As a man thinks……

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Why are mental problems and disabilities on the rise? Could it be that we overlook the Bible’s keys to healthy, positive thinking?

 
It has been reported that five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide … are mental conditions, these being: major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorders. In addition, significant mental-health disorders plaguing humanity include phobias, generalized anxiety and panic disorder. Any of these maladies can be disabling.

 
Worldwide, mental-health afflictions are increasing. The total share of disability caused by them is expected to reach 15 percent by 2020—almost a 50 percent increase in only three decades. Depression, currently the fifth-leading cause of disability, is projected to jump to second place by 2020.

 
Christians are certainly not immune from mental health issues and it would be totally wrong and counter-productive to suggest in any way that if a Christian is suffering from such health issues then there must be something wrong spiritually.

 
That said, the Bible does provide helpful information to assist us in maintaining a healthy mind. Among other things, the Bible tells us how to relieve stress and the kind of stimuli we should allow into our minds. Here are some crucial biblical keys to mental health.

 
The power of a positive attitude
We start with the obvious merits of simple positive thinking. In Philippians 4:8 the Bible instructs us in proper thinking: “And now, my friends, all that is true, all that is noble, all that is just and pure, all that is lovable and gracious, whatever is excellent and admirable—fill all your thoughts with these things” (New English Bible, emphasis added throughout).

 
The characteristics of an optimistic mind-set include the ability to focus on the positive when the negative seems overwhelming. The key lies in turning a problem into a challenge and then working to meet it.

 
We also must avoid filling our minds with the negative and degrading aspects of the world around us. The apostle Paul wrote that some things are so shameful we should not even speak of them (Ephesians:5:12). Yet many of the degrading things to which Paul referred fill our print and electronic media.

 
If we want good mental health, we should discipline our minds to avoid such a degrading mental diet. The principle of “garbage in, garbage out” certainly applies with respect to our minds. The net effect of what occupies our minds—and often comes out of our mouths—will be as pure or as corrupt as whatever we let enter our minds. We jeopardize our mental health when we subject our thinking to mental trash. To remain psychologically stable, we must discipline our minds to avoid thinking in the gutter.

 
Paul practiced the advice he gave to the Christians at Philippi and exhorted them to follow his example (Philippians 4:9), telling them that if they did so the “God of peace” would be with them. Peace of mind and a clear conscience (Acts:23:1; 24:16; 1 Timothy:1:5) are essential characteristics of sound mental health.

 
Reining in feelings and emotions
Where do feelings and emotions come from? When God created man in His own image (Genesis:1:27), He included the human personality, which can express godly feelings.]

 
The primary characteristic that summarizes God’s very being is love (1 John:4:8, 16). But Paul describes a greater range of godly characteristics and emotions as aspects of the fruit of His Spirit. They include “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians:5:22-23 New International Version). The Bible exhorts us to be full of this Spirit (Ephesians:5:18).
If these traits are dominant in our personality, we are less likely to suffer from mental aberrations. Such a mind will be self-controlled; it will be stable and able to roll with life’s punches. It will be optimistic, and optimism is a vital part of a healthy mind

 
Conversely, “a person without self-control is as defenseless as a city with broken-down walls” (Proverbs:25:28, New Living Translation). This person will be vulnerable and driven frequently by negative emotions.

 
Emotions are a mixed blessing. They are responsible for many of man’s finest and greatest achievements but hey are also responsible for some of the greatest tragedies in our world. We often speak of being driven by our emotions, but actually the emotions we express are often a question of the will so we can choose healthy emotions. The types of emotions that prevail in our minds are a major determining factor in whether we succeed at life itself

 
Take time out
We live in such a fast-paced world that it is essential to schedule breaks from our routine. Taking time to rest is not an option in today’s world; it is a necessity. Yet more people struggle here than in almost any other area of their lives.

 
Even Jesus and His apostles felt this need. Notice one such occasion in Mark:6:31: “Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s get away from the crowds for a while and rest.’ There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat” (NLT).For mental rejuvenation and avoiding stress overload, we need daily rest. Especially as we get older, an afternoon nap can rejuvenate us. We also need regular vacations if our financial circumstances and work situations permit. Even if one does nothing but stay at home on holidays, breaks from our routines can be beneficial.

 
In addition, God tells us we need to schedule one day in the week for rest. After completing His work of creation, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis:2:2). The Hebrew word for “rested” is shabath, the verb form of the noun translated as “Sabbath” in Exodus:20:10-11, where God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel and commanded the Israelites to keep His Sabbath holy by resting on the seventh day of every week.

 
Some mental-health practitioners recognize the value of this weekly practice. “One of the most powerful arguments in favour of pushing for a greater emphasis on rest comes from the Bible … God rested on the seventh day … From the outset, the Bible presents us with the idea that rest is important, and furthermore, that a specific time has to be set aside for rest .

 
The Sabbath provides a time to take a break from the world of stress and tension. .. We live in a culture that is constantly feeding us stress-producing messages … With today’s round-the-clock access to news we now can receive a twenty-four-hour-a-day parade of mostly negative information The news, in fact, has become so stressful that some health experts recommend periodic ‘news fasts’ to improve psychological health!
Confront your fears
Everyone is afraid of something. Some fears are healthy, but some are not. When a fear becomes persistent and irrational, it is a phobia and specific phobias are said to strike more than one in ten people. Some major fears are agoraphobia, fear of being in public places, and claustrophobia, fear of confinement or crowded places.

 
When one has a phobia, he will often anticipate encountering the circumstance that is apt to trigger it, which can set up persistent anxiety. God does not want us to be controlled by such fears. The Bible has 365 injunctions to ‘Fear not!’ (one for every day of the year) but simply quoting Scriptural injunctions not to fear can, for some sufferers, simply rub salt into the wound. So if you have a phobia which is seriously impacting your life don’t be ashamed to seek professional counsel. However, developing a relationship with God is even more important and in doing so, you can grow in His love, which the Bible says ” casts out fear” (1 John: 4:18).

 
Although most people are not phobic, almost everyone has to struggle against worry, which is a form of fear. Our age is the era of anxiety. Everyone experiences some anxiety, and it can be a useful emotion when it triggers us to act to avoid danger. But, if it impacts our life seriously,then we must take action to overcome it. The Bible verifies that this kind of thinking is essential, telling us to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians:4:23).How do we do this?

 
Sometimes anxieties relate to meeting our basic needs. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious then, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘With what shall we clothe ourselves?'” Jesus also recommended a cure for these worries: “… Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew:6:31, 33, New American Standard Bible). The point is that, when our priorities conform to God’s will, we can live in confidence that He will help us meet our other needs.

 
A relationship with God is fundamental to overcoming our fears. The Bible exhorts: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), and, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). The only way we can develop the mind of Christ is to first repent of ignoring God’s biblical instructions, then be baptized and receive God’s Spirit (Acts:2:38). In doing so, we can cleanse our minds and develop new mental habits. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy:1:7).

 
The healing power of humour
As simple as it sounds, the ability to laugh is an aid to mental health. Joy is akin to laughter, and it, too, is part of the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians:5:22). “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance” (Proverbs:15:13), and “a merry heart does good, like medicine” (17:22).
Humour triggers literal physiological and mental changes in your body. Laughter “touches us at a deep emotional and physical level … By its very nature it changes our perception and invites us to look at things in a different light.

 
A relationship with God provides the deepest and most-abiding joy. The Bible has much to say about the joy, blessedness or sheer happiness, of the redeemed, and this is backed up by research demonstrating a significant association between religious involvement and mental health.

 
Avoid dangerous addictions
People suffering from mental problems—including undue stress—often rely on ingestible substances to help them get through the day. But this kind of crutch can easily lead to a collapse and fall. Many people who suffer from emotional disorders or mental illness turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, as a way of tolerating feelings that are intolerable. Yet, ironically, this method of self-treating seldom works in the long run and frequently makes matters worse.

 
Besides addictions to mood-altering substances, sometimes people become addicted to things that are normally proper and healthy. Some, for example, develop addictions to food, sex or work. Though not a problem in moderation and within God’s laws, losing control in any of these areas will often lead to greater problems.

 
The Bible addresses the need for balance and control. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians:6:12). We should have but one addiction—and that is a devotion to love God and our fellow man. The supreme power that should rule over us is God through the Holy Spirit.

 
A social support system
“… Woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up,” says Ecclesiastes:4:10. The 17th-century poet John Donne had a related thought: “No man is an island.” Good mental health requires contact with other people. One of the first revelations of the Bible is that God designed us to need other people: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis:2:18).

 
The need for emotionally supporting family and friends is scientifically established. What happens if we have no close relationships? The message that emerges loud and clear from scientific evidence accumulated since the mid 1970’s is that having a reasonable quantity and quality of social relationships is essential for mental and physical wellbeing.

 
Perhaps the chief benefit of uplifting social contact is that it provides us the opportunity to learn how to love and serve. This is vital to mental health. People who are genuinely focused on helping others who are unhappy or dissatisfied with life are themselves often happier simply because they are directing their attention away from themselves.

 
Jesus recognized this and demonstrated that love and service are keys to happiness and mental health. He performed the menial task of washing His disciples’ feet to demonstrate that His disciples were to serve one another as He had served them. After washing their feet Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, happy are you if you do them” (John:13:17, Twentieth Century New Testament). Later in the same chapter He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (verse 34).

 
Jesus earlier said, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew:22:39). One of the two great commandments in the Bible (verses 37-40) and this is a message that is consistent throughout Scripture.

 

 

Summery
Obedience to the commands of the Bible and nurturing a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ form the foundation to completeness and mental well-being. It is God’s will that we prosper and be in health even as our souls prosper (John 3:2) Someone once said, ‘Bibles which are falling apart are usually owned by people who are not.’ Now that’s something to think about!

(This article has been adapted from an article by Noel Hormor in the Good News magazine of understanding)

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