Mental Health and Ministry: Caring for Others Starts with Caring for Yourself
Our world is becoming more stressful by the day. Events such as the pandemic, rapid inflation, the war in Ukraine, and a host of other issues are stressing people out and taking a toll on our mental health.
As believers, God calls us to fulfill the Great Commission regardless of how challenging circumstances are. In fact, the more chaotic and uncertain our world becomes, the more people are open to new ideas, worldviews, and sources of hope.
God has given us the responsibility of representing Him in our chaotic world. We are the hands, feet, and voice of Christ as His ambassadors, “He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
To reach and minister to people who are dealing with stress, anxiety, fear, loneliness, etc., we need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves. It is hard to care for someone when you need to care for yourself.
Jesus made this a priority in His ministry. Frequently He retreated to an isolated place for prayer during a busy day. (Luke 3:21, 5:16, 6:12, 9:18) He also encouraged the disciples to care for themselves, as He did in Mark 6:31, “He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while. For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.’”
I refer to what Jesus was modeling and prescribing as “self-care.” It is the practice of taking care of yourself so that you can be spiritually, mentally, and physically recharged to care for others.
How do we do this?
Take care of yourself spiritually.
This should begin first thing in the morning so that we have the right mindset for the rest of the day. In the same way putting on glasses in the morning clarifies your perspective, so getting into the Word and focusing on the Lord provides the proper mindset for the rest of the day.
This includes worship, confession, thanksgiving, and dependence with God in prayer first thing in the morning. Offer Him the first fruits of your time and thoughts. This will cultivate your fellowship with God which provides:
- Guidance as you navigate your relationships and conversations
- Priority and focus on things that matter in eternity, including introducing people to the Lord
- The ability to view people through God’s eyes, their hurts, and needs
- Outward focus rather than inward
- Freedom from distractions
- The fruit of the Spirit, including patience, kindness, gentleness, etc., traits that are rare these days
- Availability and awareness that are necessary for us to be used by the Lord in the lives of others
- Power to love those who may not seem so lovable
Maintain your communication with God throughout your day. As Paul encourages, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thess 5:16-18
Take care of yourself mentally.
I want to emphasize two words here: margin and mindfulness. By margin I mean leaving breathing room in your schedule and in your thoughts. Sometimes we pack our calendars so tight with appointments, to dos, and other things we do not have time to allow our minds to relax and batteries to recharge. This can take a toll after a while leading to burnout and exhaustion. There are times when we just need to retreat and get away.
Regarding mindfulness, it means to be in the moment. We tend to dwell on things in the past and worry about things in the future. Over and over Scripture calls on us to focus on the present. (Matthew 6:34, Psalm 118:24) Doing so will decrease the burdens and cares we carry around, allowing us to just “be still” in our thoughts before the Lord.
This may require us to turn off our phone for periods of time. Opening an app on our device can open the door to a new set of worries, cares, and distractions. Take time out from focusing on your phone to focusing on the Lord.
Take care of yourself physically.
Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” He recognized that our physical health is a crucial factor in our mental health and overall well-being.
When Elijah was downcast and depressed after running from Jezebel’s army, an angel visited him. The angel’s counsel was to eat a healthy meal and rest. Elijah was going through tough times but needed to address his physical needs to provide the energy and focus to meet the spiritual needs of others.
We need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves physically as well by eating right, exercising, and getting regular check-ups at the doctor. By doing so we maintain our bodies so that we may present ourselves to the Lord for Him to use to the maximum in in the lives of others.
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