How to Protect Two of the Pastor’s Most Valuable Assets—Our Mental and Emotional Health
It’s hard to grow a church when our thoughts about our congregation, our circumstances, and even our families are negative. | by Rob Carman
We all have different journeys we take in life, through bad times and good, but one thing is sure—if the Lord Jesus Christ is with us through the journey, we can make it through.
Because I believe we all share the same pressures and passions as pastors, I want to share with you my journey through depression. I struggled for a long time to find a way to get out of a deep ditch. Ever since I’ve been out, it’s been my desire to help others to find the way out of the same ditch.
For many years, I suffered with what is known today as clinical depression. Throughout my difficulties, I struggled to understand what was going on and why this was happening to me. When I analyzed each of my steps, cause and effect, what the Lord highlighted for me was the area of my thought life. I had much to learn about the power of thoughts, and how thoughts can transform your life.
The foundational Bible verse about our thoughts is found in Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” The Bible makes the power of our thoughts plain and simple. As people think on the inside, this is who they will become on the outside.
Our character becomes the sum of all of our thoughts. The plant springs from, and cannot exist without, the seed. In the same way, every act of a person springs from the hidden seeds of thought.
The seed is the thought. This seed grows not only into an action but also into an emotion. In fact, emotional turmoil can be a great thermometer to indicate that your predominant way of thinking is off center and that negative, harmful thoughts are influencing your life.
The soul attracts those desires which it secretly harbors, those things which it loves, and that which it fears. We do not attract the life that we want, but rather that which we are. The soul attracts that which it secretly harbors.
We often think that our thoughts can be kept in the secret cave of our minds, but they cannot. We believe, “These are just thoughts, how can they affect my life?” We don’t realize that the thoughts of our lives become the habitual patterns of our lives.
The first step to get through depression is to decide today to do as Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:8, when he tells the Philippians to “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Step Number One: Decide today to live free from negative and harmful thoughts and to replace them with thoughts that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. See also Proverbs 23:7 and Philippians 4:8.
Our Thought Life
All seeds of thought produce a tree of a result. If those thoughts are rooted in aggravation, then a tree of aggravation springs forth. The same is true with depression.
During the years I struggled on and off with depression, I would purposely think thoughts that made me depressed, or would allow myself to dwell on those thoughts, never knowing that I was producing my own tree. For some reason, I couldn’t connect the dots. I was blinded.
When I was driving alone in my car, for example, my mind would grab hold of negative and depressive thoughts. My mind would attract these negative thoughts until I found myself being agitated and aggravated, and a cloud of depression would begin to hover over me. Yet I had no idea that I was the person who manufactured this cloud.
You cannot choose your circumstances, but you can choose your thoughts. Emerson wrote, “A man is what he thinks about all the time.” Norman Vincent Peale said, “A man is not what he thinks he is, but what he thinks, he is.”
You would likely be shocked if you could record your thoughts all day and then play them back in the evening. You would be shocked to discover that the thoughts that you gravitate toward may be the very source of many of the problems in your life.
Marcus Aurelius, the great philosopher who ruled the Roman Empire, said it in eight easy words: “Our lives are what our thoughts make it.” If you don’t like your life, examine your thoughts.
I enjoy how one of the modern translations explains Proverbs 4:23: “Be careful how you think, your life is shaped by your thoughts.” Today is a good day to begin to redefine and reposition yourself through thinking good thoughts that spring forth from a relationship with God. See also Proverbs 4:23, Romans 7:25-26
Step Number Two: Choose a different color. Marcus Aurelius said, “The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts.” What are you coloring your life with? Are you coloring your life in pale shades of gray and black and dismal, dull colors? Or are you coloring your life with the rainbow of joy, health, excitement, enthusiasm, optimism, goodwill? You get to choose!
Freedom from Poisonous Thoughts
Johns Hopkins Medical School has found that 70 percent of disease is psychosomatic. What does that mean? The word psyche means “the mind,” and soma is “the body.” This is not to say that 70 percent of diseases are not real, but rather that the origin of these diseases is not found in a physical cause. The origin, in nature, first occurred in the mind.
As a person begins to harbor and foster negative thoughts in the mind, these manifest into the body. Thoughts have the ability to make us well or to poison the body. Negative thoughts weaken the immune system and poison the bloodstream. Several years ago, Stanford University found over 2000 different chemical secretions that were released from the brain into the bloodstream, which were all based on a person’s thoughts—good or bad.
If you are not careful, you can begin to develop negative thoughts towards other people without understanding that while these thoughts have absolutely no effect on the other person whatsoever, they do affect you.
Jesus went to great extents to teach us to turn the other cheek. This was not simply a teaching. He said things like, if someone asks you to walk one mile, walk two. If someone asks for your coat, give them your cloak. If they hit you on one cheek, give them the other side.
The premise of Christ’s teaching was freedom from circumstances and conditions, and even the actions of other people, and reliance on God. True freedom is found when it is God who is in control, and not people, events, or circumstances. This attitude frees us from animosity, hatred, aggravation, ill-will, grief, sorrow, pain, and suffering. It is no coincidence that those are all the things that poison and destroy your emotions, your mind, and your physical body. Jesus gave this wisdom in one simple teaching and showed how to become free from these things.
Consider people who practice “mind-body” therapy. There is growing clinical evidence that imagery is beneficial in treating skin disease, diabetes, breast cancer, arthritis, headaches, and severe burns. Jesus taught in Mark that “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Step Number Three: Just as our thoughts can make us ill, they can also help us to heal. Today is a good day to begin to pray and in faith to see yourself resting in God for a positive outcome, to start to change your life as you get freedom from poisonous thoughts. See also Mark 11:22-24 and Isaiah 26:3.
Do I think this is as easy as three simple steps? No way. But I do believe that God’s desire for you is to live in good mental and emotional health, that he cares for you not just as a minister but as an individual, and that as you take steps toward Him, however small, He will run toward you. CGM
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