“How could you possibly think that if you believe in God?”
“You don’t need therapy — all you need is Jesus.”
“If I believe in Jesus, why do I feel depressed?”
“You’re not praying enough if you feel that.”
There’s nothing wrong with needing Jesus and a therapist.
These voices are not uncommon in the body of Christ as they relate to battles in the mind. Whether originating from ourselves or others, these voices can become agents of condemnation and confusion, and they intensify the trials that stand before many believers. The world’s perception of Christinaity says that we are exempt from feeling mental anguish and pain. And when these battles last longer than one altar call, they tend to shout “lack of faith!.” Many erect an image of walking with Christ that says the peace that we’re promised will never be contested.
In today’s society, two clinical terms are commonly recognized when discussing these battles: depression and anxiety. Depression is characterized by persistent sadness and lack of interest, accompanied by a variety of symptoms such as increased irritability, sleep difficulties, increased or decreased appetite, etc. Anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry or uneasiness about circumstances lacking a definite outcome and is not always related to an underlying condition. But what do both of these conditions have in common? We do not have to receive the diagnosis to experience their symptoms, and no one is exempt from the possibility of experiencing symptoms in their lifetime.
Challenges in the mind are also illustrated in the Bible, including with those that believed in the promises of God.
The man with the epileptic son faced a battle in the mind of unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Job began to wish death upon his life due to the trials he faced (Job 3:11).
Even the very Son of God faced and overcame temptations while knowing the promises of God (Matthew 4:1-11).
Yet, many have adopted a theological standard that the existence of these battles correlates to a deficit in sincere faith.
So, what’s the truth behind all this?
Do we really not believe enough if these battles appear?
Are we not strong enough in Christ if they come?
The truth is, as much as we are promised peace and authority (Isaiah 26:3, Luke 20:19), we are also promised trials that aren’t separate from those in the mind (John 16:33).
I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
As a suicide attempt survivor and ex-self-harmer who is also a believer in Christ and clinically trained, I can attest to controversial challenges with battles of the mind while wholeheartedly believing what God says about them. In my book, The Wilderness: Saved & Suicidal, I describe this previous battle I fought along with the application of God’s promises.
“Reader, you do not have to accept what isn’t yours to accept.
Surrendering to God’s plan doesn’t mean to accept what is. It means to accept what He says about it.”
The Wilderness: Saved & Suicidal
Chapter 5: Surrender
This battle began during my adolescent years when I lacked language for what I was facing. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I not only received Christ, but had also just been introduced to the names of these battles through my studies as a psychology major. Like many others that look like me, I normalized much of what I thought and faced and unknowingly buried it underneath accolades. As I progressed in my journey with Christ, my knowledge of the clinical aspect of mental illnesses also increased. In my practicum during my clinical psychology graduate program, I not only witnessed it first hand with my clients in the counseling center twenty hours a week, but this also became when my own battles peaked.
It was as if my relationship with Christ grew at the same pace and same time that my clinical knowledge grew.
My clients’ experiences and my own painted a picture of what it looked like to live through the daily fight of these battles. As they became more real, so did my intensity in believing all parts of the promises of God, not just those that state the opposite of unwanted thoughts. The promises that acknowledge the presence of such battles as the necessary element to see the promises revealed.
In overcoming the battles of the mind that I faced, here are some of the promises of God and revelation that I gained:
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
- The word “tribulation” is defined as a state of great trouble or suffering. This suffering is not specified; therefore, the suffering that is promised to come isn’t dictated by size nor circumstance. This speaks to all suffering, including suffering of the mind.
“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)
- A broken heart and crushed spirit are when we can expect to feel the Lord closely. God is not intimidated by a heart that appears too broken to receive Him nor a spirit that seems crushed beyond repair to us. His promise declares that He rescues those that are in this state of suffering.
“Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.” (Luke 10:19)
- The enemy has power that is harmful, condemning, and is the opposite of the character of God. However, for every unwanted thought, we are given authority to overcome it. There’s no limitation on how many times we are given access to this authority — it’s ours to walk in and keep.
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ ...” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
- To take something captive denotes holding something in confinement. To hold something in confinement implies authority exercised. Our identity in Christ tells us that we are able to exercise full authority over thoughts that are contrary to the Word of God. These thoughts include those that are induced by depression and those that are induced by condemnation for experiencing depression. If the thought is not from God, it can be subjected to obedience to His word.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
- There’s no one that can understand the battles of the mind more than Jesus Himself. We can rest assured that these are not just promises given to us by a God that can’t relate, but by Someone who walked through the war of His own.
“Who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)
- We are reminded that we are assigned to comfort others. This comfort isn’t exclusive to community, but also applies to those whose careers are devoted to it (e.g., therapists, counselors). While God’s power is limitless, His help is not confined to our time in prayer with Him. He equips those in the realm of mental health to be a resource for healing along the way.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
- We access peace through prayer. This is a promise in all situations. We are able to give our requests to God, trusting that He understands exactly where we are when they are presented to Him.
“The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.” (Psalm 34:17)
- We are given permission by the Lord to cry out to Him in the trials we face. We have a promise that we can be freed from those troubles — whether the troubles are depressive symptoms that are present for one day or over a span of months.
“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.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
- God acknowledges where we are when we come to Him. In exchange for these battles, we are given His rest.
“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” (Psalm 56:8)
- Every tear from these battles of the mind is gathered by our Heavenly Father. One only collects what they value. To Him, there is value in the sorrow accompanied by the battles of the mind.
While I write today from a place of freedom from suicidal ideation, self-harm, anxiety, and depression, I write with empathy for those that continue to war against them at this very moment. These illnesses do not have one face and warrant assessment to develop a treatment plan strategic for each individual’s presenting symptoms. One cannot fully rely on the presence or absence of a smile, laughter, or seemingly happy life as an indicator of the extremity of such battles. I am constantly reminded of the gentleness of the presence of the Lord that is also accompanied by the authority that we have in Him. Using multiple resources for treatment including psychotherapy, a brief medication regimen, and the power of prayer, I am able to boldly share the strategy behind these promises. So much so, that I can state that on the other side of consistency is inevitable transformation. The promise of freedom is accessible — even if just for a moment. God’s promises for these battles are unwavering, faithful, and sure to never return void.