There are many factors to consider in any discussion of mental health but one of those factors has to do with the development of healthy habits. People can fall into patterns that may contribute to a decline in their physical or mental health. They can also cultivate patterns and habits that contribute to physical and mental well-being. Among the most important of those habits would be these:
One of the first things the Bible says about human beings is this:
“It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18 ESV)
Human beings were designed for community. This is why the most severe form of punishment in many countries is solitary confinement.
Aloneness is dehumanizing.
It is deconstructing.
Aloneness breaks us down – but community builds us up. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes that point explicitly:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25 ESV)
According to the Bible, Christians ought to gather together not just to fed by the preacher, but also to stir one another up to love and good deeds. We need to make this assembling of ourselves a priority. We need to cultivate a habit of being together – and all the more as we see the Day drawing near.
Basically the Bible says that the harder it gets out there – the more we need to gather together in here – in the church. Church is not optional. You need it. I need it.
It is not good for a man – or a woman to be alone.
Cultivate the habit of community.
According to the Bible the laws and commandments of God are intended to help us live a happy and fruitful life. Moses gave the law to the people of Israel and told them:
“Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” (Deuteronomy 4:40 ESV)
The history of Israel powerfully illustrates the truth that obedience is wise and leads to human flourishing. It also powerfully illustrates the opposite truth, that disobedience leads to loss, frustration and disappointment.
Having reviewed that history, the wise man of the Old Testament offers his simple and straightforward conclusion:
“happy is he who keeps the law.” (Proverbs 29:18 NKJV)
The law is like an instruction manual for life. It shows us how to love God and how to live with one another. The moral laws are somewhat analogous to the physical laws of nature. A person is free to disregard the law of gravity but doing so often leads to very unpleasant consequences.
Likewise in the spiritual realm.
Many people are depressed and unhappy because they are attempting to live in ways that contradict the design and intention of God. Toasters are good, but they don’t work very well as bath warmers. Sometimes happiness is a simple matter of reading and following the instructions.
Obedience is an expression of the basic belief that God is the Creator and Designer of the universe. He knows us and he loves us and therefore his counsel and commandments can be trusted.
Because no one is perfect, and because all people have a conscience, happy people also cultivate the habit of confession.
David initially tried to hide his adulterous affair with Bathsheba – but it began to literally destroy him from the inside out. He said:
“when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” (Psalm 32:3 ESV)
So David did what wise and happy people do.
“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:5 ESV)
Sin is bad for the soul.
It is like poison in a well.
You have to get rid of it – and according to the Bible, there is only one way to do that. The Apostle John said:
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)
God did not design you with the capacity to overlook your own sin. You won’t be able to forget it. You won’t be able to move on. Sin and you will never co-exist. If you don’t deal with it, it will destroy you.
But thankfully, God loves you and he made a way for your sin to be obliterated. John put it this way:
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 ESV)
“Propitiation” means a sacrifice that satisfies. According to the Bible, God loved you enough to pay for your sins in the body of Jesus Christ upon the cross.
That’s why John could say that if you confess your sins in Jesus’ name – in faith because of what Jesus did – God would be faithful and just to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness.
Happy people take full and immediate advantage of that reality because guilt is destructive to the human soul.
Not all, but a great deal of depression is circumstantial. Human beings can be pressed down and even crushed by the sheer weight of tragedy, illness, frustration and loss.
The Apostle Paul was well acquainted with suffering, and yet, he wrote to the Corinthians saying:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 ESV)
How was Paul able to endure such circumstances without being driven to despair?
He tells us the secret just a few verses later:
“we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16–18 ESV)
Paul learned the importance of looking up.
If we look down at our feet – if we are obsessed with our hardships and circumstances – then we will surely succumb to despair. But if we look up – if we see who God is and if we recall what he has given to us in Christ – then we will persevere. We will overcome. And we will experience joy.
It all depends on the direction and tilt of your head.
David sang about this in Psalm 3:
“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3 ESV)
Whenever David was depressed he went into the house of the Lord and God graciously lifted his head.
Spiritually healthy and happy people cultivate the habit of worship.
Human beings were designed to receive and respond. Therefore the whole spiritual ecosystem breaks down the moment we give in to the sin of ingratitude. Ingratitude, according to the Bible, is the main intersection between spiritual life and death. In Romans 1 the Apostle Paul says:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21 ESV)
Spiritual rebellion begins with ingratitude.
Spiritual wandering begins with ingratitude.
Spiritual ignorance begins with ingratitude.
Spiritual deception begins with ingratitude.
The moment we begin to think of God as being less good and less generous than he is we begin our journey into the dark. The moment we begin to think of ourselves as being entitled to more than we have received we take our first step into apostasy.
Wise people turn the other way.
Wise people – happy people – cultivate daily habits of thankfulness and gratitude. They remember who they are and they remember what they have and they remember to acknowledge the Source.
“give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
This is wisdom!
This is therapy!
This is free!
And this is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.
N.B. A shorter version of this article appears in Seven magazine.