What to Do About Troubled Thinking
- Friday, March 03, 2006
Troubled thinking is epidemic. The most commonly diagnosed mental health problems are anxiety disorders—panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a number of phobic disorders. Not far behind are the so-called mood disorders, including depression, the number one reason for which people are admitted into psychiatric hospitals. Troubled thinking threatens to destroy people both without and within the church.
Our psychological society
Although most churchgoers may never have received a formal psychiatric diagnosis, our congregations include many who struggle with worry, depression, and fear. Whether a person is anxious about paying the bills or contemplates suicide after the loss of a relationship, a common component of most problems is cognitive. Your favorite systematic theology text may refer to this as the noetic effects of sin.
Regardless of what you call it, our mental distress typically is tied to what we think, and what we think has everything to do with how we view God. This is good news for the pastor! Too often we have been tempted to wonder whether we can really help those who struggle with troubled thinking. We may have listened to those who espouse that individuals no longer need theology. But the truth is that we really can make a difference in the lives of people by helping them to think about God. Ministering God’s Word to God’s people corporately (preaching) and individually (counseling) enables them to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the knowledge of Him that transforms every aspect of our lives, including how we think.
Who is counseling whom?
A practical example of how one’s view of God influences how he thinks is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. First, remember that Paul was in jail, the recipients of his letter were not in jail, and he wrote to encourage his readers to rejoice. This is the exact opposite of what usually happens. More often people who are free write letters to the incarcerated, trying to cheer them up. Yet Paul’s view of God so radically controlled how he thought that he not only rejoiced while in prison (Philippians 1:12–18), he was burdened that other believers should learn to do the same! Paul focuses on the practical application of three foundational doctrines. While they are foundational in nature, they are crucial for anyone who desires to think aright. All three are sure to be covered in the typical theology class, yet their implications for living are nothing short of life-transforming! Those who seek to remedy their troubled thinking must study and meditate on these doctrines.
There are three basic Christian doctrines that should replace troubled thinking: God graciously saved us, God is continually with us, and God always hears us.
1. God graciously saved us (Philippians 4:4). To be a Christian is to rejoice—not just some of the time, but always. The theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is encapsulated in this simple command: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” As if he anticipated objections from the readers, the apostle adds: “Again I say, Rejoice.” Obedience to this command is possible only as we realize that our joy is found “in the Lord.” We should constantly rejoice in the God who saved us from sin!
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