothy 5:23
But this is a hang-up for a lot of people. We hear about that family member taking antidepressants, or that co-worker on anti-anxiety meds and immediately we think negatively. Why do we do that? If you were diabetic and needed insulin and didn’t take it, people would say you weren’t taking care of yourself. So, why are issues related to mental health any different?
I do understand that we live in an overmedicated society. But just because we need to be more careful in how medication is prescribed and administered doesn’t mean we should toss it out all together.
One other misconception is the belief that once you have an issue with mental health, you will always have that issue. Not so. Often, the majority of people who will deal with a mental health issue only need help for a short period of time. Statistically, more people need short-term help than long-term. But regardless of how long it takes, we need to make sure we don’t allow our misconceptions to keep us from the care we need to receive or give and that we have a proper response to this issue.
A Proper Personal Response
So how are we to respond? First, let me address those who might be dealing with this personally or are going through it with a family member.
I think the first thing we must do is remove the shame associated with it and break the stigma. Shame is the enemy of healing and needs to be cast aside. Our refusal to set aside the stigma and help remove the shame will be a hindrance to someone getting the help they need.
Next, be willing to speak up. Recognize that if you are silent, it will only make matters worse. Find someone you can trust and open up to them.
Then, seek help. Don’t allow pride to keep you from getting the help you need. You’ve got stuff. I’ve got stuff. All God’s people have stuff. Find a pastor, a Christian counselor, or your doctor to share this with.
And if a trusted medical professional tells you there is something physically wrong happening in your body and recommends medicine, take it without guilt and shame.
Recognize you are not alone. You are not the only one who feels the way you do, and God cares about what you are going through. 2 Corinthians tells us,
“ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles…” —2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Or later in 2 Corinthians where Paul says,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” —2 Corinthians 12:9
or in Romans where Paul says,
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” —Romans 8:35
And hold on as best you can to the hope we have as believers, a hope rooted in the knowledge that something better is on the way. No matter how deep the darkness, how painful your life may be, as a child of God, you can look forward to the day when
“Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.” —1 Corinthians 15:43
A Proper Response as a Church
How do we respond as a church? Pastor and author Ed Stetzer said it best on his blog, so I will simply steal it. Stetzer lists four things the church needs to do right now.
1. We need to stop hiding mental illness. We must stop pretending it doesn’t exist. We cannot stick our heads in the sand. This isn’t going away. When the church is silent, it communicates a lot about who we are. As a church, if we are silent to a person in crisis, it can sound remarkably like silence from God. And our silence reveals our irrelevance on a major issue plaguing our society.
2. The congregation should be a safe place for those who struggle. If people who are hurting cannot find a safe place in the church, where can they go? It is abhorrent if people cannot find acceptance and safety in the church. Most of the time what people need is community and loving friendship. This is the one thing that should separate the church from every other organization. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to go into the darkest places and the toughest situations to bring light. That means walking with those who are suffering no matter what that suffering looks like.
3. We should not be afraid of medicine. Jesus himself said,
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” —Matthew 9:12
I realize he said this to go on to talk about how he came not for the righteous but for sinners, but he acknowledges doctors for those who need care.
4. We need to end the shame. We live in broken world and we are broken people. Some are broken in different ways than others. Shame creates isolation when we need one another.
So, why would we spend an entire blog talking about this? Because the objective of this series is for each of us to become whole and holy. We cannot ignore our mental health if we want to accomplish this.
Also, we talk about it because we have to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. We, as the church of Jesus Christ, have to stop judging and rejecting those who are hurting. We need to be leading the charge, offering grace and hope to those struggling in isolation, too afraid of what others might think or the rejection they might endure if they find the courage to talk about it.
We have to stop perpetuating ideas that are damaging to people, specifically the ideas that mental illness is due to a lack of faith or that if you would just pray more, you’d be better. We have to remove the double standard that says it is okay to seek a doctor’s care for cancer, but it is wrong to seek a doctor’s care when you are so depressed or anxious that you cannot function.
Most mental illness may not be the result of demonic possession or sin in the life of the person in pain.
We need to recognize that the one we are following, the one we are emulating our lives after, Jesus Christ, stood with those who were suffering. In Luke 4, Jesus spoke these words from the Old Testament,
“The Spirit of the Lord is in me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” —Luke 4:18-19
So what is God saying to you today? Is there someone you need to talk with this week, to share your struggle with? Or is there someone you know is struggling that you need to care for?
For us as a church, we are saying we will not be silent on this issue. We will strive for wholeness and holiness in every area, including our mental health. And we do not have to hide our brokenness.
And whether our healing comes miraculously or through medication, we acknowledge that Jesus is part of the solution. He wants us to have a renewed mind. Romans 12:2 reminds us that we are transformed when our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. This should be our aim and our prayer.
Maybe today this has struck a nerve with you and you would like someone to pray with you. We would love the opportunity to pray for you, your family member, or that person you know who needs wholeness in their mental health. Feel free to contact us at Ashworth Road Baptist Church 515-223-0914.