It’s a heart-breaking fact that there are large numbers of people in our churches who are struggling with their mental health. Depression, anxiety, self-harm and eating disorders – bipolar, schizophrenia and so much more besides are the daily experiences of many who follow Christ. And whether those struggles last a few weeks or a lifetime, the church has an important role in helping those of us in pain.
There are limits to the church’s role. It is not the place to source the medication that so many find helpful. It is not a residential context in which to manage a psychotic episode. It can’t offer a specialist multidisciplinary team to address every aspect of the complexities that mental ill health can bring. But it can offer so much: comfort, community, hope, practical help, and most importantly of all, encouragement to engage with the loving and powerful Lord who enables all who believe to persevere, grow and change.
That’s part of the call of the church throughout the year. But, on World Mental Health Day, there is an opportunity to give some special focus to this aspect of the church’s role. As we do that, we are reminded to pray.
Where can we start? From Ephesians 4, we can pray our churches will continue to grow in:
Wholehearted living (v1):
Whether we are well or not – we need God’s wisdom. None of us can live life in our own strength. All of us are called to live in the light of our salvation. Some will have more capacity than others, some will have more energy than others, but all who are in Christ have the path of faith to tread and have the privilege of being in a community that connects the dots between the riches of Scripture and the realities of life.
As we walk that path, we will come to see God and his activity more clearly – and to respond to that in the power of the Spirit. Whether your brothers and sisters are able to take great strides or just tiny, baby steps, why not pray that your church will be a place where everyone is enabled to live a life worthy of their calling?
No two experiences of mental ill health are the same. Everyone is unique. And so, listening to our friend’s experiences, struggles, hopes, fears and desires is essential if we are to understand them well. Humility prevents us from saying, “I know what you are going through” – it stops us from assuming “I know what you need” and nudges us to seek the Lord together. After all, he is the only one who truly knows and provides. Why not pray that your church will keep growing in humility and the ability to listen well?
Gentleness and patience (v2):
Support takes time. People take time. And that is how church should be. People are not problems to fix. They are not a distraction from more important things. Slowly accompanying those finding life hard, with tenderness and care is a wonderful privilege. Caring boundaries – that exist for the genuine good of all – may be needed from time to time but families have low boundaries in the main. We bear with, we walk with – and that is a beautiful thing. Why not pray that your church will keep growing in gentleness and patience and develop an increasing desire to nurture people slowly in the midst of their struggles?
All are one in Christ. There is no two-tier system in the Christian life. And those who are broken by past histories or present realities, are just as chosen, called, adopted and indwelt as any other believer. Diagnoses can be useful, but they don’t define. Who we are – who we all are in the church – is children of the living God, recipients of his grace, united by the Spirit and focused on his hope. Why not pray that your church will keep seeing and living out the unity that God has brought about in us?
Purpose and gifts (v7):
There’s no such thing as a useless Christian. Not everyone can be active. There will be times when active people need to rest. But all have purpose. Struggling does not diminish that purpose at all. Ensuring everyone has opportunities to serve where they can – without pressure to serve more than they can – is a healthy way to be. Why not pray that your church will nurture the gifts of all and enable them to be used wisely?
That’s only a start… There are many more ways to pray that our churches will treasure and nurture those who are struggling – you might like to explore praying for some more of those now.