“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Psalm 91:1-2, NIV
This psalm focuses being intimate with our heavenly Father.
Throughout the entire chapter we see personal pronouns used. In contrast to other psalms that are directed to the nation, this one is written to an individual. This personal focus makes this a favorite psalm for many.
Shelter and shadow, refuge and fortress are the opening ‘word pictures’ used very elegantly. The psalmist writes what he knows, and it is apparent that he understand the needs of the human spirit, and for protection. Each of these four words creates a common link between believers. Each of us need a working understanding of all four protections.
Dwelling, resting and ‘saying’ are necessary elements for the word pictures to work. I should ‘dwell’ in God’s sheltered care. All too often, I wander out past the security of the Lord (or maybe I’m lured out?) But there is safety in having God so close to us. His proximity is for my protection.
“Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”
V.v. 3-4, maintains its personal or familiar tone. ‘Save you’ (salvation) is far more that a theological term. For the psalmist however, it’s not about ‘doctrine’; rather the psalm is an embrace. He is rescued from the trap, and the sickness that seems so contagious never touches him. Moving from metaphor to metaphor, he engages our imaginations to ‘see’ God’s salvation. The writer knows his stuff.
The Lord is pictured as a protective bird that covers his chicks.
We have a sure confidence as we gather together in that warm and safe spot under His wing. Whatever is after us has to go through God first. His presence is formidable. In His company is found our only safety.
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.”
Romans 8:31, 33
All of heaven is rallying for your well-being. You are sure of this based on your faith in God’s own word. He has ‘busted us’ out of a dark cage, and now defends you against all your enemies. And that is a very good thing.
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
I think this post will wander around a bit, we’ll see if the Father will speak to us somehow.
I really think our lives are made up of the decisions we’re making. At least, it sometimes sees that way.
Some decisions are like ‘forks’ in the road. They’re made and then they shunt us in another direction. Most are minor–(will it be McDonalds or Pizza Hut?) But the biggies really alter us–very quickly we see that the road is going to take us in a radically different path.
Sometimes, if we’re honest, we will admit to backtracking; retracing our route back to the point we turned. A lot of time it’s too late, and the moment has past. But we will sometimes learn that sometimes even our detours are part of the journey. (Amazing, isn’t? But He controls it all, and that’s comforting.)
I think I’m starting to learn how to receive correction from others.
I’ve been mulling over the decision of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:30-31, he wanted to understand the truth:
“So when Philip ran toward the chariot, he heard the man reading from Isaiah the prophet [on his Kindle]. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 He answered, “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” Then he invited Philip to climb in and sit with him.”
We see here such a very ‘thoughtful humbleness’– a teachableness of the heart that this eunuch seems to have learned. He is confident enough in himself to acknowledge that he just doesn’t know. He invites Philip to a Bible study in the chariot.
We are responsible for our receptivity to truth.
It’s our personal decision to either seek or not seek, to learn, or not to learn. No one else can do this for us. We come to a decision point and we go the way things seem to direct us, or we don’t. Again, we must choose.
Sometimes to not make a decision, is a decision.
The book of Proverbs is saturated with ideas on being guided by our humility when it comes in contact with truth. Furthermore, there are many warnings about receiving correction and reproof gracefully. For me, I’m learning slowly to receive hard counsel.
When my wife and I made the decision to work in the migrant camps in Mexico there was one elder who kept saying “no!” At first it was a real issue for us. We sort of resented it. But we began to see the blessing of his resistance. It caused us to really analyze our decision, and “count the cost.” We were stepping into a very hard place, and we needed that voice. We were being called to break in “new ground.” It was to be a challenge.
It seems that scriptural truth is almost always negative when it’s first encountered. It often irritates more than it comforts.
It often will not sit well, and I will try to shake it off. But truth can be remarkably persistent. ‘Forgive your brother’, the Holy Spirit says. And you say right away, ‘Not a chance!’ But, give it time, and the Word will soften rock. If you respond properly, humbly, you be able to make the right decision.
One more thing, Jesus told us in Matthew 18:3,
“I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.”
We’ll need to be a complete alteration in our hearts if we are to accommodate His command. Becoming a child is more difficult as an adult– then becoming an adult is for a child. Becoming small again takes a great amount of brokenness and it’s never really mastered.
God fully intends to work with you in this.
God wants you to learn teachableness. He brings others to direct you. The Holy Spirit ignites the Word that’ll light your path. He doesn’t seem to ever give up. He is wonderfully persistent–He never really does give up.
“The intelligent man is always open to new ideas. In fact, he looks for them.”
A.W. Tozer seems to have gotten a hold on something here. Those who step forward into discipleship or ministry will inevitably be hurt in some significant way. I wouldn’t say it was a ‘given’, but it is the common path we take. We must be aware–but often we can’t or won’t.
God really isn’t the problem.
He loves us and wants to really bless us. He is all goodness and grace. He has no evil intentions concerning you, and certainly has no desire to see you suffer in a crisis of suffering or trial. Even in times of temptation, He simply views it as a step to strengthen us; He never is out to trip us up.
I really think that the issue is us.
Our old nature–the sinner inside, delights in things like pride and selfishness (even in religious matters). Some of the most difficult people I have ever had to work with were in places of oversight within the Church. Sometimes it’ll take a post like this one, to simply remind us of what is happening. We’ll agree with the idea, but often we forget.
Could it be that the problem isn’t that we are too weak, rather, it is because we are too strong?
God’s intention is ‘to bless greatly.’ But my pride and self-will must be left at the door (repeatedly). My old nature cannot truly work in the Kingdom. Only when these issues are dealt with (repeatedly) will humility and brokeness transform us. Quite simply, there is no way around this. God uses broken things. We must be broken as well.
“It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.”