What do you think of when you hear the word “balance”? Maybe it's standing on one leg, making healthy financial decisions or even trying to find that “quiet time” with Jesus amidst a hectic work day. Whether we know it or not, our lives are in constant flux, ultimately impacting our balance and ability to thriveRead More
4 Keys to the Christian Life with Mental Illness
Understanding the mind of Christ and a brain with Mental Illness
"We have the mind of Christ" - 1 Corinthians 2:16
What does it mean to have the MIND of Christ, but struggle with a MENTAL illness? Let's review four keys to discover an encouraging Biblical perspective that relates to depression, anxiety, and other mental health stressors.
1 | The mind of Christ is a truth perspective about you.
"Now, we have not received the spirit of the world, but rather the Spirit who is from God, that we might KNOW the things freely given to us by God." - 1 Corinthians 2:12
Depression and anxiety (or other mental health stressors) can cloud our emotions and thoughts, which makes it hard to "build up your most holy faith" to keep believing Him. It can feel like it is taking every ounce of life to keep believing. However, having the mind of Christ is not a spiritual goal or objective, it is more about our inherent identity in Christ. It is knowing what we have freely received in Him and how that empowers our lives.
The mind of Christ is an opportunity to see the Father as Christ sees Him. Then, how the Father sees Christ, which ultimately is how He sees you. We are now part of His fullness with all spiritual favor/blessings (2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 1:3-4; Colossians 1:27). The mind of Christ speaks to His love and Spirit at rest within us ... a full satisfaction of being fully graced as children of God (John 1:12, 16). Friends, you can rest knowing that when the mental health stressors cloud your faith and you are trying to believe in Him, you can rest knowing that He believes in you.
2 | The mind of Christ reassures that you always have His presence.
"...which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words." - 1 Corinthians 2:13
It is common for people living with mental health stressors to feel disconnected or distant from God. That "disconnected" feeling is because of the symptoms, not God separating Himself. Having the mind of Christ means, by His Spirit, you always have constant access to the heart and nature of God ... His presence!
His presence is not an emotion. Despite our emotions, He is at rest within us (John 14:20). His presence always comes with His nature to give and bless (try doing a word study on God's "presence"). Thus, why the apostle James wrote that when we endure trials (yes, this includes mental health difficulties) we can still grow and arise from the ashes, "lacking in nothing." The Apostle Paul encouraged us that we can grow (improve) through our trials because we have Him as our Hope (Romans 5:1-5). Additionally, the Apostle John encouraged us that when we feel lonely with no other Christians who deeply understand or there to guide us, we have the Spirit to teach and guide us (1 John 2:27). Ultimately, Jesus said the Holy Spirit, the COMFORTER, would abide and guide us (John 14:16, 26). We can celebrate because God being distant is a myth ... He will never leave us! That's an incredible resource within. Like you, I'm still learning to fully understand the endless majesty and beauty of this!
3 | The Mind of Christ focuses on new life, not failures.
With depression and anxiety comes lots of self-judging and always trying to disqualify yourself from grace (unfortunately religion rules do that, too). This can lead to constant introspection and trying to work back into God's grace. But the mind of Christ is not for sin-management or keeping religious standards (checklist) to somehow will ourselves "to get right with God" or gain more of His blessings or favor. We already have Christ within - how much more favor or blessings can we get than Christ in us (Colossians 2:8-10)? It is rather KNOWING how right we already are with Him and the comfort and grace we have been enriched with (2 Corinthians 5:21).
| This means that the mind of Christ can help guide you through any mental health stressor to help renew your mind (perspective), reconstruct your heart (resilience), and realign your life (with creative strengths) for greater, healthier outcomes. |
In fact, He will help guide you to the right and healthy people (community) to be part of your journey (I didn't say perfect people). He won't push or pressure, instead He will ignite a grace desire and energy to match His delight for you (Philippians 2:13)! It should feel simple, yet not without some challenge (wherever you are).
| The mind of Christ feels more like a nudge on our humanness than the heavens opening with a booming voice and breakthrough miracles. |
A woman dealing with depression shared that one morning she was feeling the dark and energy-zapping cloud and she retreated back to the bed and could barely move. However, she had this small, inspiring and loving voice guiding her to get up and go outside for a short walk. She personally recognized this as God's Spirit prompting her, because every other thought overwhelming her was dark! She and this motivating thought knew going for walks always helped her relieve the depression. As she took a walk, the depression didn't completely disappear, but she experienced enough relief to carry out her day instead of returning to bed and calling in sick. My friends, I suggest that's what "the heavens opening up" simply look like in the everyday journey!
This is what we often see within our Family Grace or Living Grace small groups. These curriculums help people discover what grace can look like in their mental health journey - looking through the lens of wholeness and hope, not a "manage the brokenness" thinking.
4 | The mind of Christ always reminds you that "you are worthy!"
The mind of Christ means God's mind about you is already made up ... and His thoughts concerning you are always good and pleasing (Colossians 1:12; Psalm 139:17). The mind of Christ will always advocates your redeemed innocence, endorses His love for you, and celebrates that you are His! Mental health stressors can never discount this.
Whether depression, anxiety, or any other mental health diagnosis or circumstance, we have a God who never leaves us to work out our pain on our own. We have a loving God who longs to be gracious to us and to elevate our perspective to a habitation of grace. This grace habitation is in you for the sufficiency of strength and to be revived for greater purpose (Isaiah 57:15). Be patient as you go through the journey because He is patient for you to improve ... He is always saying "you're worth it!"
Let us know what you think about the mind of Christ and how that plays out in someone's life dealing with mental health difficulties. Comment here and our facebook page.
CEO / Co-Founder The Grace Alliance
If you found this blog helpful, be sure to subscribe to our email updates to stay informed with other blogs and exciting news. You can also order any of our workbooks for your own personal journey and/or to use in one of our small groups (Family or Living Grace Groups) in your area.
Why True Love is Not Just a Feeling
3 Reminders We Need for Valentine's Day
First Corinthians 13:4-7 is often used to characterize the love that one person has for another or what a couple should strive for in a marriage. However, Paul’s assertion here to the Corinthian Church calls to mind the true character of Jesus Christ - Jesus’ PERFECT love for us.Read More
Why I Brought Mental Health Support Groups to Our Church
Guest Blog from Dale Hull, Restoration Pastor at New Life Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
If you are reading this article then most likely you have a passion, burden or possibly a curiosity about mental health and the role the church can play in effectively caring for those affected by a mental health disorder.
The following are a few reasons why I got involved and took action to launch mental health support groups at our church.
1. I Needed It!
My wife and I have been in ministry almost 30 years, serving in several different pastoral roles. However, we never imagined that we would be serving in our current role at our church now. We are the Restoration Life Group Pastors at New Life Church in Little Rock, AR, overseeing small groups for individuals impacted by mental health, addiction, grief, abuse or trauma.
"When we were experiencing those dark times over and over again without any end in sight, it began to drain us."
My wife grew up in a family that was impacted by addiction and – unknowingly – mental health disorders. Little did we know that we would walk a dark and lonely journey for many years in our own family. Approximately four years ago, it would come to a critical crisis moment that would change the path and direction for our family of four. As pastors, Kim and I were used to caring for others and supporting them through difficult times. However, when we were experiencing those dark times over and over again without any end in sight, it began to drain us. Existing and making it through each day seemed to be the goal. Passions, dreams and vision seemed to fade and the goal of seeing joy and happiness return within ourselves and our children was the target. Everything else seemed insignificant.
Who can we talk to?
Who can understand and will listen without giving their opinion or unsolicited counsel?
Where is a place that is safe and where we can share our fears, pains, struggles, anger, grief, helplessness and even hopelessness?
Then in 2014, we heard about Grace Alliance for the first time as we listened to the Dr. Matthew Stanford speak on the live stream of the Mental Health and the Church conference (The Gathering by Saddleback Church). Not long after, I contacted the Grace Alliance. After sharing my story and hearing about the hope of the Grace Alliance, I contacted others in our church who had similar stories and we started a Family Grace Group in our church. We have completed four cycles of the curriculum with possibilities for more in the future! The stories of hope and encouragement are a consistent testimony within our members.
2. To Offer Hope to Others
Something that seemed to be launched out of our need has now proven to be a beacon of hope for a growing number of others in our church and community. We knew that there had to be many others who shared our experiences and were also in need of support.
"Since launching the groups, it has been remarkable to see the impact that the group has had on us and others who have attended."
Many attend for the first time feeling timid, broken, exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed, confused, angry, fearful or even relieved, excited to find others in similar circumstances with familiar storylines. The stories are heartbreaking, but the encouragement and hope found within those stories is nothing short of God’s faithfulness and grace extended.
We’re building a network of support that goes much further than a weekly meeting.
It has become a community of friendships that understand and encourage one another.
3. To Provide a Resource For Our Staff and Leaders.
Our Family and Living Grace Groups have become a resource for our pastors and ministry leaders to now be able to refer family members who are struggling with a teen, spouse or a loved one with mental illness or battling addiction.
During a past life group launch, a pastor sought me out and introduced me to a man who was in a serious crisis with a family member. I spent the rest of the evening listening to him and sharing a portion of my journey. He started attending our Family Grace Group and was able to find a Christ-centered ministry recovery center for his daughter. The Grace Group provided vital encouragement for the parents during their daughter's time away. A few months after she returned, she attended our group and shared what God did - and is doing - in her life. Needless to say, the entire group shed some tears of joy and celebration!
Our church staff can now easily connect individuals and families to a place where they know they will be supported. This equips and empowers our staff to effectively care for those who enter our churches.
I knew when we launched our support group that it would be our goal to see these groups implemented at all of our New Life campuses across the state of Arkansas. We currently have 12 campuses with the vision of 50 statewide.
As a pastor, I highly recommend every church to implement some form of mental health support group or ministry.
The Grace Alliance is an amazing resource to assist you with training, materials and support.
Restoration Pastor / New Life Church in Little Rock, AR
**To start your free training to facilitate a group, visit the Grace Alliance's online Grace Academy.
What the Bible Says about Dealing with Depression & Anxiety
A New Way to Understand How to "Fight the good fight!"
“Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called …” 1 Timothy 6:12
I have heard this scripture sometimes used as motivating counsel for people struggling with depression, anxiety and other life challenges. The premise is that life is a constant "spiritual battle" and we need to stay alert and motivated so "the enemy" doesn't destroy our lives. Other times I've heard this used to "fight" for new breakthroughs in your life.
While there may be some value in those thoughts, but if you are living with depression, anxiety or any other mental health stressors here are a couple of different angles to help understand what it means to "fight the good fight."
1 | Spiritual fighting creates more weakness and exhaustion.
The context of this counsel (fight to keep the enemy at bay or personal breakthrough) can subtly associate depression and anxiety related stressors as a sign of defeat and loosing to "the enemy" (devil, demonic forces). Then, I have seen this lead people to wrestle with judgmental introspection, or examining from others, on why their losing "the fight." The questions point to, "How's your time with the Lord?" or "How's your prayer life?" or "Is there anything in your life you need to get right with God?". In the end, it's a spiritual disciplines problem and the blame is on the person not "fighting" or not doing enough of to "break off" the depression or anxiety. It implies ... "You do your part and God will do His."
| Faith is not motivated by behavior, it's actually inspired by belonging. |
Clinical research shows that people living with depression and/or anxiety have an overactive amygdala, which this overactivity disrupts the brain ability to process process thoughts and balance moods. This means the threat center in their brain is in constant fight, flight, or freeze mode. The counsel to keep "fighting the good fight" is re-triggering the amygdala to stay in high alert mode and self-interpreted as ... "you're not safe until you do 'x, y, and z,' and then God will relieve these burdens." Thus, the depression or anxiety continues making faith more frustrating and exhausting.
For someone struggling with depression, anxiety, and other challenges is that this mindset (fight to keep the enemy at bay or personal breakthrough) leans more to "behavior before belonging," as opposed to a healthier view of "belonging before behavior." So, they are fighting with all their spiritual disciplines (behavior) as best they can to see a breaking off of the enemy's attack and personal breakthrough (belonging). All this because their symptoms are associated as a frail faith and losing to the "attack of the enemy." The problem comes when the depression, anxiety or other symptoms don't go away in days, weeks, or even after a month. The questions are now, "I'm doing everything I can ... Where is God ... Why is God silent ... Why is He not helping me?". It triggers more depression and anxiety. Exhaustion sets in. Then, they want to give up on God.
I saw this one time when someone drove two hours to meet in person. This person had done everything but the symptoms and the voices remained and then said, "I'm ready to give up on Jesus." This person had been through months of heartache, but honestly we only discussed this for 10-20 minutes and then they were okay to keep believing. I didn't have a magic formula, it's because no one ever stopped to question the spiritual formula given (above). This person went on to become one of our amazing Living Grace Group facilitators!
2 | Fight from secure rest vs. fighting to achieve more freedom.
The context of this scripture (1 Timothy 6:12) is not a position of a mental or emotional failure or because you are weak, rather the apostle Paul is reminding us of our permanent security so you do not have to follow after the patterns of this world (or the lies about ourselves and wrong spiritual formulas).
| It's not a "works" fight, it's a "focus" fight. |
Paul is reminding us we have a WHOLE new identity (not of weakness) and because of this we can "fight" to stay focused on the eternal security we already have ... even in depression, anxiety, or any other challenge. It's not a works fight, it's a focus fight. Because a great focus always leads to new ways of living, not vice versa!
Paul follows up saying "fight the good fight" by saying "take hold of the eternal life to which you were called." This means your true identity and grace in Christ is already within reach ... for any journey, condition, or circumstance. So, “fight the good fight” really means …
| Don’t give up or give in to anything contrary to what Christ has already fulfilled in you! So take hold of and rest in your new reality! |
- Your breakthrough in Christ has already been fulfilled ... Jesus already made a breakthrough once and for all, we are completely new and lacking in nothing, and no longer need to strive for more of God's blessings or more spiritual breakthroughs. We are living out and growing from our new wholeness in Christ (Romans 6:10-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 1:3 and 2:14; 1 Peter 3:18).
- The wholeness and oneness with God is fulfilled, there is never any distance or separation ... Jesus is at rest with us and we are at rest with Him; we are complete and have oneness in Him; He has already made us secure over-comers through faith; resting in our eternal security; no more striving to achieve more faith and freedom (Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:13-18 Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27; Hebrews 4:11; 1 John 5:3).
- His grace works within us for our benefit (Growth) ... We rest in knowing He is guiding us by grace and working in us toward His good advantage, will, and pleasure; no need to strain ourselves to get more grace or blessings (Romans 8:28, 32; Philippians 2:13).
- "I'm satisfied with you" ... Christ is already our security as the author, perfecter, and finisher of faith and our lives ... He cares for us through all of our afflictions and trials; no need to achieve or impress Him to be free from our painful circumstances (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:2).
Jesus fought the good fight in secure rest, not insecure tests!
In the story of Jesus in the wilderness, the devil tempted Jesus by questioning His identity. If you notice, the questions were related to testing Jesus identity in order to create fear, prove Himself, and even give up His identity for earthly glories. The devil tempted Jesus saying … “If you are the Son of God, then … (an action to prove His identity/Himself).” Jesus "fought the good fight" by resting in the Truth of who He was and secure relationship to the Father, not testing or proving it with works. Jesus responded with the Truth, “It is written you shall not put the Lord God to the test." Interesting, Jesus didn't do anything except stand in the Truth of who He was and the devil departed and Jesus returned out of the wilderness in great power (Matthew 4 / Luke 4).
Life hurts and so does mental health stress ... so how do we endure in rest?
When you get a cold, it affects your daily life, makes you feel miserable, slows you down, but it doesn't affect who you are. You know it's a condition and it takes simple rest, healthy options, and time to get better. Mental health difficulties are not comparable to a cold but the same principles can be applied:
a | Endure the hardship and fight the good fight by ACCEPTING how depression, anxiety, or any other mental health challenges affect you. Accepting it doesn't mean spiritual failure or that depression/anxiety or other disorders are your identity, it means that it is a condition affecting you. You need ways to rest, healthy tools, and time to improve. Christ is in you and He is not distant from you in this journey. His satisfied love is in you, with you, for you, and a constant grace to energize your every step. You are enough...and that's what it means to lack nothing in Christ!
| The Word of God is holding you more than you are trying to hold Him! |
b | Fight the good fight (resting in) knowing that the Truth (listed above) is holding you more than you are trying to hold it (Colossians 1:17). With this new secure perspective, your prayers or Bible reading doesn’t have to be about striving to achieve more blessings or a spiritual breakthrough. Instead, it can be a healthy discovery of your beautiful fellowship you already have with God!
Whether the depression, anxiety, or other challenges come and go, “Fight the good fight" by not giving up or giving in to any perspective contrary to what Christ has already fulfilled and given you … a full inheritance of life and a deep love from the Father that will never cast you away (John 6:37; 10:10; 16:27).
What do you think about "Fighting the good fight?" Let us know here and on our facebook page!
Co/Founder & CEO Mental Health Grace Alliance
What You Get When You Give Thanks
5 Reasons Thanksgiving is Good for Your Health
If you’re anything like me, the Thanksgiving season does not magically produce a more thankful version of myself. In fact, it usually yields the opposite. I don’t know if it’s the shorter days with less sunshine or the never-ending end-of-year task list, but Thanksgiving seems to trigger even more stress, anxiety and bouts of depression. So, for many of us, we may just be trying to make it through.
But this year, as I find myself falling into that same cycle, it begs the question, why should I give thanks? More specifically, why should I give thanks when I don’t feel thankful?
Both Thanksgiving and Christmas are meant to be reminders of God’s goodness and His great provision, a reason to give thanks. Just as the Old Testament feasts and festivals were intended to refocus the attention of God’s people to remember all that God had done, we can use Thanksgiving to realign our minds and hearts to Him.
In Scripture, we see examples of gratitude for the Lord and for others, in times of blessing and also in times of stress and suffering (1 Chronicles 16:34, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 9:1). I bet you can probably find a hundred more biblical references to “giving thanks.”
But did you know that research now confirms what Scripture has told us all along? When we “give thanks to the Lord,” it blesses both the Lord and us!
Beyond our spiritual health, here are five ways research now tells us that giving thanks is good for your mental, physical and relational health:
1. It increases happiness and decreases depression.
Robert Emmons, a leading gratitude researcher, has confirmed a link between gratitude and an increase in happiness and reduction of depression. “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness,” Emmons said. “It’s impossible to feel envious and grateful at the same time.” Thankfulness can actually act as a defense against negative thoughts that accompany depression.
2. It gives you better sleep.
Gratitude is shown to have improved sleep for 76% of individuals who had insomnia. With chronic sleep problems affecting 50-80% of individuals with mental health difficulties (versus 10-18% of the general population), getting better sleep is vital to improving both our physical and mental health.
3. It lowers stress levels.
Gratitude can also reduce levels of stress hormones (cortisol) by 23%! Chronic high levels of cortisol is linked with increased risk of depression and mental illness. But when we take time to express gratitude, stress levels lower and keep us healthy!
4. It contributes to resilience.
A study in 2006 revealed that Vietnam War veterans with higher levels of gratitude had lower rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, a 2003 study discovered that gratitude was a key contributor to resilience after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For those who have experienced trauma, thanksgiving can play a significant part in overcoming trauma and building resilience.
5. It helps build friendships.
Did you know that a study found that thanking a new acquaintance can actually make them more likely to want to be your friend? Never underestimate the power of a simple ‘thank you’ and the wonderful friendships that might result from it!
But what do we do when we're in the midst of depression or anxiety and it feels difficult to give thanks? Here are some quick, tangible ways that make thanksgiving easy.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Thanksgiving doesn't need to involve crafts or extravagant gifts or gestures. A simple text message, phone call, email or short note can be the perfect way to express thanks for someone in your life.
KEEP IT SPECIFIC
Instead of thanking someone generally for being a good friend or a good family member, take note of something specific that you can thank them for. For example, thank a friend for an encouragement or compliment they shared with you recently, thank a waiter or waitress at a restaurant for his or her speedy service or thank a family member for giving you a ride to an appointment.
KEEP IT STEADY
The Thanksgiving holiday focuses our attention on gratitude, but a habit of year-round thanksgiving will keep these health benefits coming far beyond the holidays! Keep practicing ways to say 'thank you' in simple and specific ways past Thanksgiving. For example, keep a gratitude journal where you write down three things a day for which you are grateful.
God loves you and His grace never runs out. So even when our mental health symptoms make it difficult for us to feel thankful, we can rest in His grace and give thanks that His love for us is not dependent upon anything we do! Thank goodness, right?!
Executive Director of Programs & Marketing, The Grace Alliance