Friday, 7 November 2014


You Have Options...

When I grow up I want to be an astronautWhen I was growing up, we thought we had the option of three careers: fireman, policeman, or an astronaut. (I added the little-known fourth option, professional tennis player, to this list, even though I was "junior cop" for an embarrassing season.) While I was committed to the fourth option, many found a fifth. But that was then and this is now. Sometimes we face situations where we think we only have one or maybe two options. This is rarely, if ever, the truth of the matter. You have options.

When someone is particularly tired, it often feels like they have no options to the challenges before them. (And if you are tired and stressed it is difficult to see any options at all.) Understanding what your options are determines how what your level of stress is. It's not just the lack of apparent options which causes increased stress, multiple options can similarly result in increased stress for someone. In our technological age where it is often easier to communicate with someone on the other side of the planet than it is with our physical nextdoor-neighbour, people are now faced with more options than ever before - and not just regarding their employment opportunities. 
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 

The other day I was having breakfast with some other pastors in our city. We were discussing what the greatest needs of our city were. We noted that the Launceston City Mission was doing an outstanding job with in working with the city's poor and homeless. But we wondered whether there were any greater practical needs in our city that we as Christian leaders might need to be aware of and respond to. My colleague shared how he was now dealing with increasing numbers of distressed people. He said that this seemed to be indicative of our community's mental health becoming unhealthier. "We have solutions for homelessness. We have solutions for family-breakdowns. We have solutions for teen-pregnancies. But we are yet to adequately grapple with the deteriorating mental health of our community" he said. Shortly after this I had several medical doctors tell me that most of their patients now present them with significant mental health issues. One GP even told me that much of what he now does in his consulting rooms is actually clinical mental-health, rather than medicine. And Christians are not immune from this. Here's why. 

Some understand that the Bible teaches believers to seek God for every decision they have to make. Seeking God is indeed what the Bible teaches. But rather than seeking God for His decision on the options before us, we are told to seek God for the wisdom so that we can wisely decide between our options. For believers who do not understand this and expect God to make their decisions for them, this lack of certainty regarding what His decision for them is can even be an added source of increased stress! This is potentially very damaging to a person's mental health. Not only does the believer face the stress of selecting the best option before them, they often add to this stress by thinking that God has to reveal the right choice to them. This leads them to believe that hearing from God is supremely mysterious and tricky. When they struggle to hear from God it raises niggling doubts that maybe God doesn't love them, or hasn't fully forgiven them. They read the Scriptures, which talk about the peace of God, and the renewal of their mind, but their own experience of anxiety and confusion conflicts with what they see promised in the Bible. This shows us that mental health, even for Christians, is not a trivial matter and certainly does not have simplistic answers. But when Christians are given simplistic solutions (as distinct from Biblically "simple" solutions) is it any wonder then that more and more Christians are now experiencing mental anguish to the extent that they require prescribed medicating? I am not suggesting that Christians diagnosed with mental health challenges shouldn't take prescribed medication, but I am questioning whether it should be the first response and immediate course of action.
¶ I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2

Strangely, what is supposed to be a source of comfort and assurance for all believers has become a source of anguish for many. The confusion has come from those who taught that the Word of God is insufficient for a believer to discover the will of God for their life. If a believer was to simply read the Bible, they would read, learn and discover the will of God for their life - without the need for a particular extra-revelation from God. Of course, there are some individuals whom God graces with a very special commission - but even in Scripture we discover that this was extraordinary not normal! Therefore, every believer can walk in the will of God by reading, learning, and applying the Word of God to their life and simply blooming where they are planted. That is, rather than seeing and agonising over their various options as to how they should serve God, they see that Scripture generally describes God placing believers into situations and contexts with the right gifts, talents and abilities at just the time. In other words, the will of God for every believer is to be fully devoted to God, to be committed to, and serve in, Christ's local church, to shine the love of God through their witness and good deeds. I hope you can see why I say this should be a source of comfort and assurance for every believer rather than a cause of anguish. 
¶ Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 
Philippians 4:8

Peace with God is made possible by the grace of God. This grace is made effective in our souls from the moment that God in His grace reveals Himself and His offer of forgiveness for our sins through Christ to us. We do nothing to earn this revelation. We do nothing to qualify for this associated gift of repentance. We do nothing to regenerate our dead and dormant spirits to life and union with Christ. We do nothing to now be considered the adopted child of God. If we did anything to merit any of these benefits and components of salvation, our salvation would not be by grace! Therefore, once we have been made alive in Christ what can we do to "un-earn" something we never "earned" in the first place? If more Christians understood that the basis of God's love toward them is not whether they are good enough or not, but the righteousness of Christ bestowed graciously upon them, there would literally be more Christians enjoying God rather than trying to appease Him. Understanding God's grace does wonders for your mental health. 

The second dimension of God's grace toward the believer is His provision for our needs. If more Christians understood that God's answers to our prayers are expressions of His grace, not rewards for our spiritual earnestness, there would be far less anxiety over seemingly "unanswered" prayer. Can we recognise that healing, provision, blessing are acts of God's grace - and therefore, if we don't get what we want from God He is not being unkind or even ungracious toward us.

It was one of the other GPs who said that he also has to deal with more mental health patients than patients with a physical condition. He insightfully said, "People today have so many options and this stresses them and causes great anxiety." Sometimes we feel the stress of not having enough options to deal with the challenges before us. But there are other times when we feel stress because it seems like we have too many options before us. This is where I remind you that in these instances you need wisdom - not a revelation - from God. That is, God wants you to make an informed choice. Even if you choose an unwise option you can be assured from God's Word that He knows how to guard you, lead you, equip you, and use you, both because and despite of the choices you make. So quit being so worried about whether you will select the right option!  You have options and if you sincerely base your decisions in what you know God's Word instructs, your options become increasingly obvious and far less confusing.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
¶ Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act..

Psalm 37:4-5
Ps. Andrew

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