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Saturday, July 2, 2016

8 Biblical Tips for a Healthy Mind (Dealing With Depression and Anxiety)

It is hoped that this article will bring some Biblical enlightenment and encouragement to anyone suffering with thoughts of depression, anxiety or doubt. It is both a Bible study and a personal testimony (In fact, you may watch my testimony of dealing with clinical depression and OCD at the bottom of this page if you would like.) This article is not exhaustive. There is much more that could be added to it  - but it’s a start. 

It is important to clarify that this is a general article for all people ( although it is obviously geared towards Christians) – However if you think you may have an actual mental disorder ( as I do) such as clinical depression, obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia I strongly urge you to see a doctor ( as I have) and do not be afraid to take the appropriate medication (as I have) if that is what is needed to make you whole. 

#1 The Still Small Voice of God

“…And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” 1 Kings 19:11-12

When Elijah was discouraged, afraid and on the run the Lord spoke to him in a “still small voice”. It is important to understand the gentleness and calmness in which the Holy Spirit speaks to us because sometimes we confuse the Holy Spirit’s conviction with the enemy’s condemnation. Know the difference. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1).

 You can rest assured that God is not the one screaming condemnation at you – that is Satan who is rightly called “The Accuser of the brethren” : “’…for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.” (Revelation 12:11) . While Satan is our accuser, Jesus is our great Advocate. We must rest in the peace that Jesus has made for us with God – by His grace and love and atoning work on the cross. 

#2 God’s thoughts are not your thoughts

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

When our thinking becomes dark, fearful or confused how refreshing it is to be reminded that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts – they are, in fact, high above our thoughts. They are thoughts full of light, peace and clarity and we need to pray that we would get a glimpse of those thoughts and allow them into our own broken minds. 

At the same time what a blessing it is to know that even though He is so high above us He still “Understands our thought afar off…” and is “Acquainted with all our ways…” (Psalm 139:2-3) . God knows the darkness and suffering we sometimes go through. He knows us intimately, He cares, He “gets us”. He is both transcendent of our minds and lovingly understanding of our minds.... 

#3 A Sound Mind

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and 
of love and of a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7

Here Paul contrasts a spirit of fear with one of power, love and a sound mind. These are not things we can receive by our own strength but rather they are given to us by the grace and power of God as we seek them and allow them to permeate us. This verse is not meant to make us feel guilty or inadequate if we don’t feel like we have a sound mind but rather to encourage us that it is God’s desire and gift for us to have a sound mind.  

Vine translates the Greek sophronismos as literally  “saving the mind”. Other meanings include “restoring one to his senses” and to have moderation and self-control in your thinking.  For me there is always a tendency towards extreme or “catastrophic” thinking.  This is the opposite of moderated thinking. We can liken a well moderated mind to an online forum where many people make many different comments on many different topics but the hardworking and wise Moderators of that group are quick to keep the group in check or “controlled”. Comments ( or “thoughts”) that are toxic or unhealthy (i.e. Trolling) are quickly deleted. In the case of the mind, the Bible and wise Christian advisers are the standard by which the group is moderated. 

#4 Talk it out

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; 
But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

The latter phrase ( “in the multitude of counselors there is safety”) is repeated 3 times in Proverbs (15:22, 24:6)! For many of us the natural inclination is to keep our negative, dark or confused thoughts to ourselves. We fear what others might think of us if we open up to them. We fear they may think we are silly, weak or even evil. So we close ourselves up, put on a good show and silently retreat into ourselves. Nothing could make the devil happier. 

A Pastor once told me that when the enemy wants to try and destroy someone he will try to separate them from the church and other Christian friends and family – in the very same way a wolf will try to separate a sheep from its flock and its shepherd. Don’t let this happen to you… be courageous enough to be vulnerable to a fellow Christian who is wise, understanding and trustworthy. Sometimes we can receive wonderful Biblical advice that will help us but there is also a true freedom in just saying our thoughts out loud to another person – using them as a sounding board. Whether this is a friend, a pastor or a professional counselor – I urge you to talk it out! 

#5 Positive Thinking

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Philippians 4:8 

First let me say that Biblical positive thinking is nothing like the Oprah-esque type of positive thinking we hear so much about today ( i.e. “The Secret” etc). This latter thinking would have us believe that everything we need to be happy lies within ourselves if only we can tap into it through positive thoughts. In contrast the Bible teaches us to think positively (as the above verse indicates) but to know that this positivity is rooted in the character of God and can only come from outside of us – from Him. 

Now a related word on self-esteem. When it comes to the area of self-esteem there are 2 ways in which we can go wrong. One is the more obvious to us Christians and that is self-exaltation or pride. We are often warned about this in sermons and rightfully so. Self-exaltation is repugnant to God. But what we also must realize is that we can go wrong just as easily by being “down on ourselves” all the time or self-loathing. Self-loathing is just as much pride and is just as destructive as self-exaltation – it is simply the other end of the spectrum. We must not focus on “self” at all except to know that God loves us just the way we are and that it is only in His power and grace that we can become more refined and Christ-like as we focus on Him. 

#6 Don’t Overthink (Keep It Simple) 

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

It may seem strange but for one who is prone to overthinking some of the best advice I have ever received was to “Keep it simple” or K.I.S.S.   – you can decide what the last “S” stand for.  The reason I used the above verse for this section is because it reminds us of the simplicity of the Christian faith. It reminds us to stop over-thinking everything and just get back to the basics. Don’t worry about doing everything – just do something. Do something just, do something merciful, walk humbly with God. Let God work out the complications. 

Sometimes when we are depressed or anxious it can seem impossible to face the day. But one of the keys is to simply do something – no matter how small or insignificant you may think it is. Whether it is reading one Bible verse, praying for one person or just making your bed that morning – it is something and it gets us on the right track, moving in the right direction. It builds our confidence and sense of accomplishment – it is simple but it is healthy. 

#7 The Armour of God

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil… above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” Ephesians 6:11, 16-17 

I suggest taking the time to read and study this entire portion of Scripture as it is impossible to cover all of its contents in this one point. For the purposes of this article we will focus in on the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. The “fiery darts” mentioned above are usually taken to mean nasty thoughts and feelings thrown at us by the devil – the enemy of our souls, our hearts and our minds. The Roman shields to which Paul was referring often had a coating of leather on the front that was soaked in water so that they could quite literally quench fiery darts or arrows thrown at them. In the same way, it is faith in the promises of God (The sword of the Spirit) that will shield us against these thoughts and prevent them from taking hold ( or lighting a fire so to speak). 

David Guzik says this concerning he helmet of salvation: “1 Thessalonians 5:8 speaks of the helmet of salvation in connection to the hope of salvation.  The helmet of salvation protects us against discouragement, against the desire to give up, giving us hope not only in knowing that we are saved, but that we will be saved.  It is the assurance that God will triumph.” 

#8 Praise, Worship and Thanksgiving

“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.” Acts 16:25-26

We cannot underestimate the power there is in praising God through difficult times and dark thoughts. Here Paul and Silas had just been viciously beaten and were now in prison in stocks. Yet they praised, worshipped and thanked God – the result was freedom - “everyone’s chains were loosed”. In a similar reminder Nehemiah tells the children of Israel “…Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10). 

A.W. Tozer once said that “The root of all evil is the suspicion that God is not good.” Know and believe in the goodness of God and praise Him for it. In the midst of despair or anxiety, remind yourselves of all of your blessings and of all the ways in which God has led and delivered you in the past. Know the future, though it may come with trials, is bright – God has good plans for you!