The Herald Weekly Vol XVI : 8

Start From The Mind

Someone once asked: “Can a believer in Christ suffer from stress or mental illness?”

If we study the Acts of the Apostles, we can find some stressful situations which some of them encountered. After Paul became a follower of Christ, he suffered many experiences which could have triggered some form of stress that may possibly lead to a mental breakdown. Let us examine a few of these.

1. Rejection

The disciples rejected Paul because they knew him as one who used to persecute Christians. Many must have avoided Paul, and this could have discouraged him in his desire to follow the Lord Jesus.

We face all kinds of rejection in life’s situations: broken romantic relations, broken marriages, rejection by friends, colleagues, bosses, and others. This may cause the rejected person to keep away from people and opportunities to improve in new relationships. Even mentally strong persons are not immune to the sting of rejection. But they learn to accept the situation and move on from there and not allow rejection to defeat them.

In a sense, Paul was blessed to have one like Barnabas in the church. The latter introduced Paul to the apostles (Acts 9:26,27) and they protected him from those who wanted to kill him. Gradually, Paul was allowed to preach Christ freely.

2. Differences of Opinions

Paul and Barnabas became good friends, and good ministers of the Lord Jesus. They were set apart by the early church at Antioch, and were sent out as the first missionaries to the regions beyond Judea and Samaria. Both went out to preach the gospel of Christ, performing miracles in the name of Christ. They established churches wherever they went. Their missionary journey was very successful, but tension between the two emerged over John Mark whom Barnabas wanted him to accompany them on their journeys. We are told that “the contention was so sharp” that the two decided to go on separate teams, Paul with Silas, and Barnabas with John Mark. (Acts 15:36-40). This tension between two good friends could have caused a major breakdown in their lives, but they continued in their missionary outreach, each serving the Lord fervently in their own area of ministry.

3. Fear of Success or Failure

The prophet Elijah just had a mountain- top experience of defeating the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. After he prayed to God, fire had descended from heaven, and the people of Israel acknowledged the Lord, and the false prophets were all put to death. But the experience was followed by an episode of fear and failure in Elijah’s life, and he just ran for his life from Queen Jezebel (1 Kgs 19:1-2). He heard that the Queen was going to kill him. He was discouraged by this death threat that he wanted to die (1 Kgs 19:4). He asked God to take away his life. But God sent an angel to minister to Elijah’s need for food and sleep. After he had rested, he went on a 40-day journey to Mount Horeb to meet with the Lord (1 Kgs 19:6-10). He told God that the Israelites had rejected God’s covenant, torn down His altars and killed His prophets. He said: I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The prophet saw himself as the only one left to defend God’s name in Israel. Jezebel seemed to be winning the fight, and so he fled.

Do we sometimes feel that way too? Those who have been serving the Lord for many years can feel very discouraged when they have done so much for those they have shepherded, and the outcomes seem miserable. Missionaries in the mission field can feel that way too when few seem to be interested in the gospel.

4. Trying to please others

In his ministry as a young pastor, Timothy must have encountered many problems ministering to people of different age groups: the elderly and the young; the men and the women. This could have caused him much distress in the stomach. Paul not only gave spiritual guidance to his young mentee, he also advised Timothy to take care of his physical body.

Paul said, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.” (1 Tim 5:23)

Our human daily life is fraught with much stress: looking after the home and the children, bringing the bread and butter home, completing assignments on time at school or at work, targets and goals to achieve, relating to others (spouse, children, in-laws, friends, colleagues, etc). If faced with continual stress, we are bound to break down.

As Christians, God’s Word provides us with clear answers to the stresses we face everyday. The Bible teaches us to manage our stress, and gives us good advice on how to respond to the people and situations around us. We will find relief when we feel overwhelmed, helpless, frustrated and out of control, or have painful headaches and muscle aches, or live in a constant state of desperate anxiety, or have simply just given up. God’s Word also teaches us how to adopt the correct mental outlook towards life, and how to look after our bodies too.

What should we do when under stress? We should claim all of God’s promises and apply them to our lives:

a. Cast all your cares on Him for He cares for you. (1 Pet 5:7)
b. Trust in the Lord and keep our minds focused on Him and He will give us His peace. (Isa 26:3)
c. Look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. Focus on eternal rather than earthly things. (2 Cor 4:18).
d. Do not conform to the standards and demands of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:2).
e. Put off the old man (our self-centredness), and put on the new man (Eph 4:22; Col 3:10).
f. Change our perspective towards life: accept and embrace setbacks, fears and failures, and seek God’s strength to press on towards the mark of the prize of God’s higher calling in Christ (Phil 3:14).

In Paul’s second epistle to Timothy, Paul was addressing some of Timothy’s fears in his pastoral duties. Paul said in 2 Tim 1:7 “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

When we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, He cleanses us from all our sins, and removes all our transgressions and iniquities, and by His stripes we are healed (Isa 53:5). We also receive the Holy Spirit who will do the life-long transformation in our lives. God works through all the experiences we encounter, and grants us victory over all when we submit our lives to Him.

Like Paul, we need to crucify our old nature with Christ, and acknowledge that “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me”(Gal 2:20).

Thus, when we are stressed on all sides as Paul was (2 Cor 4:8-11), we will be able to overcome all and emerge victorious in Christ. Paul’s life was transformed because his mind was renewed in Christ. He no longer clung onto his old nature, but allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work of renewal in him.

Similarly, when our minds are renewed, gradually our perspective of life changes, and our personality and character will change too – into what God wants us to be – rejoicing in Him always (Phil 4:4) despite the circumstances and people around us.

Pastor Bob Phee

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