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Jun 24, 2018

#3 - The Lord's Unfailing Love In Mental Illness

Passage: Psalm 130

Preacher: John Huizinga

Series: When You Need More Than a Band-Aid

Category: Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand

Keywords: depths, mental illness, psalm 130


Not By Chance But By His Fatherly Hand, Part 3 – The Lord’s Unfailing Love in Mental Illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness nearly 1-in-5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million people — experience mental illness in a given year, and 21.4 percent of youth 13-18 will experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their lifetime. Churches don’t often name the reality of its members living with experiences of mental illness. So many people of faith are too ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed to take the risk of revealing their struggles with mental illness. When churches recognize the reality of mental illness and learn to accept one another as Jesus has accepted them we can be a great source of blessing and peace to our brothers and sisters and neighbors in the Lord who live with mental illness. Many feel as if they have no name, only a diagnosis. Many live with a secret and feel it is a shameful secret. However a mental illness is an adjective, not a noun. God knows us each by name, not by label. Our name is never Depressed, Bipolar, or Attention Deficit. Mental illness is real, but so is the Lord God who wants to show his love in Christ who invites us to come with our burdens, and to share his burden in his church. Let’s respond in faith with loving answers to questions like: Is it safe to be honest here? Will I face rejection and blame? Will anyone listen to me … I mean really hear me out? How is Jesus relevant to my situation? Will anyone walk with me through the pain? Will I be abandoned? Can I find hope?


Therapist Matt Potter said

that about 1 in 5 people in the US

currently experience some form of mental illness.

I’d like to help us visualize that a little better.

On the bench in front of some of you

I’ve placed some color cards.

If you’re sitting with a card in front of you

I’d like you to stand when I call out your color.

If you are color blind

and worried about what color you have,

just ask the person next to you to help you

with your color.

We are going to represent

those who have a mental illness.

Behind the percentages are real people,

people you know,

people you love,

neighbors or strangers to you

that you may encounter in your day to day life,

or even yourself.

If you have a yellow card in front of you please stand, this represents the number of those

who deal with schizophrenia

in a crowd about this size.

Blue, could you stand, this represents how many people are bipolar.

Pink cards  -

represent the 7% diagnosed with clinical depression.

Purple could you stand – these suffer from PTSD – post traumatic stress disorder,

many of these are veterans of our armed forces,

and they live with the overlooked

and silent consequences of war.

Those with a white card please stand –

these have some form of anxiety disorder

or eating disorders like anorexia.

And the green cards please stand

to represent the 2%

who have another form of mental illness

than the ones we have already mentioned.


About 1 in 5 in the US.

Half begin suffering by the age of 14.

3 / 4 by age 24.

Averages say that in a congregation this size

about this many people

have some form of mental illness.

Thanks you can be seated.


What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a condition of the brain

that affects your ability to think, feel,

and process life experiences in a healthy way.

Such illnesses may affect someone's ability

to relate to others and function each day.

Recovery, including meaningful roles in social life, school and work, is possible,

especially when you start treatment early

and play a strong role in your own recovery process.


“Mental illnesses, or brain disorders

can affect persons of any age, race,

religion, or income.

Mental illnesses are not the result of

personal weakness, lack of character,

or poor upbringing.

They are not the result of too little faith

or lack of prayer.

Most mental illnesses are biologically based,

and most are treatable.

Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms

by actively participating in

an individual treatment plan,

and they can live productive lives

sharing their unique gifts with you and the world”

- Dr. Marti McMane,


Rev Tim Ahrens - For too long, too many

have lived too hard of lives with the stigma,

the shame, the consequences

of suffering from a brain disease.

And the church has been one place

where the wrath of this

has come home hardest for some.

To be silent any longer is to be unfaithful.

So we speak about this to make ourselves aware,

so that we may bless,

support and encourage those we know

who struggle with a mental illness.


Scripture speaks to and for us

in our troubles and trials

to draw us into the grace of God

and the redeeming of Jesus Christ.

While there isn’t a direct verse or chapter

on mental illness or mental health

there are passages like Psalm 130

that share in the experiences

and  give us permission, freedom,

and maybe even courage

to name our trials and speak of our troubles

praying for God’s presence in and through them.


Psalm 130 –

is all about human sorrow and suffering

and our dependence on divine grace.

It is a personal psalm –

I cry to you, O Lord –

but it is universal in speaking for

each and every one of us

in our temptations, trials, and troubles.


So the first thing we have to say

about mental illness

and our relationship to God is this:

we noted this same distinction last week

when we talked about illness and disability -

illness, even mental illness,

is a result of sin in the world –

sin has broken everything,

relationships, wealth, politics,

health and human bodies,

all creation, weather, and even our brains.

But, one does not have a mental illness

because of one’s sin –

God does not punish the sinner with mental illness.

It’s just that in some way each one of us

suffers sin’s broken consequences.

There is no such thing as karma,

there is only grace and mercy

for with the Lord there is forgiveness.


Our future is in that grace.

And grace is stronger.

Our identity as a servant of the Lord,

as a person made in God’s image

and given a life with which to glorify God

isn’t taken away by mental illness.


The psalm begins:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord –

the depths is a word picture and we get it –

it is being overwhelmed, in distress,

being sucked down, needing to be rescued.

‘The depths’ we experience refer

not only to the trouble or tragedy, but often,

as with mental illness,

there is shame, there is even guilt,

either by the one suffering with the illness

or with those around that person

who wonder whether

I could have / or I should have

done something differently,

or if I somehow failed that person.


But look!

the depths don’t separate us from God

and the Lord’s gracious presence.

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord,

and the Lord hear my voice.


Nothing separates you from the love of God.

Something like a mental illness

may tempt you to conclude

that God has turned away from you or doesn’t care,

but that’s not true.

The Lord hears us

even when we are overwhelmed

and even when we can’t find our voice

or the words to say.

The Holy Spirit is the master of creation’s groans,

we learn in the book of Romans,

and that means he understands

and fills and responds to your groans also.


The reason we are to bring

even our mental illness to God is because of

who God is.

3 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,

    Lord, who could stand?

4 But with you there is forgiveness . . .


Our Heavenly Father doesn’t relate to us

based on a moral scorecard.

It’s an error to think that all God does is

to watch for transgression and call out every sin.

If that were the case

there would be no hope for anyone.

But the grace and truth of God’s character and way

is gospel: it is Jesus

who suffered for the sin of the world on the cross.

So, vs 4, with you there is forgiveness . . .

That’s the road of redemption.

God is out to get back what belongs to him

and that includes you even in your darkest depths.


A colleague of mine who ministers to those broken

and living on the streets,

often with mental illness, shares this

from one person to whom he ministers:

If anyone knows the dark and dirty places, she does.

What she fully said was this:

“Jesus, he went to the dark and dirty places.”

I am almost ashamed to admit it,

but one of the great surprises for me

in coming to this world,

coming to the dark and dirty places,

is how much of Jesus I see here.

I should have known better.

If Jesus went to those places

while physically on earth,

wouldn’t it make sense He would do the same now?

Here where life is most desperate,

His love most present, most deep. 

Not just with her, but also countless others.


I have come to understand something

since coming here,

something I didn’t understand before.

Some part of a deeper experience of Jesus

can only be found among the most broken.

I don’t know how to explain it nor even describe it, but I believe it to be true.

Jesus loves us and is present everywhere,

yet somehow, he seems brighter and more real

in these dark and dirty places,

alive in a way I have not experienced before.

Almost like he has reserved a special part of Himself for these who most desperately need Him.


So if you are in a desperate place now

or loving someone who is

or just wanting to have a bigger heart

for those who are broken, even with mental illness,

how can we respond?


Know that we can respond,

we can bless,

we can yearn for and find wholeness,

find our identity again as God’s child,

made in the image of Jesus

and to serve God’s glory:

Ps 130:4 - so that we can with reverence serve you.

We still have our God-given identity and purpose,

even when I cry from the depths

of human experience.

The response highlighted in the psalm

is one of waiting and hoping.

vs5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,

    and in his word I put my hope.

What can that look like?


It can like look Jesus.

The true human,

the strong human,

the one with perfect compassion,

divine love,

and full redemption,

invites you and me into his reality,

his health and wholeness:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”


Mental illness, like all brokenness, is a heavy burden.

Jesus comes to lighten your burden.

Church, you witness to this true God,

who is one of us and one with us.

So when it comes to mental illness

you and me, we have an obligation:

Be aware . . .

The person next to you in the pew may be struggling. Pray for your spiritual family members

who are suffering.

Continue your support of ministries like

Chicago Christian Counseling Center.

For God has blessed us with mental health resources

to help us receive healing and care.


For those who are struggling:

don’t lose hope.

Recovery from mental illness is possible,

but it’s a long, hard process.

Don’t be afraid to seek and to ask for help.

You cannot do this on your own.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness

it’s an indication of wisdom and strength.

Matt mentioned a few other resources

that are available in our area.

Too often, Christians are automatically closed

to the idea of therapy or medication,

but these too are gifts from the Lord

who is our healer.


I think of the words

of Ericka Anderson’s husband Rick.

She quotes him in her book –

Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma,

and Mental Illness, Rick says,

 “I was a broken man, and I wanted to be healed.

And the way they made it sound at this church—

God could be the healer—

I hadn’t ever taken that to heart before.

I was tired of walking around so empty.”


God is the healer,

and here are some added graces:

How can we respond with faith

when it comes to mental illness?

Whether we struggle with it,

Or doing what we can to maintain mental health?


Remember, mental illness is an illness,

as with a bodily illness,

there are some things we can do,

healthy things,

but not even these will guarantee health.

Right? I mean, you can eat healthy,

get your rest and exercise,

take up healthy habits, but still get sick –

some here live healthy lives but still battle illness,

still live with chronic disease,

still are disabled.

It’s the same regarding the brain.

If illness does come anyway,

know also it is a mental illness,

meaning recovery and healing may come

from the hand of the Lord also,

and thru those gifted with therapeutic skills.

You are not your illness, you are a child of God.


We may not be able to prevent mental illness,

but here are some ways to live

waiting and hoping on the Lord

when our spirits our crushed

or fearing such pressure:


1st, don’t be afraid to lament.

Out of the depths I cry to the Lord . . .

The psalm’s wisdom for us doesn’t say,

I blame God,

or I forget about God and try to live without God.

No, it says to us,

don’t keep your fear or illness a secret,

don’t let it shame you into silence.

Share with a trusted Christian friend

and seek out help.

“Growth begins when we start to accept

our own weakness” ― Jean Vanier

“All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.” ― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

So lament, cry out to the Lord,

weep with each other,

name the illness

so it can be addressed as an illness.


2nd, make use of rituals:

“For many people with severe mental illness, disorganization has characterized

a great deal of their lives.

It is not surprising, then,

that rituals associated with religion or spirituality

are highly valued by those who struggle –

from R. Fallot in Spirituality and Religion

in Recovery from Mental Illness.

Regular Sunday worship,

daily prayers and scripture reading,

times of solitude and silence out in creation . . .

these spiritual practices and more

organize experience, provide meaning,

offer trustworthy and safe social engagement

and express core beliefs.”

So don’t let life situations cause you

to give up on church

or to stop attending worship

or try to convince yourself you can do with

being an active, participating member of

a local church.

There is health and wholeness,

joy and purpose,

love and peace

in belonging to the family of God.

And just as your life is diminished without it

so the life of others is diminished

when you’re not here with them.


3rd, lead with the habit of gratitude.

Start with naming what you are grateful for

to the Lord instead of listing your problems and fears.

Exercising gratitude to the Lord may give you the

assurance to know you don’t face the day alone,

and that the One who is with you

is loving and mighty and desires your best.


That gratitude may give you the courage

to accept therapy as a gift from God as well.

The thing with mental illness,

like many other illnesses is

you can’t fix it by yourself.

And just like there are doctors and surgeons

for medical problems,

there are doctors and therapists

for mental issues also.

These are good gifts from the Lord

who desires your transformation and healing.

 “I have discovered the value of psychology and psychiatry, that their teachings can undo knots in us and permit life to flow again and aid us in becoming more truly human.”

― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human


4th, Learn to be affirming as neighbors,

as brothers and sisters in the Lord,

as parents, grandparents,

family members and friends.

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.”

― Jean Vanier, Becoming Human


So, to be an affirming person:

Value your own life as a gift from God:

Treat yourself with kindness and respect.

Make time for your hobbies and favorite projects,

or broaden your horizons.

Take care of your body:

Taking care of yourself physically

can improve your mental health.


One great way to nourish yourself is to give yourself:

Volunteer your time and energy

to help someone else.

When we serve another without regard

for reward or what’s in it for me,

we are living out our true identity as a

servant of God, in Christ’s name.

And so can we make room together

for those with illness or disability to serve also?

That’s why our support of the Elim backpack

program is so helpful.

For it provides for those disabled

to serve others in need,

and begins to recognize their value also.


So many people of faith are too ashamed,

guilty, or embarrassed

to take the risk of revealing

their struggles with mental illness.

When churches recognize the reality of mental illness and learn to accept one another

as Jesus has accepted them

we can be a great source of blessing and peace

to our brothers and sisters and neighbors in the Lord who live with mental illness.

Many feel as if they have no name, only a diagnosis. Many live with a secret

and feel it is a shameful secret.


God knows us each by name, not by label.

Our name is never Depressed, Bipolar,

or Attention Deficit.

Mental illness is real,

but so is the Lord God

who wants to show his love in Christ

who invites us to come with our burdens,

and to share his burden in his church.