Podcast #041: How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

I was recently pleasantly surprised to be invited by a prestigious financial institution to speak on the subject of how prayer and faith can enhance mental health. It was a wonderful privilege.

On this podcast I unpack the main elements of my talk along with exploring how money is such a helpful analogy in pointing to understanding spiritual treasure.

In particular we explore:

How faith and prayer enhance mental health as I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him.

The key to this is understanding and experiencing grace in my life.

How faith rather than being a vague and nebulous concept is actually incredibly specific. Indeed our entire global financial system is based on faith.

Why faith can only enhance mental health if it is based on something specific and reliable.

How the highest form of prayer is delight.

The problems with defining mental health.

How the Hebrew word 'shalom' conveys the highest form of mental health as complete wellbeing or multi-dimensional thriving and fulfilment.

For more on this also see:

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Podcast #033: Practical ways to find joy through disappointment.

Podcast#032: How to know joy when life feels tough.

Podcast #013: How to grow in resilience.

Podcast #011 Money.

Why does a loving God allow pain and suffering?

Podcast #007 Religion

Podcast #018: Spiritual Maturity.

How can faith and prayer enhance mental health?

Using the example of money

I was recently asked to talk at a financial institution on this subject from a Biblical perspective.

 Its a huge subject and I was given only 10 minutes along with speakers from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds! This is a summary and transcript of what I was able to say. As it was at a financial institution it made sense to use money as an important theme! Indeed as we have previously discussed there are 2350 verses in the Bible on money - more than there are on faith or prayer even!

We can summarise the question by saying faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health when I am able to delight in God for who He is rather than what I can get out of Him. To break it down further into one word then it is to use the word grace.
Grace means undeserved mercy and favour. When I truly understand grace then that has a profound impact on my mental health.
The best way to convey that is with a simple story.
Imagine you came to my house to stay. I had to go out and left you in charge. When I returned you say to me, Sunil while you were out someone came to the door with a bill to pay and I paid it. Now there is one vital piece of information you are lacking. It is how much was the bill? If the bill was £1 then that is hardly even worth saying thank you for. But imagine it was £20 billion and you had the resources to pay. How would that make me feel? What would that do to my mental health?
But it gets even better! Not only do you pay the £20 billion bill you actually credit my account with a further £20 billion and you buy me a new house!
Sounds crazy an even ludicrous.

But that is what the Bible seeks to convey how grace impacts the mental health and life of someone who understands it.

Let’s  explore this further.....

When Jesus seems just so confusing

It is the story of an encounter with Jesus in the Gospels that is so puzzling and even confusing.  A certain rich man (we don't know his name or much else about him) comes running to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The more you think about it the more radical and even shocking is the way Jesus takes the conversation from there. 

You can read more about what happens in three of the four gospels. Each provides a different perspective on the same encounter. (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30).

It seems like a great question to ask and in terms of who you ask the question to, I think you would be hard pressed to suggest anyone else who would have a better handle on knowing what it takes to inherit eternal life. This young man has achieved a lot in terms of worldly success and significance. You have to commend him for hungering and thirsting for wanting something of more lasting value in his life than his apparent success and achievements..........

The power of money to transform a life

The book Les Miserables by  Victor Hugo is a classic novel from the 19th century. Its complexities and twists and turns remind me of a traditional Hindi Bollywood movie with the intense emotion and complex story line. In fact, Les Mis (as it has colloquially come to be called) is now internationally famous as a sing through musical. It has been seen by more than 70 million people in 44 countries and in 22 languages around the globe. It is still breaking box-office records everywhere. The original London production celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2015 and is the world's longest running musical.  There are also two film of the same name released in 1998 and 2012. The most recent one has also become a widely acclaimed with three oscars and a further four nominations.

The film and book follow the life of Jean Valjean who has spent 19 years in prison. This was made up of 5 years for stealing bread for his starving sister and 14 years for numerous escape attempts. On becoming a free man he is turned away by innkeepers because his yellow passport marks him as a former convict. He sleeps on the street, angry and bitter.

However, the local Bishop Myriel gives him shelter. At night, Valjean attacks and runs off with Myriel's silverware. The local paramilitary police officers (gendarmes) bring Valjean back to the Bishop. Valejan is expecting to be convicted and to return to prison. This is the point of radical transformation in Valjean's life. Here is how the 2012 movie in song describes what happens when the gendarmes arrive with Valjean:

Monsignor, we have your silver
We caught this man red-handed
He had the nerve to say you gave him this
That is right
But my friend you left so early
Surely something slipped your mind
You forgot I gave these also
Would you leave the best behind?
Monsieur, release him
This man has spoken true
I commend you for your duty
And God's blessing go with you
But remember this, my brother
See in this some high plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs
By the passion and the blood
God has raised you out of darkness
I have saved your soul for God.

Valjean is the recipient of radical undeserved grace and realises he cannot live the way he did before. The Bishop's mercy in not convicting Valjean but by giving him candlesticks in addition to the stolen silverware changes something deep within his soul.

(For copyright reasons I cannot show the actual videos on the website. You can access on YouTube the 2 minute clip from the 2012 film here and the 3 minute clip from the 1998 version here.)

Here is how the book describes the scene from when Vlajean realises the undeserved kindness of the Bishop to him:

What is money?

A helpful perspective

As money is such an integral part of our lives that can seem like a  ridiculous question to ask. Money can occupy so much of our thinking. It can also be the source of so much emotion, both negative and positive.

But what is it? Put most simply money is simply a tool to facilitate deferred bartering.
Of itself money is just a piece of paper. But what that paper has come to represent is access to products, possessions and ultimately dreams. The 2 minute video below captures some of these sentiments:

Money is so more than just paper, or plastic, or metal or numbers on a screen. It is an amplifier of who we are and the impact we can have on the world we live in. If we are basically living selfishly then money increases the opportunities to be more selfish. And if we want to live lives of generosity then money can increase the potential to do that in so many more ways. The simple equation is:

A tribute to my uncle Mohinder Singh Sukheja

01.01.1932 - 26.12.2017

Mohinder Singh Sukheja was the husband of my Dad's second cousin. Over the years and  living in England he became a dear uncle to me. He sadly passed away at the end of 2017. This is a tribute to my Uncle and the fond memories I had of him.

Mohinder Singh Sukheja was officially born on 1 January 1932 in Kamalia that is now a part of the Punjab part of Pakistan. He was the second child of a family of seven with 4 sisters and 1 younger brother.

At the age of 15 with the horrors of Partition he had to flee with his family to India. Along the way he became separated from his family and lost. I remember him telling me how in the intense heat, with all the walking he had to do, he became very tired and dehydrated. He literally thought he was going to die. He told me how he desperately prayed to God to rescue him. He was later on picked up by an army truck and reunited with his family. He never forgot how God had been merciful to him.

He settled in Kapurthala in Punjab. He graduated with an MA in History from Chandigarh University. He did teacher training and eventually progressed to becoming a deputy head. In July 1964 he married Daleep. He was encouraged by a colleague to apply to teach in England and so arrived on his own in September 1965. By the second day of arriving he was working in a factory in Shepherds Bush. His landlord did not allow him to cook so for a number of days he laughingly told me he lived on a diet of just bananas! He then spent 5 years working in a post office.

His wife Daleep joined him in March 1966. They had two daughters Baljit Daisy and Prabhjot Lily. By 1968 they had bought and settled in their home in Southall.

Uncle kept his strong desire to teach. So eventually he started a teacher training course in Coventry for 9 months, staying up there for the week and coming home at weekends. He spent 6 years at Thomas Buxton Junior School in Tower Hamlets, East London before coming to North Primary School in Southall where he was a multilingual teacher until he retired in 1997.

What are my memories of Uncle Sukheja?.....

Why being thankful is not just for Christmas

Have you done your Christmas shopping? Are you still wondering what to get for your loved ones? While this 2 minute video is somewhat a little bit too cheesy for some people, I think it does illustrate an important point about giving and gratitude that is so easy to overlook. While the characters may for some of us have over-exaggerated emotions, the sentiments they convey are so easy to take for granted.

The point is that it is incredibly easy to take for granted other people and all the things we enjoy and have access to around us. They appear ordinary and commonplace. With that sense of ordinariness comes a sense of entitlement and subconsciously feeling or thinking we somehow deserve or have earned everything we have. The reality is that most of the basic details of our existence, from the family we were born in, to the place, time and circumstances of our birth are completely out of our control. We had no say or choice in any of these fundamental things about who we are. But what if we could look at everything around us as a gift?

Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology in the United States, has spent many years researching the link between gratitude and wellbeing. He has been able to show from research that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression. He has also highlighted how when you practice gratitude you are less likely to feel stressed, envious or negative. Gratitude also has the effect of enabling you to be able to appreciate other people's accomplishments without feeling resentful that they have something you don't.

According to Professor Robert Emmons for gratitude to be effective it needs to cover 3 key areas:....

The other Christmas gift

4 surprising consequences

All over the world Christmas is very much the time for giving and receiving presents. The following 3 minute video is of children from the Metro Atlanta Boys and Girls Club in the United States. 83% of these children come from low income families, some of which are not able to afford even a Christmas tree. In the 3 minute video they are faced with a tough choice.  Just to warn you, the video may make you cry,  but it's well worth watching! 

What makes the video so fascinating for me is it also illustrates the true satisfaction that comes from giving rather than receiving. The simple decision of the children to choose to give rather than receive reminds me of Jesus' own words, "It is more blessed to give rather than receive." (Acts 20:35)

As we approach Christmas, I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 8:9:

"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."

In that single sentence we have the meaning of Christmas beautifully encapsulated. The Bible explains how although Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, He chose to leave the security of this perfect relationship to come to earth for you and me. He who had all the riches of heaven should choose to humble Himself and come to earth as a baby.

Here are 4 surprising consequences of this decision:.....

Podcast #035: What is life really all about?

A frank conversation with Rico Tice

Rico Tice is a senior minister at the church my family and I attend at All Souls, Langham Place in Central London. Rico is married to Lucy and they have three children. He is a Bible teacher and founder of the Christianity Explored course. This is a seven week study through the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament. At any one time there are 10,000 courses running around the world in over 100 countries with 122 official translations.

More recently Rico has helped to develop two further courses, Discipleship Explored which looks through the New Testament book of Philippians what it means to find joy in Christ and Life Explored which is an overview of the Bible as a whole.

 

On this podcast Rico and I explore:

Why being responsible for evangelism at All Soul's Church is much more than a job role, but something he is deeply passionate about.

His formative experiences growing up, including how the death of his godfather in 1982 had a profound impact on Rico's life.

Continual reminders of the brevity of life.

The importance of crossing the pain line when talking to others of the important issues around death and judgement.

In a world of different religions why it is not arrogant to say Jesus is the only way to God.

The importance of reading the Bible for yourself and doing so in community with others.

How Christ's death rescues us from the penalty, power and the presence of sin.

How the qualification to be a Christian disciple is not are you good enough, but are you bad enough.

The importance of a right understanding of hell and judgement.

Lessons in life Rico has learnt from his failures and mistakes.

Two books that have profoundly influenced Rico's life.

Why he also has a collection of over 300 books on rugby!

You may also find of interest:

Podcast #029: The literal end of the world?

Podcast #017: The last taboo subject?

Podcast #007: Religion

A tribute to my dear friend Abhishek Banerjee (12 October 1981 -17 March 2014)

How does our conversation speak into your own life?

 

What are the signs of a truly spiritual person?

Living in a world of such a variety of religious beliefs and persuasions it can be incredibly difficult to discern what it means to live a life that is in the most positive sense truly spiritual. Add to that the pressure to be productive, busy and active  and it becomes harder and harder to define. Is spirituality defined by what we do are by who we are of a combination of both? We also live in a world where centuries old values of right and wrong in such fundamental areas as lifestyle and sexuality are being questioned and systematically dismantled. Under the guise of secularism (which really is another form of religious belief that lacks the self-awareness to recognise a higher value) another set of values is confidently espoused.

In many ways this is nothing new. Here is how the apostle Paul writing in the first century described an unspiritual and empty life. The English translation is from a paraphrase called The Message:

"It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on."

That was written 2000 years ago, but it could not be more up to date!

That is a pretty depressing description of human nature and yet in may ways it does illustrate some of the characteristics of modern life presented through much of the media and culture around us.

So what does a truly spiritual person look like?

The best explanation I have come across again is that from the apostle Paul. He talks about this in terms of 'the fruit of the Spirit'. In Galatians 5:22-23 of his letter , the New International Version of the original Greek, states:

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control."

Here is how the Message translation paraphrases each of these different qualities:....