I mentioned at our gathering that teaching on this subject was put on my heart months ago. Well, that was not the whole truth. I actually began to see the necessity of teaching people the biblical side of this very real problem years ago. I have a preliminary research file on my computer that dates back to May 9, 2014.
After an initial class teaching about the prevalence of obsessive-compulsive disorder behaviors I had noticed in Christians, there were no more classes. The behaviors continued to exist, but it was as if very few wanted a solution. People would tell me about their fears, feelings of depression and other things, such as their OCD rituals, but they seemed to look at the symptoms as just being part of normal life.
Believers in Jesus tried to apply Paul, the apostle’s, instruction to bring their bodies under subjection daily. The degree of applying God’s word to be transformed by the renewing of their minds varied from person to person. Those who did not know Jesus as their Savior were especially at risk of symptoms wreaking havoc in their lives.
All kinds of symptoms were just normal life for some. Angry outbursts that resulted in destroying inanimate objects, bursts of rage, explosive tempers, using alcohol as a calming drug, using illegal drugs, promiscuity, and acting out compulsions to get relief from an overwhelming sense of dread or doom were just part of the list of things that were normal life. Not every person had every symptom, but it was the unnoticed or ignored elephant in the room for someone in every family.
As for OCD, it was comical and sad at the same time when I would hear about compulsions people would perform to get relief from symptoms. The individual who performed the compulsions along with their relatives would mention the behaviors in passing as if it was just part of the normal daily routines of life. One that comes to mind was a young teen who spoke in the class telling us how his dad would shut off light switches touching them three times while saying, “Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”
Everywhere I turned it seemed as if people looked at the fear, worry, anxiety, depression and ritualistic behaviors in their lives as being the normal stuff of normal lives. Even the manual that doctors use for diagnosing mental disorders mentions that symptoms that people experience must first interfere with their normal functioning before any diagnoses can be given. So, I suppose there is a wide variation of what we consider or accept as being normal.
Personally, I do not understand how checking and rechecking and checking and rechecking again to make sure the door is locked or living out the compulsion to touch objects three, seven or another number of times is normal. Furthermore, I do not accept on a personal level that persistent fear, worry, depression or anxiety should be accepted by myself as being a “normal” part of daily life. Do not misunderstand me to think that I just do not know what it is like, because I do. Overwhelming irrational fear and anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks at one point in my life, and I thought it would never go away. I could have accepted it as being a new normal of living, but I refused to.
Introduction From Our First Gathering
I heard a story that was attributed to having been told by Willy Nelson.
A guy is watching a worker at the circus.
The circus worker’s job was to pick up elephant dung.
He was very thorough shoveling up the dung, and there was a lot of it.
He was a regular guy, fit and capable. So, the guy watching him asked him why he doesn’t go and get a real job. The circus worker said, “What? And quit show business?”
We can get into doing things or holding onto beliefs like the elephant dung picker-upper. Things that provide no help, hope or relief, but we keep doing the things or holding onto the beliefs anyway because they seem or are accepted as being normal to the functioning of our daily lives. It seems this is as far as we can go, so we will hold onto or continue to do these things.
Anxiety is a serious issue with many symptoms that we can manifest in our daily lives. Sometimes our daily lives are part of the cause of the anxiety symptoms. I am inviting you to take a look at it from all sides to better equip you to decide what you need to do to get free of the plague of symptoms that brought you here in the first place.
There are things to be anxious about. As of this writing, Australia is on fire, the United States Embassy in Baghdad was under attack from protesters, and a road in eastern Washington state was blocked for 10 hours by a massive amount of tumbleweeds. Reports indicate some cars were covered with the weeds and people were trapped inside. Yes, it really happened! Tumbleweeds became something to cause anxiety!
On a more personal level, we have family troubles, work troubles, financial troubles, health troubles and more.
I happened to notice that contained in a stack of Woman’s Day magazines that were given to my wife, every single cover had a story of what to do or take to overcome worry or stress. Not just a few of the magazines had recommended treatments and remedies for anxiety and stress, all of them did. If I was to understand women only from that single publication, I would come to the conclusion that all women think themselves to be too fat, all of them are extremely stressed, and all of them are in constant pain needing techniques and remedies to alleviate it. Furthermore, I would come to the conclusion that the real answers to problems women have would be to buy new wardrobes, get their hair done, and make tasty treats to eat.
I’m not singling out Woman’s Day. It is just the culture of media. They need to earn a profit, and the only way to do that is to produce something their demographics will consume. That is what keeps the advertising dollars flowing into their businesses. It could have easily been a magazine or TV show that is designed to play on the male psyche of not being muscular enough, tough enough or virile enough.
Most of us who gathered in the class, or who are reading this article, are likely already believe in Jesus as our Savior. For us, there is that promise in God’s word of a peace that passes all understanding that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (ISV) says, “Never worry about anything. Instead, in every situation let your petitions be made known to God through prayers and requests, with thanksgiving. Then God’s peace, which goes far beyond anything we can imagine, will guard your hearts and minds in union with the Messiah Jesus.”
So . . . What is happening with us then?
That is the purpose of this gathering. If this gathering was a building, we are going to talk about it from the concrete footer of the foundation to the shingles on the roof. Unfortunately, we Americans just want quick answers and fixes we can get from Google. However, real-life does not work that way. Sometimes, you really need to put effort into learning how something works in order to be able to fix it when it is broken.
Anxiety and some of its relatives are not all bad. When it gets out of control it can cause all kinds of things you do not want. On the extreme end of the spectrum, it could cripple your ability to enjoy anything that resembles a normal life. It could do all kinds of things from holding you back from enjoying simple social interactions with family and peers to being at the root of those outbursts you wish you could control. It can go from being something necessary to keep you alive—that fight-or-flight response—to becoming a chronic torment meant to destroy you.
Anxiety that starts to become a problem has all kinds of definitions. There are official medical definitions of when it becomes a disorder and you also have your own personal definitions. Your personal definitions may vary depending on whether you are applying them to yourself or someone else.
It is easy to blame external stress for your internal response. Some people have it bad. Paul got to the point that he was content in whatever situation he found himself in. Philippians 4:10-13 (KJV) says, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at the last your care of me hath flourished again; wherein ye were also careful, but ye lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”
One example comes from a person I know who is extremely troubled by family issues to the point this person advised how they cannot take it anymore. (Yes, I will, in this article, avoid the he/she pronouns to protect identity.) The stress is causing definite symptoms. Otherwise the statement, “I don’t know if I can take it anymore,” would not have come out. However, when an invitation was given to come out for this gathering that is going to talk about anxiety, the person explained how they don’t think they have anxiety.
The person demonstrates being extremely anxious due to stressful things occurring within the person’s family. This person has expressed to me extreme worry over several family issues. Now it is at the point the person has expressed that it is not known if they can take it anymore. It has become a serious issue for the person. The stressors are causing responses the person does not want, but, the person does not associate it as having anything to do with any sort of anxiety response.
So, as you read this, consider this dumb question: Do you have an innie or outie belly button?
When it comes to the medical community for diseases, such as high blood pressure or the common cold, they need to use specific criteria—specific definitions—for diagnosing people. Otherwise, anything would go. Without rules for diagnoses, you could go in to get your runny nose treated and a doctor could say the cause is your outie belly button and you need surgery to make it an innie.
There are rules, criteria, definitions established for good reasons—to protect people and help them become the best that they can be. Even if you don’t like certain rules, you follow plenty of them every day. The rule that electricity shocks us is why we do not stick our fingers into light sockets. Even if you do not personally like it that electricity can electrocute you does not matter. If you ignore the rule, you get shocked. And shockingly (pun intended) plenty of people live daily lives ignoring rules getting results they do not want yet never changing their thinking or behaviors.
There are also rules when it comes to your relationship with God. Without knowing the rules your Creator has put in place, rules that are easily discovered in His Word—the bible—you could end up believing or doing anything. Religion, for some, is just a bunch of rituals. Your desire to turn to God for help with what you are going through could lead to more useless expressions of rituals.
Without knowing what your Creator expects from you, you could end up having some so-called spiritual leader tell you that you need to wear a crystal around your neck, get your chakras aligned and have regular (aka ritual) coffee enemas. But that is not change. That is not being transformed by the renewing—the renovation—of your mind that God’s word tells us will happen when we turn things over to him.
In Romans 12:1-2 (KJV) Paul, the apostle, said, ” I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
There are even rules that psychiatric doctors follow. They need a manual to follow for diagnosing psychiatric disorders. This manual was introduced in 1952, and it is currently in its fifth edition. It’s called the DSM-V. The long name is the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” Without it, one doctor could tell you you are suffering from Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder syndrome, injury or whatever the currently popular term is, and another doctor could say you have social anxiety disorder.
Some sources say there are 157 disorder diagnoses in the DSM-5. Some say 300. I didn’t count them. But the gist of anxiety as a mental disorder comes down to a simple thing of how anxiety is not really a problem until it becomes a problem. What in the world does that mean?
Well, it is perfectly normal to get anxious about things. The moments leading up to a first kiss can produce considerable anxiety, but those heart-racing, tingly feelings are not usually considered by most to be any sort of problem even when there is a measure of fear of how the kiss will go. Anxiety over passing a test to earn a degree is expected. The fight-or-flight response we have built into our bodies activating when a person pulls out a gun and threatens us is normal. It is normal to be startled when frightened and have that adrenaline rush that takes some time to calm down from. Much like the example of Pastor Frank in this video!
It is not normal, however, to have persistent symptoms of anxiety in non-threatening non-risky situations. Those persistent symptoms, such as persistent thoughts that generate persistent fear, or of being too anxious, in otherwise normal situations indicates there may a problem. Panic symptoms, such as what you would expect to happen to one degree or another if your life was being threatened are not normal if you are in a situation where your life is not being threatened. Panic is not normal when you are involved in routine things from going to Walmart to going out to dinner with your spouse or date.
It is also normal to be depressed about certain things for a time. Specific things that can make a person depressed. It is okay to need time to recover from an extremely stressful event. Depression and post-traumatic stress are normal reactions to depressing things and traumatic events. It is when the word “disorder” gets applied that there is a problem. It is a disorder when the depression does not go away and reliving trauma becomes part of your daily life. Grief is also normal for loss, but it should not cripple you.
Even if there are only 157 disorders in the DSM-V, those are plenty of things that can go wrong with our minds. It is great that there is a manual of brain disorders, but labeling problems does not fix them. And when it comes to brain stuff, the field of accepted treatment options is quite wide. Continuing from this medical perspective, the available treatments are not cures, and not every treatment works for every person.
I do want everyone to understand that doctors are generally in the business of doing their best to help their patients. They do what they can working with the tools that they have. They try to help while working within the confines of the rules their peers, societies, legislation and oversight establish for them to protect their patients.
Here is the thing about diagnoses though: If you keep looking and looking, you are likely going to find something wrong. Ever Google your symptoms and frighten yourself with the myriad of potential diagnoses you discover?
When it comes to physiological problems, such as a bad gallbladder, arthritis or cancer, the imaging capabilities of modern medical machines are so good that full-body scans are very likely to reveal something wrong with everyone. Small cancers that were never able to be seen before now show up. Cancers so small that your own immune system is likely to recognize and fix on its own. That is why the medical community now looks more closely into what actually needs to be treated, when to treat it and how to treat it when it comes to these things modern imaging is allowing them to see.
The same is true, and possibly even more so, of psychiatric disorders. If you go looking, you may discover things that line up with criteria in that DSM-V for mental disorders in everyone. However, it is necessary to understand that some things absolutely need intervention as they are not going to resolve on their own. Whether it be by divine miracle or medical treatment, intervention is sometimes absolutely necessary. When it comes to medical intervention, you need to decide if you are at the point of needing it or not.
Doctors need to make treatment decisions based on evidence, and the evidence changes over time as new medical technologies, treatments and scientific studies emerge. They also need to consider potential liability. After all, we are quite the sue-happy nation. Seriously, television revenue might be in trouble if all the lawyer ads were suddenly pulled. Doctors need to fit in the thought of your well-being within the rest of the mess they have to deal with on a daily basis. And they do try!
And that brings up a point needing to be made about the quality of various medical professionals. Quality can vary among doctors on an equal par as quality varies among automobile mechanics. Depending on the doctor you go to see, you could end up being overtreated or undertreated. A sad thing is that when you are at your most vulnerable searching for needed medical help is also when you need to be at the top of your game acting as your own advocate in getting the proper help you need.
With that being said, the criteria for our gathering is as follows: We are here because there is something troubling us with our thoughts and the physical reactions associated with those thoughts. Symptoms that happen because of those thoughts is a good way to describe it, and it is relief from those symptoms that we are seeking to have resolved to one degree or another, and the best way to relieve symptoms is to correct the problem causing the symptoms in the first place.
It is practically impossible to talk about the topics of this gathering without words and phrases popping up that mention medical stuff. However, keep this in the forefront of your mind through every word said by anyone here: Nothing is to be considered a personalized diagnosis or treatment option for you. If you need a doctor, go see a doctor. I am not a doctor. As far as I remember I have never even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express!
Goals for Our Gathering
- To understand that you are not alone.
- To understand that it is okay to be seeking, knocking and asking for help.
- To understand that God’s word warns of this increase in anxiety symptoms (Luke 21:25-28).
- To understand what God’s word instructs us to do concerning our physical, mental and spiritual well being.
What the Medical Community Has to Say
The DSM-V describes anxiety disorders to include things, such as excessive fear and upsetting behaviors that occur because of the anxiety. There are all kinds of listed disorders from social anxiety disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The dictionary definition of anxiety from Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary states that anxiety is, “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill: a state of being anxious.” Their medical definition says anxiety is “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”
The American Psychiatric Association states that “Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can be beneficial in some situations. It can alert us to dangers and help us prepare and pay attention.”
Anxiety, as a disorder, is not the same as what we would consider normal, or expected, reactions or feelings to life and its myriad of daily evolving situations. Statistics indicate that over 25 million Americans actually suffer from a diagnosable anxiety disorder. Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association establishes anxiety disorders as being able to be treated, and that treatment makes a positive difference in being able to lead what most would consider being a normal life.
That is encouraging as anxiety issues are running rampant in America, with a special concentration of it existing in the church.
There is a two-fold reason for that.
- People suffering from anxiety are searching for relief from the symptoms, and there are mental disorders associated with anxiety that manifest with ritualistic expression. Performing the rituals gives people a feeling of relief from their symptoms. Religious expression—even at our church—offers rituals. However, that is not healing. It is just more ritual.
- Here is a part I really want you to understand: We have a real enemy (Satan) who constantly seeks access to that gray matter between our ears. His methods are discussed in God’s word. He will use physiological and neurological defects in our flesh, and that includes our bodies and our brains, to come at us to get us to reject God. If you want a biblical example of the process, study the book of Job.
How I Began to View Anxiety Disorders From Both a Spiritual and Physiological/Neurological Viewpoint
Over many years I have read a diversity of scholarly and not-so-scholarly information on a wide variety of subjects. During the past few years, I have noticed an exponential increase in fear/anxiety no matter where I look. I wondered if there was a single cause or multiple causes.
Having a longstanding interest in the study of human and animal behaviors, I looked into multiple possible causes of this increase in anxiety. As an example of reading to learn new things about what makes this world tick, I recently read two books just on the ability of dogs to smell things, and how it helps them interpret and interact with their world. Great books by the way, but I digress. I mention it to point out that like a dog with a bone, I delve into the details to figure out how things work. I am not just satisfied that something works, I need to know how and why it works the way it does.
So, for these attacks on our minds that result in severe anxiety symptoms, I looked at all kinds of different things. I considered our society’s influence on behaviors/emotions. I looked into the influence nutrition could possibly have. I considered how our educational system currently influences societal emotions and behaviors. I routinely observe the influence of religion, and just turning on a television gives me insight into the influence the entertainment industry obviously has on anxiety. Also, for years I have looked into the subtleties of group dynamics considering cultural (national, ethnic), political (party alliances), peer groups (teens, seniors, etc.), and the general public (such as what triggers people to riot) influences on this increase in anxiety.
Just using nutrition as an example, I studied the Standard American Diet (SAD) and how it affects our brains and bodies. While researching something else years ago, I discovered how congress in the early 20th Century had concerns about chromium depletion in the soils of the farms that produce our nation’s agricultural food supply and how it was causing reduced chromium in our produce and grains. Later on, it is interesting how the United States government backed the development of a bioavailable (something your body can absorb) chromium supplement called Chromium Picolinate. Our government takes a beating from some citizens thinking it conspires against them, and this is an example of how the government worked to develop a solution to make sure we can get enough chromium in our diets.
Depleted chromium, too much sugar, too much fat, questionable chemical additives, and artificial sweeteners all have their gurus and lobbyists touting issues, risks and dangers of our dietary choices as a nation. There is, if you look beyond the quacks and gurus, a considerable amount of amazing information available on how nutrition affects how our brains function. Please do not dismiss diet as a possible contributory cause of brain disorders. A simple, but profound example, of how a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause psychiatric issues is one of my favorites. You can read it here.
I have never been satisfied to just know something works. I want to know the details of how and why things function the way that they do. The first step in understanding something is to discover what the experts already know. Generally, the best way to do that is to read what others have written. Then check it out for yourself to see if the experts are correct. Discovery leads to understanding.
Following through on this innate need to understand things has opened up opportunities to learn fascinating details about many different things. However, after all the books, articles, papers, documentaries, lectures, classes and more, there was only one source of information that proved to me to be 100 percent reliable. That source of information is God’s Word, and that is why it is the foundation for what you will learn here.
As I learned different things, I discovered I was on a path with other people who are learning. It is like a lifelong hike through changing scenery constantly learning new things as new technologies and information emerge. As I continued to learn new things filtering them through the light of God’s word, I discovered that there some very highly polarized opinions about certain subjects. Our brains being one of those subjects.
Imagine a scenario with me. I am walking on a trail along with doctors and other ministers of the Gospel. The trail we are on is all about learning about these awful attacks that can happen to human minds. The doctors see that I agree with them that our physical brains can suffer from all kinds of trauma from neurotransmitters being out of balance to simple thumps on the noggin or growing masses that can radically alter emotions, behaviors and personalities. The doctors are walking right along with me with that.
Then I say to the doctors that we are more than the sum of our physical parts. That we actually are eternal spiritual beings created in the image of God who are alive in these physical bodies. Then our hiking trails go separate ways. The science of the medical profession does not generally accept us as being eternal spiritual beings created by God in the image of God who are alive in physical bodies.
Then I find myself walking along mostly with ministers of the Gospel, and maybe a few doctors who are believers in Jesus and who agree that we are spiritual beings created by God to eternally exist. Then I explain to the ministers how I see that our physical brains can get messed up the same as we can get diabetes, high blood pressure or other medical problems. These disorders and diseases may leave us in a state of needing medical treatments, including medications, to get relief and aid in healing.
This causes my path to diverge again as some in ministry do not accept that problems with thoughts, emotions and personalities can have anything to do with physical problems in the brain. They see it as purely spiritual problems like the scientists see things as being physical problems with the wiring of the brains of sufferers.
From the beginning I want you to know I see the problem from its different sides. Our enemy uses the physical and mental avenues he can gain access to in his attacks against us—the spiritual beings we happen to be.
For an example of where the spiritual and physical meet. Let us examine something familiar. Let us take a look at sin. Sins are offenses we commit against God. When it comes to sin, how does the bible say a person is tempted? It says that “man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
James 1:13-14 (KJV) ” Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.”
What are those lusts that tempt us? 1 John 2:15-16 (NIV) says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Here are three foundational examples of how we are drawn away from God in verse 16, and all three are tied to the flesh we are alive in! The lust of fleshly desires, the lust of what we can see and covet with our eyes, and the lust of the pride of life. Satan not only attacks us by tempting us to sin against God using our flesh, he attacks us to render us unfruitful in our service to God. We will discuss it in more detail in a little while, but he attempts, as John 10:10 says, to steal from us, kill us and destroy us in any way that he can.
So, yes I see anxiety as both a neurological issue where the physical (fleshly) brain has a problem and it also being a spiritual problem in that it is a spiritual attack that is sourced in a living enemy we Christians know as Satan.
But let us look at an example of a physical thing that can happen to any of us that definitely requires intervention and what you might do to at least begin to treat the problem.
Would You Render First Aid Help If I Was Bleeding Out?
If there were some first aid supplies close to you and I was bleeding profusely from a serious laceration, would you attempt to treat my problem or just let me bleed out and die? Imagine you at least know basic first aid. If you knew what to do and could use the supplies you had available, would you attempt to stop the bleeding to save my life?
I would imagine that most decent people say they would try even if they have not been trained in first aid. So, if you are willing to try and intervene if I am bleeding out from a physical wound to my body, is it wrong to use tools, such as medications, to treat my brain if it is not working as it should?
Mental disorders, such as anxiety, panic and depression, can have physical causes related to a problem in the chemistry of our brains. If you would do what you can to stop me from bleeding to death from damage to a part of my flesh that you can see with your eyes, you should not be ashamed to do something to assist your fleshly brain when it is in trouble. It is okay to see a medical doctor, and it is okay to try a medication a medical doctor recommends.
Pills are not a cure just like bandages on wounds are not a cure. Stopping the bleed, and repairing a broken artery, allows your created body time to heal. If I just took a wait-and-see approach to a severed artery, I will be dead in a couple of minutes. If the mental symptoms are wearing you out and preventing you from moving on to healing, get help to mitigate, to interrupt, to lessen, to even possibly stop the symptoms altogether. To stop the mental bleed so to speak.
What About Healing?
If you believe in Jesus and get sick, you pray for healing. God still works miracles of intervention to provide immediate healing, but most of us go to the doctor if immediate miraculous healing does not happen.
People, even followers of Jesus, get sick. People who believed in Jesus got sick in the New Testament when healing miracles were very evident and very active. Timothy was prescribed a remedy for his stomach troubles by the Apostle Paul who worked healing miracles in many others. Paul’s own beloved friend, Epaphroditus, in Philippians 2, was sick nigh unto death, but God had mercy on him.
Paul admitted Epaphroditus was sick. He didn’t hide the fact or deny it. Paul admitted that Trophimus was sick. He said in 2 Timothy 4:20, “Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” Timothy was often sick and Paul told him to try a remedy. There is a section in a book I have been writing that talks about Timothy’s issues with illness, and they may have been due to suffering with anxiety as a disorder.
As for Paul’s remedy to help Timothy, we have come a long way with medical science that surpasses that remedy of water mixed with a little wine. So, it’s not a stretch to say it is okay to attempt to get medical help if you need it whether it is for your pancreas, gallbladder, bad knees, cataracts or your brain.
Admitting that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with is not a lack of faith, nor is it a sign of weakness. It is actually a responsible indicator of strength that you are doing what it takes to live the best life that you can. It is an example for others to emulate.
It does not anger or disappoint God. How can we even pray for healing unless we label the problem or at least admit that there is a problem? The sick cannot even call for the elders of the church to pray unless the sick speak up and say, “Hey brothers and sisters, I am sick, I have a dis-ease, I have a dis-order, and I need that prayer of faith!”
James 5:13-15 (KJV), “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
Here is the thing when it comes to what the medical professionals can do: They practice, and that is what it is—practice. They do what they can within the confines of what their professions allow. I routinely welcome their help in my own life, but I realize both its limits and the level of participation I have to commit to in order to get the healing I am seeking.
When Anxiety Hit Home
At the end of the day, none of the secular information I learned prepared me to handle the moment extreme anxiety and panic hit me. It felt like a ton of bricks landing on me at one time. It was overwhelming, but I found hope to persevere through knowing God’s word (the bible). I sought, asked and knocked to get help to get relief from the symptoms that felt like an unbearable, crushing weight.
During the worst moments, I had hope in one verse out of the bible. It was Psalms 118:17 (KJV), “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.” How does God’s word tell us to be transformed? Romans 12:2 (KJV) says, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Pastor Frank Menhart quoted the verse from Psalms paraphrasing it saying, “You will live and not die and declare the wonderful works of the LORD.” Keeping that in my mind, and saying it out loud and in my thoughts helped me to push through the irrational fears that hit me hard.
That brings me to the point of having a support structure. I was careful who I mentioned details to. I mainly had the support of my wife and Pastor Frank, but I did choose to talk to a couple other people too.
Myself and Other People I Personally Know Who Experienced Anxiety and/or Related Issues
You are not alone in this. I was hit with anxiety to a degree I did not know was possible. What made it worse for me was realizing fully that the fears were irrational. I also know a man who has a professional technical job that requires focus, dedication and determination to accomplish daily. This person suffered greatly with anxiety and panic until delivered. Many years ago Pastor Frank went through a lengthy period of depression where he did not want to leave his house. He did not even want to go to church. Another pastor I know had difficulty with obsessive-compulsive disorder to the point he measured the alignment of knick-knacks on tabletops. This is just the briefest set of examples!
Have you ever had a panic attack? One where you thought for certain that you were going to die? If you have ever experienced it, there is a very important question for you to consider. Did you die? No. Otherwise, you would not be reading this! However, the awful thoughts of anxiety and its panic relative are persistent. It is somewhat like being forced to watch a lousy show on TV without being able to change the channel or shut the TV off. Understand though that there are things available to you to help change the channel to get to the point that those bad shows no longer exist in the DVR of your mind. This is the transforming, the renewing, the renovation of your mind that the bible talks about!
If the symptoms are bad enough that they interfere with your life or the lives of your loved ones, get help. You do not just have to pursue just one avenue of help. It’s okay to talk to a medical professional, a counselor or your pastor. And it is okay to try medications if your doctor prescribes them for you.
Medical Help For Brain Disorders
Understand that help consists of treatments that are not cures, but the treatments can often help you manage symptoms to live a normal life. Also, many probably can muddle their way through and get by without interventions, but why function at your worst when you could be at your best? Even if it’s not a perfect solution, it could be extremely better.
You are seeking help by reading this or joining in on the gatherings where we discuss anxiety and its relatives. So let us discover help together. The goal for anything you try is to get to the point that the avenues of ingress our enemy uses in your brain are closed down. This brings us to beginning to understand where the spiritual meets the physical as far as our brains are concerned.
The Field of the Mind Example
Imagine a pristine wheat field with the grains on top of the stalks being white and ready for harvest. You are above this field sitting on a hillside observing it. Can you imagine this field of grain waving back and forth in a slight breeze? Now imagine a groundhog making its way from one edge of this field to the other. Can you imagine a small path of wheat stalks being flattened and a path appearing from your overwatch position?
Now imagine a larger animal, maybe a coyote, following the same path the groundhog made. The coyote would make the path wider. Later, a buffalo comes along. He sees the path the coyote made and follows it making it even wider. That little groundhog path has now become a super-highway of access from one side of that field to the other. Now, as you are watching, other paths are being formed starting with small animals along with bigger animals noticing the small paths making paths bigger and bigger. Soon, the entire field is overrun with pathways.
This is exactly how your brain works!
Neural pathways start out as small, or weakly connected, pathways of circuits in your brain for information to be stored and to travel. Neurons in your brain strengthen connections between each other as the neurons keep firing as they are stimulated. The more stimulation a neural pathway receives, the stronger the neuronal connections become. However, the opposite is true of pathways that do not get used. They weaken and disintegrate. This would be like new wheat growing in the trodden field to cover the paths the animals had made.
In Ephesians 6:11 (KJV), the apostle Paul said for us to, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
“Wiles” in Greek is Methodeia (meth-oh-die-ah). Partly defined as “traveling over.” It is a combination of Greek metah (meh-TAH) “amid” and hodeuō (hah-doo-oh) “traveling.” Consider it as Satan’s method of traveling over pathways we have already established in our minds in order to get access to accomplish his threefold ministry of stealing, killing and destroying. Jesus said in John 10:10 (KJV) that, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
We establish, strengthen or cause to weaken neural pathways in our minds on a daily basis. Whether it is an artifact of the Internet or an actual Native American proverb, the story of two wolves inside a person fighting for control is a good way to think about these neural pathways we form in our minds. The story is supposed to be about a Cherokee boy telling his grandfather about the two wolves fighting inside him for control. One represented good and one represented evil. The boy asked his grandfather which wolf would win the fight. The grandfather advised the boy that the wolf that would win would be the wolf that was fed.
What’s the word say about our enemy, Satan?
1 Peter 5:8-11 (KJV) [emphasis mine] warns us to, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
There is more to that “wiles” word in Ephesians, and I invite you to study the etymology of the word yourself. However, also note that it has a history in meaning a hook as in fishhook or a weapon with a hook-shaped end. Taking advantage of a thought pathway in your mind is how Satan gets his hooks into you to steal from you, kill you and destroy you.
In Job, we have another statement. This time from Satan himself, and it is about his methods of attempting to gain access to us to use his three-pronged system of destruction. Job 1:6-7 (ISV) says, “One day, divine beings presented themselves to the LORD, and Satan accompanied them. The LORD asked Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ In response, Satan answered the LORD, ‘From wandering all over the earth and walking back and forth throughout it.'”
What is he looking for as he wanders? He is not interested in the beauty of Niagara Falls or freshly fallen snow in a meadow surrounded by a pine forest. He is not interested in the colors of a radiant sunset as seen from a sandy beach in Hawaii. And, other than the example of Jesus sending demons into swine, I cannot think of another example in the bible where Satan, and the fallen angels like him, had any interest in accessing animals. The wandering over the earth in Peter and Job point to a spiritual being attempting to gain access to the physical minds of human beings.
A human being is a body, a soul (mind) and a spirit. The place where the spirit and body connect is in the mind. This is why religion and science have difficulty fully reconciling. Science knows that medications that seem to fix problems that can occur with the functional aspects of the brains of some patients may have minimal or no effect on other patients. On the spiritual side of religion that views problems with thoughts as purely being spiritual problems, there is a loss to explain why medications and therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, are such a help to people suffering with anxiety, panic attacks, depression and other related disorders.
It is because of there being that two-way street kind of thing going on. Medications and other treatments physically alter the brain. Treatments alter the pathways through the wheat fields. This gives relief for many from the troubling symptoms they have been enduring. The spiritual approach does the same thing. You are strengthening pathways in your mind that keep your focus on your Creator and his promises while weakening the hold the whisperer (Satan) has on you to be an offending influence.
Believers say to get the word of God in your spirit as in establishing it in the depths of your being. I think our spirits are fully ready to operate in the truths of God’s word. It is our minds, which are part of our bodies of flesh, that are not. This is why David said in Psalms 119:11 (KJV) “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Heart, in that verse, is the Hebrew word “בל” (pronounce lāve). Similar words mean lionesses and even flame. We talk about the heart of a lion or a heart being on fire. However, here is a word that seems to be somewhere between the literal heart of flesh and the figurative use of heart that we understand as being the center of one’s intellect and emotions—the mind. The access point in the spiritual to control the flesh either for doing God’s will or yielding to Satan. There is a two-way street between your spirit, which is the who of what you are, and your mind of flesh that lives, moves and acts in this world.
This is why Paul, in Romans 12:12 tells us to not conform (to fashion ourselves like) this world, but to be transformed (metamorphose like a butterfly) by the renewing (literal renewing, renovation of the neural pathways) of our minds!
Methodeia has a lot of meaning that doesn’t transliterate well into a single word in English. This is common when moving between languages. Often, words in other languages convey concepts to native speakers of those languages that need more than a single word in our English for us to gain a full understanding of the foreign word’s meaning.
The basic concept of Methodeia is roving trickery attempting to gain access to our minds by using established or by establishing new neural pathways of thought. Pathways that are used with the purpose of causing mental and physical damage that finally results in spiritual destruction. And this methodology Satan uses is what Jesus warned us about in John 10:10. The enemy, Satan, travels to and fro looking for opportunities to steal from, kill and utterly destroy creatures created in the image of God—you and me.
Methodeia is stealing (beginning in the mind), killing (affecting the body), for the purpose of complete destruction (affecting your spirit).
We will learn to recognize the pathways in much the same way as if you were acting as overwatch of that imaginary field of wheat. You will begin to see where the paths are at, and this will equip you to know where to concentrate your resources to shut down access disrupting the steal, kill, destroy methodology your enemy uses against you.
How Neural Pathways Are Formed and Function in Your Brain
Let us take a look at how the physical, the flesh, part of your mind works and how it can get messed up. It is no different than the bleeding example I used earlier. Some things have physiological causes or are made worse because of something physically, or biologically going on in the brain. My pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, so I either inject insulin as a medication or I die. Just like a pancreas can quit producing insulin, our brains can get messed up when it comes to these things called neurotransmitters.
Your brain, among other parts, is made up of neurons. Estimates are upwards of 100 billion neurons are in each human brain. These neurons use electricity to convey signals that are processed in order to move and store information. Neurons have an odd appearance when illustrated. They have a central organelle that keeps each neuron alive, and they have protrusions that reach out to other neurons. Some of these protrusions, called dendrites, receive information from surrounding neurons, and each neuron has an axon—think of it as kind of like a hand—reaching out to send information it receives along a pathway to other neurons.
These neurons do not touch. There is a space, called a cleft, between them. The axons send out information, and the dendrite receptors receive information. The space between axons and dendrites needs neurotransmitters, which are chemicals, to get the information across the clefts. Whenever these neurotransmitters are not physically functioning appropriately, neurons misfire. Think of how gasoline car engine cylinders misfire when the cylinders do not get the spark from the spark plugs or do not get it at the right time. Yes, that is a rudimentary description, but it works for our purposes here.
The neuronal electrical system needs to be adjusted when it is not firing correctly. In a car, you might change the spark plugs, fix the distributor, adjust the timing or replace a spark plug wire that is shorting out. In your brain, you need to adjust the neurotransmitters to help your brain work better. Some medications can help with this. The fix is to help the neurons fire as they are supposed to in order to keep them from being overactive or underactive. When it comes to thoughts, sometimes you want neurons to fire to think normally. Sometimes you want to inhibit their firing to suppress unwanted thoughts.
A neat thing about these neural pathways is that they can be strengthened or weakened based on how much they are firing. You have the power to physically alter neural pathways by doing ordinary things, such as reading a book, learning to play an instrument and just plain old thinking. Problems occur when pathways you want to be quiet start to get loud in your brain. Medications to help brain paths fire in a more normal manner along with working to transform your mind to align with what your Creator has spoken in his word changes everything. But it is not a passive thing. You must do your part.
The Stigma of Mental Disorders Is Nonsense
The stigma of mental disorders is interesting. My thoughts, intellect and emotions are not housed in my pancreas, so no one gives a second thought that I have an insulin pump that gives me insulin to make up for what my body no longer produces. However, my brain is where things like happiness, sadness, anger, passion, intelligence, anxiety and all those other associated things are housed. If it does not produce the correct chemistry for optimal operation making it necessary to take a medication to adjust what is physically not working right, a stigma from our society surrounds it.
Stigma is a mark of disgrace. Society does not care if you take a pill to replace thyroid hormones because you have hypothyroidism, but society looks warily at those who need to boost serotonin levels in their brains or have a need to alter other aspects of their brain chemistry. It is because society does not associate a malfunctioning pancreas or thyroid with social problems that frighten society. Nevermind that a failure to balance insulin in the body could result in hypoglycemia leading to passing out at the wheel, or the fact that some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism can be forgetfulness, inattention and mental slowness. That is acceptable to society, but society becomes frightened when the brain needs adjusting.
I have always thought it humorous and profoundly sad at the same time when I hear someone tell another who is suffering from anxiety, panic, depression or other related issues that, “It’s all in your head.” Well, that is the truth, but it is not helpful. It would be like telling me in the earlier example of bleeding out that it is just mind over matter, and that I should just will myself to stop bleeding. That is ridiculous and so is any stigma trying to be forced on those who need to care for their brain functions the same as I give myself insulin or a person with hypothyroidism takes thyroid hormone replacement medications.
So, if you get anxious in a setting where “normal” people are not anxious, the “normal” people see it as something not being right in your head. They are correct, but it is something physically wrong with the flesh part of your brain. Also, there is a real-life enemy that takes advantage of that physical problem for the ultimate purpose of destroying you. The problem is not because the spiritual being that you are, who is alive and housed in your physical body, is a freak or failure. If you have repented (turned your back on) sin and have put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, the disconnect you once had with your Creator has been repaired. Now it is time to work on that renewing of your mind through a real metamorphosis that the word “transformed” in Romans 12:2 means.
It’s okay to get help to fix physiological issues with our brains the same as it is to take other medication to live. Apart from receiving a healing from God, I take insulin. And I know that it is okay for us to get our brains treated too.
The societal stigma associated with anything that malfunctions in the brain causes many people to resist seeking medical intervention. Some people fear for their careers. One person I know cannot even share all of the details of their own personal testimony of deliverance from a severe mental attack because one of the symptoms the person experienced was a time of hearing voices. If this person’s superiors knew that this person had previously heard voices, this person would be out of a job. (Identifying pronouns avoided to protect identity.)
From my perspective of knowing this person, I could see that there was a definite mix of a spiritual and physical attack on the person’s mind. Satan took advantage of an established pathway that the person had been opening of their own free will in their physical mind for years. Once that pathway was closed, the avenue of ingress or access was cut off freeing the person from the terrible symptoms of severe anxiety and accompanying voices.
Doing Your Part
God’s word is clear. What you plant is what you harvest. Galatians 6:7 (KJV) says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” If you fill your mind with junk, you harvest a crop of junk. If you are self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs, you are sabotaging your own healing. If you fill your mind with addictive things, such as pornography and violence, you will reap the results Satan has in mind for you.
We are instructed in God’s word to think about specific things. The apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:8-9 (KJV), “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
We have been warned by the apostle Peter to be on guard in our minds by abstaining from chemicals, such as alcohol, that negatively affect our minds and to be fully awake acting as overwatch of that wheatfield of our minds. Otherwise, there is an enemy that desires to devour us—to gulp us down in a single bite. We are instructed to be stiff, solid, unmovable and unwavering in our resistance of this enemy. And there is a further promise that if we resist this enemy, he will flee (run away) from us!
1 Peter 5:8-9 (KJV) Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
James 4:7 (KJV) “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
You are constantly rewiring your brain every day. Make sure it is the transformation, the renewing, the renovation of your mind as a follower of Jesus. There is no error in following after the ways of the one who spoke you into existence.
If you do not know Jesus as your Savior, you can know him right now. Do you recognize that God exists and you are separated from God because of your own sin? Furthermore, do you recognize that Jesus paid the penalty of your sin by dying on the cross for you? The bible says in Romans 6:23 (KJV), “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
You can ask Jesus to forgive you and be your Lord and Savior right now. It is called confession and repentance. You confess the fact that you recognize your offenses (sin), and you ask for forgiveness with repentance. Repentance means turning away from. So, you turn your back on sin and turn toward God.
When you do that with words from your own mouth, you are what fellow believers in Christ call being saved. That means the promise of God coming to dwell within you in this life you are living in this body you are alive in happens.
Romans 10:8-10 (ISV) “But what does it say? ‘The message is near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart.’ This is the message about faith that we are proclaiming: If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with his heart and is justified, and declares with his mouth and is saved.”
Jesus said in Revelation 3:20 (ISV), “Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he will eat with me.”
Your Creator has not abandoned you to fate, genetic chance or a luck of the draw, nor has He left you to be at the mercy of a being (Satan) who has no mercy whatsoever. But know this, you are free to pursue whatever you want. You can pursue God or the world. The free will you have been given by God is sovereign. Your will your consequences.
James 4:4 (KJV) “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
God does not want us to pursue certain things because he wants to protect us physically, mentally and spiritually. You are a three-part being. Your existence manifests in three ways. You have a physical body, a soul (your mind), and a spirit. Your spirit needs to be in agreement with the Holy Spirit alive in you as a follower of Jesus. When you function in agreement with God’s will and word, you then live that abundant life Jesus promised. Here is that verse again that was quoted a few times earlier in this article: John 10:10 (KJV) “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Otherwise, you leave yourself open to all kinds of varying degrees of dis-ease, dis-order and dis-tress. Here is another promise from God’s word, and it is found in the last rule on our sheet of rules we are following for this gathering. It is a promise of doing what you need to do to draw close to God with the promise that he will then draw close to you. It is furthermore promised that if you resist Satan, he will run away from you.
James 4:7-8 (KJV) “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.”
You should want it all. You should want to be that new creature—that new creation in Christ—the same as you want relief from the symptoms of anxiety. If you come for two more gatherings, we can be well established on a road of recovery together.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (KJV) “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Do not be like those women mentioned in 2 Timothy chapter 3 who were ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth. Recognize truth and act upon it. Be encouraged to take action. Turn your life over to Jesus. Talk through what you are going through with someone you trust whether it is a medical professional or someone else.
However, please understand that psychiatrists, psychotherapists, psychologists and other practitioners are not likely to accept a spiritual explanation as being part of the cause of any mental disorders. In some cases, your spiritual approach could be seen as being a symptom of a disorder. However, if you think medication could benefit you as far as symptom relief goes, you will need to consult someone licensed to practice medicine. Fortunately, most general practitioners (family doctors) are okay with prescribing medications to help with anxiety and its relatives.
God’s way of renewing my mind did not let me down, and I acted upon, and continue to act upon, it in different ways to walk in the freedom I initially sought after. I sought relief, and I knocked on doors to get it. I asked God for help, and I got it. Do not be passive about this. Set small actionable goals for each day that include learning God’s word, applying God’s word to your life and talking to God daily. He will never betray your confidence. He knows what you have need of even before you ask (Matthew 6:8).
This article is based on the notes and presentation given at Blainesburg Bible Church on Friday, January 3, 2020. This article is under copyright ownership of Cody S. Alderson.