REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 78: Gospel lenses and our mental health.
The number 78 plays a special part in my mind. I remember the Saturday well – at Lindfield oval, playing Bexley in the Municipal and Shires B grade I made my best ever score. Yes it was 78. It was the day after I got my glasses. I could not believe how big the cricket ball was! Of course it was the same size, but I could see clearer than ever!
It was probably about then that my eyes were opened by the Holy Spirit and I certainly could understand why Jesus had come and why it just made sense to join His team. A whole new way of viewing the world, myself, the Bible, God’s people and God began to open up. The eye-opening adventure continues, and remains liberating.
The pandemic has been, and continues to be, a real challenge in many areas of life and increasingly so to our emotions and mental stability. Without being unsympathetic or to trivialise the real psychological pain of many, believers and unbelievers alike, our gospel glasses can ameliorate our anxieties, calm our fears and bring us comfort on the playing field of daily life. Here are some ways the gospel lenses have helped me and many others:
- Thankfulness would have to be on the top of my list. There is a proven increase in happiness when temporal gifts from God and kind acts of others are met with gratitude. Apart from being right [like paying the rent!] and honouring God, we are greatly helped as we draw closer to God in prayer for these and the unchanging gospel gifts. We are enriched and kept from envy, bitterness and Western entitlement-thinking. Gresham Machen puts it well, ‘By making God a sharer in the blessings he has given, these blessings do not separate us from him, but keep us all the more fully in his presence.’ Henri Nouwen’s words are likewise conducive to our health when he says, ‘Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are not an accident.’
- Realistic expectations are vital to healthy thinking. One saying, spoken by Jesus to his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion is like pure medicine for the soul. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’[John 16:33]. Contrary to the flattering drivel dished up at school speech nights, the world is not our oyster, we are not the most important people in the world and we cannot expect to do anything [and absurdly, everything] we want to. It is a world full of trouble and its peace always short lived since it is linked to the pursuit of our own goals, often without thought for yours. Jesus’ promised peace is found in being at one with Him by repentance and faith [Rom 5:1-11], pursuing His agenda in sync with Him and others [Matt 11:28-30, 22:39] and, wonderfully, with the help of His gracious indwelling Spirit [Gal 5:22-23].
- Forgiveness was described by Leslie Weatherhead as ‘the most therapeutic idea in the whole world.’ Since we are all sinners, forgiveness is the only workable way for a voluntary society to work. Justice, whilst important, is of little use in finding the closure to tragedies and the bad behaviour of others. Justice may well be carried out, but inner peace can only come by leaving the offender in God’s hands and entrusting ours to Him as well. In small things, like holiday plans disrupted and income forfeited by lockdowns, little of lasting benefit is gained by blaming the government. Forgiveness does not mean we agree with another’s actions but it is the God- given mechanism that will enable us to move on from bitterness and prevent slander or revenge from compounding our problems. This is why Jesus was so strong in His words and example in regard to forgiveness [Matt 6:9-15, 18:21-35 and Luke 23:34].
- There is great comfort in promises like ‘cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you’ [1 Peter 5:8] and ‘let us approach the throne of grace with confidence’ [Heb 4:16]. God’s invitation is remarkable, in and of itself, but when taken to heart, and engaged in, brings the comforts our Father wants for each of his adopted children. What a friend we have in Jesus is medicine for the soul.
- God, our Father is lovingly sovereign in all things. The pandemic has shown us in the West what most others in the world know – that we are not really in control. Death and sickness should keep us from this folly of self-sufficiency, and the pandemic gift is an invitation to accept its reality. What a gift when we do! Of course we are to be wise and careful, but once we see that God is in control, crippling anxiety is kept at bay. Scripture becomes medicine for our souls and bodies. God works all things together for the good of those who love Him [Rom 8:28] is experienced as that comforting pillow for weary souls to lay their troubled minds [suggested by John Stott], since we accept that God’s good is not our ease or prosperity, but growth in Christlikeness [8:29]. The wonder of this grace is that the more our bodies run down the more our hearts are renewed [2 Cor 4:16-18], and the more we have to share [1:3-7].
Peter Brain 1st June, 2021