Understanding Mental Illness

We usually think of our pastors as strong, supportive and inspiring. It’s hard to imagine that the wise and confident people who teach us to get in touch with God might be struggling just like the rest of us. But when US pastor Jarrid Wilson took his own life recently, it was a tragic reminder that our spiritual leaders are human too.

Pastor Jeff Vines is one of our most outspoken leaders and apologists. In his recent book, Divine Romance, he writes very honestly about his struggle with anxiety disorder. When he had his first panic attack, he was sure his family’s history of heart problems was catching up with him.

But the attacks kept coming. Six months and $50,000 worth of tests later, doctors told him there was nothing physically wrong with him. ‘When I found out that I was having anxiety disorder, first I was so angry at myself. I’d always felt that anxiety disorder was because you’re weak, and you can’t deal with the problems of life.’

‘And then they explained to me, hold on, it’s not that simple. We all have things inside us that never get out—feelings of loss, or insignificance, or lack of meaning or purpose. And we’re all trying to find our way in the world.’

When he started researching his condition, Jeff came to understand that a mental illness is really no different to a physical one. In the same way that your arm might become weak or painful due to a past injury, your brain can send your body false alarms if it isn’t working correctly.

‘So I’m having an anxiety attack when there’s nothing to be anxious about. My brain is telling my body that it’s got to fight. It’s got to survive. But I’m not being chased by anything, and I’m not running away from anything.’

The best superfood the brain can have, of course, is the Word of God

But this isn’t a bad thing, because it means that just like you would keep your physical body healthy by working out and eating well, you can keep your brain healthy by feeding it the right things.

The best superfood the brain can have, of course, is the Word of God. In Romans 12:2 NIV, Paul says: ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

So Jeff decided to fight his anxiety by memorising Scripture, and calling upon it in difficult times. ‘When those feelings come, and I know they’re coming, I know it’s a lie, I actually speak to myself, and say wait a minute. This is not true. This is not an accurate reflection of what’s actually going on. And then I stop the cycle, and the anxiety attack can’t happen. So the Word of God is more powerful than any of us ever knew.’

If that’s true though, how do we explain the suicide of a renowned pastor like Jarrid Wilson? Jeff says it’s shocking to us because pastors are so in touch with God. But he also says that everyone knows things they should do but can’t manage. 

Jeff still struggles to be forgiving toward people, even though he knows that’s what God wants. In the same way, Jarrid was battling the false idea that he had no value, even though he knew God loved him. ‘Some days and some years, he won the battle. Other times, just like anybody else, he lost the battle. And it just so happened that he lost a crucial part of the battle.’

Though Jeff was able to overcome his anxiety, he knows that not everyone is so blessed. And he understands how powerful Jarrid’s inappropriate thoughts must have felt. ‘I can’t guarantee you healing of anything. I can only tell you that your chances significantly increase as you get the Word of God into your mind, continually repeat it.’

Of course Jarrid, as a pastor, did have the Word of God foremost in his mind. ‘But mental illness, in the fallen world in which we live, is so powerful that all of us are vulnerable.’

Perhaps you’ve heard some Christians say that taking your own life is a sin which condemns you automatically to hell. But Jeff reminds us that all sins are equal in the eyes of God, and that God felt and understood Jarrid’s pain better than anyone else. He understands our human frailty, and walks with us through all our suffering.

We also have to remember that we’re saved by grace, through faith, which means that when Jesus died for us, he covered all our sins, past, present and future. ‘Do you have the right to take your own life? No. You don’t, because your life doesn’t belong to you like our culture says. It belongs to God. He gave it. Only He can take it. When you did it, you sinned against Him. But guess what? Jesus covers that sin.’

If you’ve been impacted by issues discussed in this story, you can call Lifeline, 24/7, on 13 11 14.

Know Your Purpose

‘For this cause I was born.’ John 18:37 NKJV

Standing before Pilate, Jesus said, ‘For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.’ Jesus knew why He was born and what He was called to do—and He focused on it like a laser. You’re called to follow in His footsteps (see 1 Peter 2:21). There are three types of people:

(1) Those with no life purpose. They are drifters, aimlessly cruising through life. They go to school, get a job, switch jobs, find a spouse, switch spouses, move into a house, switch houses, work at a career, switch careers, retire, and eventually die. They don’t really live; they just exist.

(2) Those who have the wrong life purpose. They may be super achievers, people who have climbed the ladders of financial, political, and social success only to find their ladder was leaning against the wrong wall. They either discovered too late or never realised that they missed a purposeful life that positively influenced others.

(3) Those who have the right life purpose. They know why they were created. They know why God put them on this earth, and they are all about fulfilling that purpose. That is the life that brings a smile to the face of God. That is success that lasts. It has nothing to do with popularity, power or possessions. It has everything to do with purpose, because that is the only thing that brings a God-given assurance of success.

So do you know your life’s purpose? If not, ask God to reveal it to you.

SoulFood: Gen 32–34, Matt 21:12–17, Ps 106:1–23, Pro 7:1–2

word4today an adaptation of The Word For Today is authored by Bob and Debby Gass and published under licence from UCB International Copyright © 2020

Today’s Readings

Genesis 32–34 ()

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32:1 Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them he said, “This is God's camp!” So he called the name of that place Mahanaim.

And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, instructing them, “Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban and stayed until now. I have oxen, donkeys, flocks, male servants, and female servants. I have sent to tell my lord, in order that I may find favor in your sight.’”

And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, “We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.” Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. He divided the people who were with him, and the flocks and herds and camels, into two camps, thinking, “If Esau comes to the one camp and attacks it, then the camp that is left will escape.”

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

13 So he stayed there that night, and from what he had with him he took a present for his brother Esau, 14 two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, 15 thirty milking camels and their calves, forty cows and ten bulls, twenty female donkeys and ten male donkeys. 16 These he handed over to his servants, every drove by itself, and said to his servants, “Pass on ahead of me and put a space between drove and drove.” 17 He instructed the first, “When Esau my brother meets you and asks you, ‘To whom do you belong? Where are you going? And whose are these ahead of you?’ 18 then you shall say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a present sent to my lord Esau. And moreover, he is behind us.’” 19 He likewise instructed the second and the third and all who followed the droves, “You shall say the same thing to Esau when you find him, 20 and you shall say, ‘Moreover, your servant Jacob is behind us.’” For he thought, “I may appease him with the present that goes ahead of me, and afterward I shall see his face. Perhaps he will accept me.” 21 So the present passed on ahead of him, and he himself stayed that night in the camp.

22 The same night he arose and took his two wives, his two female servants, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and everything else that he had. 24 And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” 27 And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob's hip on the sinew of the thigh.

33:1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And when Esau lifted up his eyes and saw the women and children, he said, “Who are these with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the servants drew near, they and their children, and bowed down. Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down. And last Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor in the sight of my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” 10 Jacob said, “No, please, if I have found favor in your sight, then accept my present from my hand. For I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of God, and you have accepted me. 11 Please accept my blessing that is brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.” Thus he urged him, and he took it.

12 Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” 13 But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die. 14 Let my lord pass on ahead of his servant, and I will lead on slowly, at the pace of the livestock that are ahead of me and at the pace of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir.”

15 So Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.” But he said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.” 16 So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir. 17 But Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth.

18 And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. 19 And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. 20 There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”

Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing must not be done.

But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” 11 Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me for as great a bride-price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.”

13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”

18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor's son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob's daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father's house. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem's house and went away. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Matthew 21:12–17 ()

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12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

  “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there.

Psalm 106:1–23 ()

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106:1   Praise the LORD!
  Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
    for his steadfast love endures forever!
  Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD,
    or declare all his praise?
  Blessed are they who observe justice,
    who do righteousness at all times!
  Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people;
    help me when you save them,
  that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
    that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
    that I may glory with your inheritance.
  Both we and our fathers have sinned;
    we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
  Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
    did not consider your wondrous works;
  they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
    but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
  Yet he saved them for his name's sake,
    that he might make known his mighty power.
  He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
    and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
10   So he saved them from the hand of the foe
    and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
11   And the waters covered their adversaries;
    not one of them was left.
12   Then they believed his words;
    they sang his praise.
13   But they soon forgot his works;
    they did not wait for his counsel.
14   But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
    and put God to the test in the desert;
15   he gave them what they asked,
    but sent a wasting disease among them.
16   When men in the camp were jealous of Moses
    and Aaron, the holy one of the LORD,
17   the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
    and covered the company of Abiram.
18   Fire also broke out in their company;
    the flame burned up the wicked.
19   They made a calf in Horeb
    and worshiped a metal image.
20   They exchanged the glory of God
    for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21   They forgot God, their Savior,
    who had done great things in Egypt,
22   wondrous works in the land of Ham,
    and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23   Therefore he said he would destroy them—
    had not Moses, his chosen one,
  stood in the breach before him,
    to turn away his wrath from destroying them.

Proverbs 7:1–2 ()

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7:1   My son, keep my words
    and treasure up my commandments with you;
  keep my commandments and live;
    keep my teaching as the apple of your eye;

Sat 07 March, 2020


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