The Way Forward
(Excerpt from the sermon)
Sermon Series: Anxiety, Depression & Jesus
Mental health includes our emotional, our psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps us determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood to adolescence through adulthood. Now, what has shaped our mental health?
I'm going to give you a framework that I think can be really helpful for you no matter what age you are. Number one, our mental health is shaped by our biology, our genetics, and our family history. What did our parents give us? What is their psychological and emotional history, not just physical, that affects us? When you go to the doctor, you share your family history. Well, how are they emotionally? How are they in the sense of their spiritual health? That transfers to us through DNA. Number two, our psychology. Our psychology, or our life experiences, or our traumas. The experiences that happened that shape us. It could be that you were born as a preemie or perhaps you had the cord wrapped around your neck. Or maybe as a baby, your parents faced disruption and divorce. Maybe in early childhood, you were bullied or you experienced some type of abuse that affected the way you think about life and the way you developed.
Studies show that childhood abuse and neglect, which by the way are preventable, are the single most common cause of drug and alcohol abuse and is a significant contributor to the leading cause of deaths such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and suicide. Childhood abuse and neglect cause these things. It's always deeper. Our psychology and what we've experienced affects our mental health. And, number three, our sociology. This is our environment, the families we grew up in, the culture, and the stories that shape us. It is often our age of trauma in which our emotional development is halted. We try to grow, but we get stuck. Our bodies grow, but our emotions do not. And we learn to adapt to the word spoken over our lives, our responsibilities (perhaps that we endured way too young), and the lies we believed based on our reactions to what happened.
It's been said that the greatest sources of suffering are the lies we believe and tell ourselves. So I want to encourage you to have compassion for yourself and others. It may not be our fault that we are where we are today, but now it's our responsibility. With God's help, and our communities, we can heal.
Jesus gives the way forward. He frequently addressed the inner struggles that people faced. One of the most famous examples is the sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapters five through seven, where Jesus talks about blessings for the poor in spirit.
Jesus demonstrated compassion and empathy towards those who are suffering. He healed people’s physical disabilities, mental illnesses, and spiritual afflictions. For example, in Mark five, Jesus healed a man possessed by a legion of demons which had caused him to suffer greatly. Jesus calls His followers into a new way of living, a way that is based on love, compassion, forgiveness, and boundaries rather than on power, wealth, and status. Jesus embodied a new way and gave the bold invitation to a counter-cultural way of life that would provide peace, healthier relationships and freedom from the anxieties of this world. In Matthew 11:28-30, He presents an invitation. He says this, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Jesus invites people to come to Him and rest, which suggests that this is available to all. A yoke is a wooden cross piece that is fastened over the necks of two animals so that they can pull a cart or plow together in sync. Jesus is calling us to an alignment. He wants to yoke with us. He wants to be by our side, and He knows that His yoke is going to fit you and it's going to fit me.
Sometimes our limitations can be discouraging and overwhelming. We all have limits and we cannot ignore them. They are not a sign of sin, but of our humanity. They are actually a gift from the loving Father. Jesus accepted His personal limits and lived within the disciplines. He integrated prayer, fasting, fellowship, and times of solitude and silence. He celebrated and took sabbath. These disciplines in themselves were not the solution to what He would face, but they created space for alignment, to hear the Father's voice, and be guided in the ways of God.
When Jesus came, He chose to live as a human in first-century Palestine. In fact, when He had opportunities to push the limits, He didn't. Think of the crowds that gathered when He healed. In fact, He didn't heal everyone. Think of the hours He could have spent teaching His disciples, but instead He would step away to pray or to rest. He ate and drank and He could have even started His ministry before the age of 30, but He didn't. He waited. He traveled and taught for only three years. He set limits and lived within the constraints. He moved with grace and flexibility within those limits and allowed for interruptions for people in need. So here's just a few ways that Jesus embraced the gift of limits. First, Jesus practiced health. He honored His physical body. He ate healthy food. He got the sleep that He needed.
He even took naps, took time to relax, and He did a lot of walking. The famous missionary Elizabeth Elliot says this, “We cannot give our hearts to God and keep our bodies to ourselves.” We are temples of the Holy Spirit and He wants to work within our bodies. In fact, did you know that 20 minutes of walking can change your brain completely? It can go from tired, overwhelmed, and inactive to (within 20 minutes) active, problem solving and alive. I know this to be true because I walked my dog a lot last week. My dog's a little overweight, so she needs a little more exercise. So I decided that I'm going to help her be healthy. But, in turn, I found my mental health increasing. I was sharper, I was friendlier, I was more energetic – just by walking throughout the week.
It is time to get moving. Even the lack of sleep leads to hormone disruption, emotional instability and cognitive impairment that wreaks havoc on our mental health and it leaves serious disease. We need a minimum of eight hours a night of uninterrupted sleep. Only 1-3% of the population can sleep five hours or less without suffering some performance drop-off. We must accept the fact that we are not among the sleep elite. We need our rest, we need our sleep. For some of you, it's time to make a change tonight. The research is also clear that long hours backfire for people and companies. The research shows that working long hours and overwork does not help us but can lead to sleep impairment, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory and heart disease. Wow, this is basic. This is about our body.
Can you imagine what would change in all of us if we started prioritizing our physical health?
Jesus was present and He was never in a hurry. We need to walk at His pace and calm down. Nothing is more important than you being centered and stable on Christ, because you are so important in the world. Take time for your mental health to take care of your mind, your body, and your soul. Lastly, Jesus practiced surrender. He trusted God with the outcomes. Jesus knew His limits.
He knew what He could and could not do, and He gave the rest to God. Some of you are facing challenges right now, physically, relationally, and financially, and you are stressed out. In fact, you may not even be fully present now. But let me tell you, while you focus on God, while you surrender your life and the outcomes to Jesus, guess what? He is solving our problems. Most of us have trust issues. Maybe people weren't there for us and so we think that God is not there for us. But God is in charge when you give it to Him. He will take care of the rest. If you've reached the point of self-sufficiency, I want you to remember this first: 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’
Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest in me.” I know I do not have it all. I can't do it all. I need Jesus every day. As I have learned to embrace my limits, my mental health has improved, my relationships have improved, and God has shown me victory in my life. So, wherever you’re at, may I encourage you to embrace limits and radically accept your season. You're in your season. This is your job, this is your family. This is your pace of life. Radically accept and let Jesus start to embrace and intervene in every area of your life.
As we face our own struggles today and throughout the week, may we find comfort, healing, and hope through Jesus and others as we model Jesus' way forward for all of us. I want to end with a passage on the wise and foolish builders from the Sermon on the Mount. I know Pastor Jeff said that if you want to heal, if you want to change your mindset, then spend time meditating and rereading the Sermon on the Mount.
It's profound and it will get you into a new way of life, a counter-cultural way of thinking about our mental health. But this is what Jesus says in Matthew 7:24-29, “‘Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” I want to be wise. I want to embrace the ways of Jesus. And I want my house, my mind, and my mental health to be rooted on the rock, don't you? He goes on to say, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.
The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.’ When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Jesus has a counter-cultural way of life and He speaks with authority because He knows that His ways work. They worked then, they work now, they work for you, and they work for me. They work for teens and they work for the elderly. God's ways of life can improve our mental health. They are a way forward, period. Jesus is the way. He has a plan to help us in our deepest point of need.
Watch this Full Sermon