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.....
What is faith?
According to the New Testament book of Hebrews 11:1 faith is defined as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
In other words faith is confidence in an unseen future. So faith is an incredibly practical experience we all have.
All notes in Britain say “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £5, £10, £20 or £50.”
Currency is given and used as an act of faith or confidence that they are worth something.
We take it for granted that the currency in our pockets is worth something and can be relied upon. That assumption was challenged when I went to India in the autumn of 2017. I go to India regularly and had about 20 notes of the 500Rs denomination (worth about £5 each). They were left over from when I had returned to England in the first half of 2016. In November 2016 these notes were quickly removed from circulation and in 3 months became worthless. When I got to India more than a year later in September 2017 no person, no shop and no bank would accept these notes.
My faith in these notes was misplaced. There was no confidence in the words I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of 500Rs. I had misplaced faith or confidence in these notes and so was disappointed. Thankfully I only had 20 of these and not say 20,000 or my mental health would have been greatly upset!
So we can say faith enhances mental health when it is based on something that is reliable and dependable.
What about prayer?
Prayer is the means by which we communicate with the holy, transcendent God of the universe. It is a deep mystery that we can only partially understand. Prayer is talking to God, but it is much more than that. Prayer is asking God for things, but it is so much more than that. Prayer in its highest form is delight. I delight in someone or something when I enjoy it for what it is and not just for what I can get out of it. In this life we all look to many other things to bring us delight. The big three in society at large are money, sex and power. But there are an infinite variations on those big three. Its that thing at the end of the sentence when you say to yourself, I know my life will be complete when I have or get….” You fill in the blank.
Faith and prayer are intimately linked. According to Hebrews 11:6 we are told “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe He exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”
Faith is dependent on what your confidence is in.
When I am confident that God hears my prayers and rewards me for coming to Him, then I can find peace and rest that my needs will ultimately be met.
What is mental health?
Mental health is not the opposite of mental illness. We know a lot about mental illness and dysfunction. For example there are conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, stress, burnout for example.
We know a lot about mental illness, but mental health that gets harder to define. Health is not the opposite of illness. It is qualitatively different. The absence of mental illness does not necessarily mean you are mentally healthy. The writer Thoreau wrote in the 19th century, “The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation,” referring to a sense of emptiness and lack of purpose. Our secular technological world promises much, but fails so often to bring the lasting peace and satisfaction we all long for.
The highest form of mental health is using an originally Jewish word that was taken up by Christ and the early Christians: shalom.
Shalom is complete well being in body, mind and spirit. Or you could say absolute fullness in every dimension of your being.
Disciples of Christ believe prayer enhances mental health when I understand I am completely accepted and loved not on the basis of what I do, but on the basis of what Christ has done for me on the cross. Trusting in Christ by faith also brings me confidence because I know that God listens to me and hears me on the basis of the perfect work of Christ and not my own imperfect record.
The danger of trusting in my own goodness or performance is that on days I am doing well I can become proud and conceited while on days I am doing badly I can become depressed, despondent and deflated. Faith in Christ’s work on the cross gives me a humble confidence or a bold humility that God listens to and accepts me not because of my fickle performance, but on Christ’s finished and complete work. That can lead to delight as I understand how much I am loved and how in spite of all the ways I have failed and disappointed Him, He chose to die on the cross for me.
I close with this quote from the writer Randy Alcorn that summarizes how faith and prayer ultimately enhance mental health. It is when I realize:
“All your life you have been on a treasure hunt. You’ve been searching for a perfect person and a perfect place. Jesus is that person. Heaven is that place.”
When that grips me to my core then I begin on the path to shalom. I begin to delight in God for who He is and what He has done for me in Christ and I am on the path to the highest form of mental health – shalom.
What questions, thoughts and comments does this angle on faith, prayer and mental health raise for you?
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