“Give me the love that leads the way, The faith that nothing can dismay, The hope no disappointments tire, The passion that will burn like fire, Let me not sink to be a clod: Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.”
– Amy Carmichael
“Seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”
“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”
“Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
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.
“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:
being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word foundin only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
Being intimate with God is how we get a headstart on heaven. It is the beginning of so much for the Christian. Along the way, it is much like the tide, our affections ebb and flow. Patience then becomes the rule. In many ways, this is a ‘seasonal’ walk. We experience all four seasons.
Here are some simple quotes on the topic of Christian intimacy. I so want you to be blessed by these.
This is the place the Holy Spirit is taking us as believers. Honestly, I find that life has no meaning without His incredible presence.
Open your hearts to the love God instills… God loves you tenderly. What He gives you is not to be kept under lock and key but to be shared. — Mother Teresa
Did you never run for shelter in a storm, and find fruit which you expected not? Did you never go to God for safeguard, driven by outward storms, and there find unexpected fruit? –John Owen
I long to be filled with divine knowledge, divine wisdom, divine love, divine holiness, to the utmost extent of my capacity. I want to feel that all the currents of my soul are interfused in one channel deep and wide, and all flowing towards the heart of Christ.
A man who is intimate with God will never be intimidated by men.
— Leonard Ravenhill
God sometimes shuts the door and shuts us in, that He may speak, perchance through grief or pain, and softly, heart to heart, above the din, may tell some precious thought to us again.
We should go into His presence as a child goes to his father. We do it with reverence and godly fear, of course, but we should go with a childlike confidence and simplicity.
— Martyn Lloyd-Jones
How do you approach the thirst of Jesus? Only one secret – the closer you come to Jesus, the better you will know His thirst. Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor – He knows your weakness, He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you. — Mother Teresa
Jesus, within you I lose myself, without You, I find myself searching to be lost again. — Anonymous
There come times when I have nothing more to tell God. If I were to continue to pray in words, I would have to repeat what I have already said. At such times it is wonderful to say to God, “May I be in Thy presence, Lord? I have nothing more to say to Thee, but I do love to be in Thy presence.” — O. Hallesby
What I believe is so magnificent, so glorious, that it is beyond finite comprehension. To believe that the universe was created by a purposeful, benign Creator is one thing. To believe that this Creator took on human vesture, accepted death and mortality, was tempted, betrayed, broken, and all for love of us, defies reason. It is so wild that it terrifies some Christians who try to dogmatize their fear by lashing out at other Christians, because tidy Christianity with all answers given is easier than one which reaches out to the wild wonder of God’s love, a love we don’t even have to earn.
— Madeleine L’Engle
The love I bear Christ is but a faint and feeble spark, but it is an emanation from himself: He kindled it and he keeps it alive; and because it is his work, I trust many waters shall not quench it.
— John Newton
I lay my head upon Thy infinite heart,
I hide beneath the shelter of Thy wing;
Pursued and tempted, helpless, I must cling
To Thee, my Father; bid me not depart,
For sin and death pursue,
And Life is where Thou art!
Obedience deepens our intimacy with Jesus. If we want to know the Father, we must not only love Him, but also obey Him. Scripture is clear that it is important to know the Father through His Word, and if we want to be a part of what the Father is doing and to be able to see where He is moving then it is clear that we must obey His commands. It is important to be biblically literate, but we must also be biblically obedient! — John Wimber
There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God. — Brother Lawrence
I so hope that just one of these quotes resonate something in your spirit.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 2 I long, yes, I faint with longing
to enter the courts of the Lord.
With my whole being, body and soul,
I will shout joyfully to the living God. 3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young
at a place near your altar,
O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, my King and my God! 4 What joy for those who can live in your house,
always singing your praises.
There are some things that leave an indelible mark inside, deep on our souls. For me, one instance I remember staying at Simpson College on Silver Ave. in San Francisco in June 1986. The dorms were empty and I had a whole floor to myself. The campus was gorgeous. I found a little “mom and pop” corner market nearby which had a awesome deli. Here I could buy cold cuts, braunschweiger and fresh sourdough bread. I returned to my room to build my sandwich. I remember the windows were open and a beautiful breeze was there. Food, warm sun, flowers in bloom and the Holy Spirit are just about ready to intersect in my life.
It was simply a moment I captured and savored. Everything seemed to coincide, it was magical in the best sense of the word. It was beautiful, that is all I can say. That time in that dorm room has become a crystalline moment that I will never forget. Right there, it seemed I fell in love, not with a girl, but with a moment in time and place.
That nostalgia is thick on the shoulders of the writer of Psalm 84. He remembers and savors the memories of his visit to the temple. He was given something in that particular moment that would haunt him for the rest of his life. In his thinking, the beauty of the temple could never ever be the same again. The beauty of that experience was inviolable and true and could never be duplicated. But it was his, and he would never forget.
God gives moments, wrapped in wonder and awe. His presence is very likely the tipping point in these. When He is present, a connecting link is made and we receive grace. We will longingly look back on these moments when grace was so close. The psalmist has the same hunger . These moments in the temple which are so blessed have also ruined him. Special times of God’s presence have resulted in a sanctified dissatisfaction with the present.
When we finally make our way to Jesus, life takes on a curious wonder. When the rain finally comes to the barren desert, an explosion of life bursts out. In the exact same way, our lives get very green and lush. This is in contrast to our dry and desperate life without His presence.
I am hungry for His presence. I want to be in the center of wherever He is at. I admit that His grace and love has spoiled me. But the love of Jesus does this. Normal life seems to be in black & white, He turns it into a vibrant color. The psalmist begs to be returned to the temple. He wants to be there, more then anything.
“God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection.”
When Susanna Wesley prayed, God listened. I recently came across this and knew it was meant to be shared on Brokenbelievers. I hope you read it and it spurs you to pray as well. We all need encouragement and this is pretty valuable stuff. I know of no higher call than to teach another believer how to pray.
“I have much need in humbling myself before you, the great and holy God because of the sins I am daily guilty of, in thought, word and deed against your holy majesty. Help me overcome the levity and to shun vain and impure thoughts which, though they do not make their abode for any long period of time, yet in their passing through leave a tincture of impurity.”
“Enable me to keep my heart with all diligence, my thoughts, and affections, for out of them are the issues of life. How often I have offended in this kind! Cleanse me from secret faults, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Help me to guard against vain and unnecessary words, and to speak of you, O my God, with that reverence, that humility, that gravity that I ought.”
“Susanna experienced many hardships throughout her life. Her husband left her and the children for over a year because of a minor dispute.
To her absent husband, Susannah Wesley wrote:
“I am a woman, but I am also the mistress of a large family. And though the superior charge of the souls contained in it lies upon you, yet in your long absence I cannot but look upon every soul you leave under my charge as a talent committed to me under a trust. I am not a man nor a minister, yet as a mother and a mistress I felt I ought to do more than I had yet done. I resolved to begin with my own children; in which I observe the following method: I take such a proportion of time as I can spare every night to discourse with each child apart. On Monday I talk with Molly, on Tuesday with Hetty, Wednesday with Nancy, Thursday with Jacky, Friday with Patty, Saturday with Charles.”
“I hope everybody can find a little flame Me, I say my prayers, then just light myself on fire and walk out on the wire once again.”
Counting Crows, “Goodnight Elizabeth”
Hope is a powerful thing— nothing compares. It truly is the ‘anchor of the soul.’ Without it, life would be hopeless, and that is intolerable to a human being. We will implode without hope. The psalmist was well aware of this tendency; he speaks to himself about this. He ‘talks to himself’ which can seem a little weird to some.
“Why are you discouraged, my soul? Why are you so restless? Put your hope in God, because I will still praise him. He is my savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:11, GW
Day-to-day life can be arduous. Sometimes faith falters and hopelessness becomes a deadly option. For those of us with debilitating illnesses this can be significant hazard. Depression can severely hinder us. The writer of Psalm 42 understood this. Discouragement was a real issue for him. (And I daresay he is not alone in this.)
He states certitude to himself. He refuses to give in to the idea that failure is final. He will not allow himself to accept the finality of hopelessness. He will not surrender himself to this idea that ‘all is lost.’ The way he battles back is seen in an inner conversation with his soul. He speaks to himself concerning the great faithfulness of God to his situation. It is real, and not fluff. He operates in reality. But he can’t pretend that the feeling of despondency is imaginary, for it is far too real.
Having a hope will cement me in the goodness and mercy of God. It is the sterling-silver belief that He cares for me. The verse in 42:11 ties in with praise and worship. This is no minor thing. When we praise we break the bonds of hopelessness, in a way that our souls can know, and appreciate. It decisively disarms the depression, and fills the embattled soul with hope. Pain can be a powerful indicator of depression unchecked. But hope changes the manner of which we live.
“Every Christian who struggles with depression struggles to keep their hope clear. There is nothing wrong with the object of their hope – Jesus Christ is not defective in any way whatsoever. But the view from the struggling Christian’s heart of their objective hope could be obscured by disease and pain, the pressures of life, and by Satanic fiery darts shot against them… All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is.”