Ageing with grace.

Series: Counter-culture, by Rosie Moore.

“And now, behold, the Lord has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old.  I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming” (Joshua 14:10-11).

Age is no obstacle to serving the Lord! Caleb, at age 85, is a great role model. Even forty-five years after God had promised him a personal inheritance of land, his trust was unwavering (Numbers 14:24). He was willing to finish the job of conquest, believing all that God had promised He would do in the future. Caleb remembered his inheritance, instead of being crippled by his old age.

Although his inheritance was still occupied by giants, Caleb was willing to wield a sword in the Lord’s strength. Caleb didn’t allow himself to dwell on past accomplishments or sink into despair, but remained in active service to God.

This portrait of an octogenarian is very counter-cultural!  Old age is seen today as a time to relax and take it easy, secure a nice comfortable spot to live and indulge in only what you enjoy until you fall off the perch. Pass the time with hobbies, entertainment and healthcare, with only yourself to please and your own aches and pains to worry about. After all, you’ve earned your retirement!

Not everyone lives to a ripe old age in good health, like Caleb did. But I believe that Caleb teaches Christians many important principles about old age, which are instructive for young and old alike. Here are three lessons that we can learn from Caleb:

  1. Old age is harvest time.

Old age is harvest time– for the Lord, not just ourselves! A “harvest of righteousness” is produced through a lifetime of training by our loving Father (Hebrews 12:11Phil 1:11).

As the Psalmist says, “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon…They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green” (Ps 92:1214). Caleb exemplified this.

In old age, Caleb was like a rocket on the launchpad, ready to be released into God’s service! But he didn’t just become bold and faithful overnight. At 85-years old, he was reaping a harvest which had been cultivated throughout his life– as a teenager, young man and middle aged man.

A major growth point was when Caleb was much younger, as leader of the tribe of Judah, when he dared to stand out and speak the truth against the majority of his own people (Num 13:3014:30). He’d learned to fear God more than man.

  1. Caleb dared to defy the crowd.

If there’s one thing that makes our knees tremble, it’s standing up alone against the majority opinion! It’s why cancel culture is so powerful, especially when the herd is vocal, emotional and furious. Yet, Caleb and Joshua dared to stand alone against all the congregation of Israel:

In Numbers 13, Caleb was one of the original ten spies sent into the promised land, but only he and Joshua showed faith in the Lord and his promises. Their outspokenness almost led to them being stoned to death by an outraged mob (Numbers 14:10).

Caleb’s great awe of the Lord overcame his fear of man.

Picture how hard it must have been for Caleb to have spoken up in front of the hostile, frightened people and their fear-mongering leaders, as they gave their report to Moses. Note Caleb’s steady confidence in verse 30:

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.”

Verse 30: But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 

Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:27-33).

After this, there was lament and rebellion in the camp. The people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, threatening to choose another leader to take them back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:1-4). But for a second time, Caleb and Joshua challenged the majority not to rebel against the Lord because of their fear of man:

“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” 

 Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel” (Numbers 14:7-10).

 Mob justice can be a terrifying thing, but Caleb focused on the “exceedingly good land”, which God had promised as an inheritance (Num 14:7). He pointed the people to God’s promises.

  • Caleb focused on pleasing and serving the Lord (Num 14:8).
  • He reminded the people that their enemies were not to be feared, because they lacked God’s protection (Num 14:9).
  • He pleaded with the people not to rebel against God by giving in to fear of man (Num 14:9).
  • He reminded them that God was with them and would protect them (Num 14:9).

Caleb’s words of truth infuriated the crowd, but his boldness was fortified by a right understanding of God. Because Caleb feared God more than man, he had the courage to stand up against the majority, and this boldness of spirit continued to flourish into old age.

  1. Caleb was full of hope.

While the other spies were full of pessimism and cynicism, Caleb’s attitude to the very same challenges was full of hope. His hope was in God’s sure promise to give them the land as an inheritance, not in Israel’s ability to defeat their enemies.

The young Caleb saw the same great cities and giants as the other spies, yet he did not view the Israelites as mere ‘grasshoppers’. He knew that the Lord would help his people conquer the land. Caleb was not so much a man of great faith, but an ordinary man who believed that God was great.

As a result of Caleb’s faithfulness, God promised him a personal inheritance (Num 14:24Deut 1:34-36) and allowed him to enter the promised land. Whereas the Lord judged the vocal majority who buckled to fear rather than believing God, the Lord commended Caleb’s willing and obedient spirit:

“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it” (Num 14:22-24.)

At the end of our race, every faithful Christian will hear our master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt 25:23).

As Christians, our inheritance is secure in Christ— “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). Jesus is the gateway to the exceedingly good and fertile country that He has promised to all those who love him. It is called the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:1-522:12-14).

“He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev 21:7).

Wisdom for the old…

If you are getting older, with diminishing capacity and energy, you may wonder, “How can I serve the Lord in this season of my life? Am I redundant and irrelevant? Must I just look forward to heaven now and retire from earth?”

The Bible’s answer is an emphatic NO! Remember, the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong” (Eccl 9:11). The race is finished well by those who serve God with hearts fully committed to him (2 Chron 16:9). It’s the strength of the heart that counts, not the strength of the body. This is radically counter culture.

But there are unique temptations to resist as we grow older. These hazards are cynicism, pessimism and self-absorption.

Instead, our old age should be rich in grace, generosity, wisdom, love and service poured out to others, particularly younger people in our sphere of influence. The longer we’ve spent trusting Jesus, the more credible and helpful our witness will be.

Just as Caleb was involved in finishing the job of conquest, Christ has given all his followers the task of welcoming sinners into the ‘promised land’ of his kingdom, not with a sword to wage war, but with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. The gospel conquest includes mentoring and teaching believers to walk in His ways (Matt 28:19-20).

Conquest is not just the job of the young and the strong, but also the old (1 John 2:12-14). And so, offer your time, wisdom and experience to your local church. Ask your pastor where you can serve and ask the Lord to give you opportunities to love people and share your hope in Christ. When God or your pastor gives you an opportunity, respond with an eager “Yes!”, knowing that God will strengthen you to do it. Be assured by the words of Caleb and Christ:

 “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Num 13:30). “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Here are four R’s of good fruit in old age:

Resist the natural urge to become self-absorbed.

Reach out and ask young people to share their struggles, so you can support and pray for them better.

Resolve to be an optimistic encourager rather than a prophet of doom and gloom!

Remember that young people have been ordained by God to live in this world, in these times, so cheer them on and give them hope!

Wisdom for the young and middle aged…

If you are young or in mid-life, remember that it’s unbiblical to think that old people should be put out to pasture! Out with the old, in with the new, is a cultural lie that should be boldly rejected as ungodly and unspiritual.

And so, be patient with older people and cherish them; seek them out as counsellors; ease their loneliness and suffering, and treat them as fellow workers in the kingdom. Remind them that the best is yet to come!

Remember that Caleb developed his boldness over many years. So, if you’re a teen or young person, do not be afraid to stand alone against the majority. Get to know the character of God and focus your energies on pleasing the Lord, trusting in his promises and protection. Get in the habit of fearing God rather than man. That way, you’ll grow into a brave, hopeful old trooper like Caleb!


You In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
    my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
    you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
    I will ever praise you.
Do not cast me away when I am old;
    do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come. Amen
   (excerpts from Ps 71).

Further reading:

Finishing Our Course with Joy, J.I Packer, Crossway, 2014.

Biblical Prescriptions for Mental Health (Part 3)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Paul was personally kept by the peace of God, because he was a man of prayer, supplication and thanksgiving. But Paul also chose not to brood on his past sins or victories. Instead, he pressed forward and upwards towards the goal of Jesus Christ and spreading His good news to the world.

Upwards and Onwards.

Paul was in prison when he wrote his letter to the Philippians, but his heart remained thankful (Phil 1:34:104:18). This brings us to the third remedy in the biblical prescription for mental health—Thanksgiving. Paul says we are to present our requests to God with thanksgiving.

Fourth remedy: Give thanks.

When it comes to giving thanks, Paul practiced what he preached and urges us to imitate him (Phil 4:9). Paul is a credible role model if ever there was one.

In fact, the main reason why the letter of Philippians is so joyful is because its persecuted author expresses thanks on almost every page: Thanks to God, thanks to the Philippians for their generous financial support and thanks to Epaphroditus for delivering the provisions at great personal risk. There is no trace of entitlement or self pity in Paul, even in jail (Phil 4:14-19).

Thanks by faith, not by circumstance.

In Acts 16, we see Paul in a Philippian jail cell, awake at midnight, giving thanks by faith, not by circumstance.

Paul and Silas were exhausted, cold and in pain after being mobbed, beaten and bound in stocks. But instead of complaining and feeling sorry for themselves, they prayed and sung songs of praise to God (Acts 16:25). Their joyful thanksgiving was grounded in God’s character and promises, not in their circumstances.

In fact, the main reason why the letter of Philippians is so joyful is because its author expresses thanks on almost every page: Thanks to God, thanks to the Philippians for their sacrificial financial support, and thanks to Epaphroditus for delivering their gift at great personal risk. There is no trace of entitlement or self pity in Paul, even in jail (Phil 4:14-20).

Thanks by faith, not by circumstance.

In Acts 16, we see another cameo of Paul in a Philippian jail, awake at midnight. He and Silas were giving thanks by faith, not by circumstance.

Paul and Silas were exhausted, cold and in pain after being mobbed, beaten and bound in stocks. But instead of complaining and feeling sorry for themselves, they prayed and sung songs of praise to God (Acts 16:25). Their joyful thanksgiving was grounded in God’s character and promises, not in their circumstances.

In fact, by making a deliberate choice to give thanks in terrible circumstances, Paul and Silas were used as God’s instruments in leading the first Europeans to a saving faith in Jesus (Acts 16:29-3440). The church that met in Lydia’s house was encouraged and strengthened, but it all began when Paul and Silas decided to give thanks and sing praises to God.

In my own life, I’ve often found that the act of rejoicing feeds feelings of joy, just as the act of thanksgiving feeds feelings of thankfulness. Thanksgiving is a matter of the will, not the emotions. In response to giving thanks, the Lord gives us a song in our hearts (Ps 40:3).

But how often do we wait to feel thankful before we actively give thanks to God in everything, as we are commanded to do? (1 Thess 5:18). We may wait forever if the grateful feelings never come!

In expressing thanks, we are acknowledging God as the giver of everything. It honours God to thank him, whilst also reminding us of all that God has done for us. Thankfulness is the cure for spiritual amnesia.

It’s also good for our mental health to give thanks, because we can’t give thanks and simultaneously harbour self pity, self indulgence, self centredness, discontent and many other natural expressions of selfishness. It’s impossible to worship at the altar of self and express thanks in the same moment. Thanks displaces negativity, just as light displaces darkness.

And so, whenever we consciously give thanks to the Lord by faith, in all circumstances, we gain perspective and hope for an uncertain future, knowing that our times are in his hands (Ps 31:15).

Jesus gave us the supreme example of thanksgiving on the evening of his death, when he took the bread, gave thanks and gave it to them saying, “This is my body given for you.” (Luke 22:19). Paul says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

Are you battling to give thanks in your own life? Do you catch yourself moaning, gossiping, worrying, dreading or criticizing too much? If so, start by thinking of ten things that you can give thanks for right now. They can be as simple as shelter, food, clothes, love, a friend, the gospel …

Then think of ten positive qualities in God and the people around you, and give thanks for these…

Then think of one trouble in your life, and consciously give thanks for this situation by faith.

For thousands of years the Bible has been telling us what science is now confirming: Thanksgiving brings peace of mind and satisfying relationships. Two classic studies were conducted by McCullough and Emmons who formed two groups over ten weeks . The thankful group wrote a list every day of things they were grateful for. The ungrateful group focused on things that irritated or displeased them.

At the beginning, the participants had reported similar levels of happiness, but after 10 weeks, they discovered that the grateful group were happier and their bodies were healthier than the ungrateful group. They noted that neither group changed their lifestyle at all.

Fifth remedy: Look forward

Paul gives us his fifth prescription in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14.)

For Paul, his past included the years he wasted believing that he could earn his way to heaven; dragging Christians out of their homes to kill them, and leading many of his own people away from their Messiah. Shockingly, the men who stoned Stephen had laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul, who gave approval to his death (Acts 7:588:1). How could Paul move forward after being complicit in murder?

We must never underestimate how the past can affect our lives. Past sins and traumas can haunt our minds and impact our present and our future.

Forgetting what is behind.

But when Paul says, “Forgetting what is behind”, he is not saying that we must erase our memories or discard the past as rubbish. Our past is powerful, and if we want to change what we are harvesting today, we often need to examine and change what we cultivated yesterday (Prov 28:13). A person’s past choices have a powerful impact on our present and future (Gal 6:7) — the biblical principle of sowing and reaping.

But regardless of our past, Paul urges Christians to live forward and upward, because we are destined for glory (Phil 3:20-21). We need to consciously live as citizens of our future kingdom, looking forward with eyes of faith, and trusting God to redeem our past.

Paul says, we “strain toward what is ahead”, not by coasting in neutral or dwelling on past failures or victories, but by standing firm in the Lord Jesus now (Phil 4:1). The trajectory of the Christian life is always forward and upward, living up to what we have already attained in Christ (Phil 3:16).

Imagine if we followed Paul’s prescription! I bet that we’d be spared needless anxiety and depression. Our past cannot be changed and God does not want to erase our memories. Instead, He wants to transform them into something good. As Robert Jones writes in his book, “Getting past your past”,

God is bigger than your past. Your memories of past sins and times when you were sinned against—even the worst ones—can be opportunities for life-changing growth. You do not need to avoid, run from, or get rid of your past. Painful thoughts may still intrude, but you need not escape them.”

And so, like Paul, our past can be redeemed into a training ground if we keep pressing forward and upward into Jesus. Our past can help us face challenges with greater confidence, clarity and strength; it can help us handle trials with more faith; it can help us forgive; keep us humble;  enable us to minister to others and show us the need to repent. Our past is never wasted, but it’s also not a place to build a house and settle in.

Fifth Remedy: Filter thoughts.

Finally, Paul gives us the fifth prescription for God’s peace to rule our hearts and minds: A diet of lasting truth and wisdom to feed our minds.

I doubt any generation has needed this prescription more than our internet-saturated culture, which is gorging itself on novelty, distraction and narcissism. Our thought patterns are leading to high levels of loneliness, addiction, fear and even physical sickness.

Paul tells us to focus our minds only on what is good and pleasing to God:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4:8)

Whatever is true…

If you think about Christ’s life and words, Jesus is the embodiment of all these virtues, because there is no man in history more true, lovely and admirable than him. There is no deed more noble and pure than his willing death on the cross for humanity. Thus, if we want the peace of God to hem us in day and night, the portraits of Jesus in the gospels are a good filter for our thought life.

Moreover, if we look up from our devices and worries for long enough, we will be awakened to many sources of excellence and beauty in God’s world. God is, after all, the ultimate artist and Creator of wonders.

Growing a love for nature; reading great books and poetry; appreciating beautiful art and music; singing songs with lovely words; nurturing pure love in family and marriage; preparing excellent food and imitating admirable people are ways to feed our minds with God’s wisdom.

Scripture also tells us to refresh our minds in the living waters of God’s Word (Ps 1:1-3Rom 12:2), because a transformed life follows in the wake of a renewed mind. The Spirit-led mind leads to life and peace, but the flesh-led mind leads only to death (Rom 8:6). The destinations are polar opposites.

The mind sets the course.

If thoughts we meditate on determine our trajectory and destination, surely our global mental health crisis is compounded by the ugly, false, impure, violent, perverse, terrifying and sordid images being projected relentlessly on the screens of our imaginations, day after day?

Our normal day-to-day worries can be exaggerated greatly by the power of suggestion, even affecting our body’s hormones, neurotransmitters and glands. If not regulated by faith, our mind will become a powerful force that rules our lives and sets us on a dangerous course.

And so, Christians must surely ask ourselves and the families we lead: What are we programming into our minds through the books we read; TV and movies we watch; music we listen to and endless scrolling for ‘breaking news’ and entertainment?

Are we inviting our minds and our children’s imaginations to treasure what is beautiful, true and excellent, arousing healthy emotions?

Are the meditations of our hearts pleasing to God, or do they feed our anxiety, despair and lust?

Conclusion: Biblical Prescriptions.

Perhaps you are still asking, “Who is going to protect me? Who is going to help me out of this slough of despond? How can I stop worrying and feeling depressed?” God’s prescription for mental health is in Paul’s letter to the Philippians and modelled in the apostle’s own life:

First remedy- Pray.

Second remedy- Petition.

Third remedy- Give thanks.

Fourth remedy- Press onward and upward.

Fifth remedy- Filter thoughts.

This is God’s prescription for comprehensive peace, no matter what difficulty or grief is confronting us from the past, present or future. There is calm at the feet of Jesus.

Apart from the secure footing that Christ’s death and resurrection provides to repentant sinners, we would have no hope of peace or safety (Isa 57:21). But if we have God’s pardon and his Spirit, we can take all our worries to Him in prayer, and leave them there.

Listen to how sure Paul is: “The peace of God…shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” It’s a promise. (Phil 4:79)


Lord, help us to be like Elisha, who told his servant not to panic when he saw the Syrian army advancing on the city. Help us to stop and pray like Elisha did,  for our eyes to be opened to see that those who are with us are more than those who are against us.
“And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:16-17). In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This lovely song by Andrew Peterson praises the many artists through history who have given us beautiful literature, music and poetry to ignite our imaginations for good.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Bad Memories: Getting Past your Past, by W.D. Jones, P & R Publishing.
  2. The Wisdom Pyramid, By Brett Mc Cracken, Crossway, 2021.
  3. IT Web, FPB concerned about SA children’s porn addiction crisis, By Staff Writer, 24 August 2022.
  4. Effects of Lockdowns.
  5. Gerald Bilkes, How can I stop worrying? Reformation Heritage Books, 2018.
  6. Edward Welch, Depression—The Way up When You Are Down, P&R Publishing, 2000.
  7. Lydia Brownback, Philippians– Living for Christ, Crossway, 2022.

Biblical prescriptions for mental health (Part 2).

Series: Biblical Prescriptions for Mental health, part 2, By Rosie Moore.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

In Paul’s letter to the Philippian believers, the apostle calls his readers to learn from his example, so that “the God of peace will be with you” too (Phil 4:9). Last week, we looked at God’s promise of peace to “guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” and we explored the nature of this peace in the life of Paul.

From Paul’s own life and example, I think we can infer that it is our Father’s will for all his children to experience divine peace, even in the midst of the lowest lows and regardless of our personality type. But Paul also gives clear instructions on how this peace is to be secured and enjoyed daily, for the rest of our lives on earth.

How often do we expect to experience God’s peace without following his protocol set out in Philippians 4:6-9?

In this series “Biblical Prescriptions for Mental health”, I have chosen to focus on Paul’s letter to the Philippians because it shows us explicitly how to trade our anxiety for God’s peace. For the next few weeks, we will explore Paul’s protocol for peace, starting with prayer and supplication.


The Bible shows followers of Christ the way up when we’re down. It’s to replace fretful, cyclical thoughts with prayers—prayers directed to the God who has redeemed us by his Son. And so, anxious thoughts are actually a powerful invitation to approach the throne of grace and to pray in the name of Jesus.

Over centuries, prayer has always been the way up for believers. David’s prayers provide many templates for our own prayers, especially when we’re battling to find words to express ourselves. Here are just a few examples out of hundreds in the Psalms:

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head” (Ps 3:3).

“When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed spirit.” (Ps 34:17-18)

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him. (Ps 40:1-3)

 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me (Ps 23:4).

A special invitation.

I wonder how our prayer lives would be transformed if we saw each of our cares as a special invitation to call on the Lord in our weakness? Imagine if we saw each worry as a renewed challenge to trust in God’s promises to comfort and care for us? (1 Peter 5:7).

After all, didn’t Christ himself invite us to come to him for rest, “all who labour and are heavy laden” (Matt 11:28)?

It’s no wonder our hearts and minds are guarded by divine peace when we pray:

Prayer makes Jesus big and our problems small by comparison. In talking to creation’s King, we are transported out of the echo chamber of our babbling thoughts and disordered priorities. Through our confessions, we experience forgiveness, hope and a true perspective.

But many people are confused about prayer, as we are influenced by postmodern forms of ‘spirituality’ that masquerade as Christianity. Prayer is not what is touted as ‘mindfulness,’ ‘meditation’ or ‘practicing the presence of God’. These are unbiblical concepts that do not resemble the many hundreds of prayers recorded in the Bible or Christ’s express teachings on prayer.

Prayer is not mindless repetition or grovelling, as if we’re trying to manufacture peace or twist God’s arm. Prayer is also not always what we feel like doing.

Instead, when we pray, we unselfconsciously pour out our hearts to God and make specific requests for the sake of Jesus, who died for us. We look outside of ourselves, not to our own wisdom or resources, but to our heavenly Father on whom we rely totally. That’s why it’s so much easier to pray in our mother tongue.

If the Bible is true, then we needn’t ever feel timid about our prayers, even when praying in a group. Should a young child who is learning language feel shy of their flawed speech? Our heartfelt prayers will always be good enough for the Lord, who promises never to despise the prayers of his people. His Spirit will edit our faltering prayers with groans too deep for words (Rom 8:26-27).

And so, there is no unworthiness that can disqualify us from prayer if we are covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ. God accepts our prayers because of Him, our great High Priest. When we obey God’s prescription to pray instead of fretting, He will use our worries to grow our faith and transform us to be more like His perfect Son.


Secondly, Paul prescribes supplication. By adding supplication, Paul is reminding us that we are not to give up praying just because we don’t get an instant response.

Supplication isn’t a quick bedtime or mealtime prayer, but a request from a place of deep humility and desperation, out of acute need and inadequacy. Since God has created us to love him and long for him, when we plead his grace over our lives, we are expressing our dependence on him.

Supplication builds and requires faith, precisely because it isn’t instant and is always subject to God’s will. Supplications attach us to God’s heart, regardless of whether or when we get exactly what we’ve asked for.

Supplications are persistent requests, like the wrestling of Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok river, when he prayed fervently for God’s blessing (Gen 32:9-1224-28). Or like the barren Hannah when she prayed for a baby. “In bitterness of soul, Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord” (1 Sam 1:10-11). God heard Hannah’s supplication and gave her Samuel.

One of my favourite stories of supplication is the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind man. Remember how the crowd tried to silence him because he kept calling out to Jesus? But he stubbornly refused to stop his supplications.

“He cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus did not get annoyed or call Bartimaeus a God-botherer. Instead, he stopped and healed the desperate man (Mark 10:47-52).

Similarly, Jesus praised the Canaanite woman who showed persistence and fervency in her supplications. She too cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.

Even after Jesus seemed to put her off twice, the gentile woman refused to let him go, but knelt before him, “Lord, help me!” she said quietly. The woman prayed boldly until Jesus responded, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matt 15:22-28).

Jesus expressly taught supplication. He said that we should persist in asking for what we need with “shameless audacity” or “impudence” (Luke 11:8), like a trusting child nags a good father (Matt 7:9-11). Jesus said that in our prayers, we should not just ask, but also seek and knock, expecting our Heavenly Father to answer us (Matt 7:7).

And so, provided that our requests aren’t sinful, we ought to continue to pray, just as Paul pleaded three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed (2 Cor 12:8-10). Paul only stopped when he knew that God’s power would be made perfect in his weakness. This was to save Paul from conceit and to demonstrate the Lord’s strength in his weakness.

The content of our prayers and supplications.

Jesus provides the greatest example of supplication for us to follow.

Not long before his death, Christ prayed throughout the night and we have a record of that desperate supplication in John 17. Firstly, Christ asked that God be glorified, and secondly, that God’s people would grow in obedience. Thirdly, He asked for strength for himself and his followers to stay faithful as they faced the great trials ahead (John 17:1517). Christ’s supplication in John 17 shows us the most important petitions we need to ask for when we pray, for these are our deepest needs too.

And so, even if we are not delivered fully from mental or physical illness, the Lord will give us the strength and courage to keep moving forward, to stay faithful and to keep glorifying God in our lives. Whatever God’s reasons for delaying or giving us a different answer than the one we hoped for, we can keep praying for the grace to follow Him more fully. The process of supplication is always good for our soul and our sanctification.

In supplication, it’s good to start by praising and thanking God, to focus ourselves on the character and holiness of God. Then to confess our sins and ask God to reveal the sins we haven’t seen. Then to lay our requests, burdens and confusions at the foot of the cross.

Moreover, the Bible promises that if we pray persistently for wisdom and the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that our Father will grant our requests (Luke 11:13James 1:5-6). We must not give up asking for these promised gifts.

Prayer precedes Peace.

A woman I know well has related some of her own experience of God’s peace following prayer and supplication. I hope her testimony will encourage you to lay down your burdens in this way:

“I often battle with insomnia. I wake up at around 2 o’ clock feeling overcome by anxious thoughts. The more my mind spins, the less I sleep, and the less I sleep, the more my mind hurtles out of control. It’s a vicious cycle I have no power to escape, no matter how much I try to mute the noisy circus of elephants rampaging in my head. I always seem to have so many things to worry about.

Eventually I realized that I needed to take Paul’s instruction in Philippians 4 seriously. I confessed my sins to God. I admitted that I was not obeying His clear word, nor trusting Him with my life. I was guilty of the sin of unbelief and misplaced priorities. Then I specifically asked for God’s help the next time the circus came to town.

This began the most wonderful times of quiet, undisturbed communion with the Lord and a habit I never want to abandon.

Nowadays, as I wake up, I don’t waste time stewing fruitlessly in my bed. I accept Christ’s invitation to pray. I get out of bed and tiptoe to the kitchen to make a cup of tea and light a fire. I sit with a candle (so I don’t wake myself up too much), and read a few Psalms out loud. Then I give thanks to God and pray through each of my problems and fears one by one:

All the things I can’t control or make sense of, I tell God all about them, no-holds-barred, totally uncensored. All the people I can’t save; all the knots I can’t undo; all the wicked injustices and pain in the world I can’t stop; all my responsibilities and plans; all the people I love. I lay them all on the table like a pack of cards, until there’s not a single one left in my mind.

Honestly, my prayers aren’t profound or full of faith at all. They’re often in a jumble and I can’t think of the right words. Sometimes I cry and plead with the Lord to change my perceptions and motivations, as I don’t like the things that rule my heart. Sometimes I just pray Psalms to the Lord and leave it that. I can’t do it better than those prayers of David when he was in trouble.

But my prayers in the night are always followed by a profound peace and deep sleep that I cannot explain. Nothing’s changed but my mind feels light, tidy and swept clean. Prayer isn’t a once-off victory, but a continuous struggling and unburdening of my worries in his presence. It always takes several weeks before the circus leaves town and I’m able to sleep through the night again.”

I think the prophet Isaiah describes this woman’s experience perfectly: “You will be kept in perfect peace, all whose thoughts are fixed on you.” (Isa 26:3)

Biblical Prescriptions for Mental Health

Part 1. The Peace of God.

by Rosie Moore.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Why does the Bible tell us not to worry about anything at all, but instead to know the peace of God in our hearts?

I think it’s because anxiety is actually worse than unhelpful. Left unchecked, it becomes dangerous and destructive. Charles Spurgeon, who himself suffered from depression, expressed it well, “Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”

In this series, I have chosen to focus on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In Philippians, Paul provides at least five practical remedies to enjoy the peace of God instead of anxiety:

1. Prayer.

2. Supplication.

3. Thanksgiving.

4. Moving forward.

5. Filtering thoughts.

A universal problem.

From the outset, I acknowledge that mental illness is a poorly understood problem that I don’t want to trivialize or over-complicate in this series. I realize that I am entering sensitive and complex territory. However, worry is a universal problem that is no respecter of persons. It afflicts Christians and non-Christians alike.

We all worry and get down from time to time, but some people live with daily anxiety, constant fear and debilitating depression. In this area of human struggle, I sincerely believe that Paul’s teaching in Philippians should be vital to our thinking and the way we live each day.

Moreover, if it’s true that the Bible equips us for everything we need in life, then I’m keen to be to be taught, convicted, corrected and trained for life by the Word of God, rather than buying into the world’s solutions for anxiety and depression (2 Tim 3:14-17).

God’s biblical prescription invites us to cast all our cares on the Lord, who gives us his peace in return. It may sound too simplistic, but I believe that the Bible offers the most effective daily prescription to protect our minds in a growing mental illness crisis.

You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t need this particular prescription. I’m just not an anxious person. It isn’t my struggle.” I may have said the same thing in my twenties when I was bulletproof!

But I’ve come to see that mental wellbeing is not static in one’s life. It’s affected by personality, trauma, stages of life, hormones, illness, exhaustion, stress, burnout, loss and many other factors that are out of our control. We may feel bulletproof today, but tomorrow we may find ourselves in a deep dark pit! That was Elijah’s experience after his victory on Mount Carmel. Therefore, I trust that this series will be relevant to everyone at some point in their lives.

I have personally experienced depression and anxiety. I’ve seen how life’s inevitable worries are a slippery slope which may lead to sinful thinking, self pity, unbelief, idolatry and despair. Many years ago, I was helped enormously by a dusty book I found in a second-hand bookstore, titled, How to Win over Depression (La Haye). It was a difficult read, because it was so counter-cultural and exposed some hard truths about myself. But the author gave me hope of victory and the biblical tools I needed to move forward, and in God’s mercy, to overcome. I often revert to this book.

So I am deeply thankful for my own vulnerability in this area. It has taught me a lot about myself, what I am living for, and my body’s responses to stress. It has also made me more understanding of those who suffer from profoundly unsettling feelings of worry and despondency. If you do, you’re in good company.

The Bible gives many examples of godly believers who suffered from mental distress —David. Elijah. Jeremiah. Job. Even our sinless Saviour suffered spiritual and emotional anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane at the prospect of the cross. One of the most honest expressions of true depression is preserved for our benefit in Psalm 88. Heman’s prayer concludes with these words: “Darkness is my only friend.”

Now that’s not exactly a hopeful way to start this series! But it’s also the very real perception of a person who is deeply downcast, even if their perceptions are distorted and obscured. As much as we’d like to, we can’t just snap out of it. The mind doesn’t always take its own advice. We need external, supernatural help, which is what God promises us in the Holy Spirit.

Do not be anxious about anything.

“Don’t be anxious about anything!” That’s pretty comprehensive. Paul couldn’t have given us a clearer instruction, but the clearest commands are sometimes the hardest to apply in real life.

The principle is this: When it comes to chronically anxious and negative thought patterns, obedience has to come first, even if the feeling doesn’t match.

Throughout the Bible, we are told to actively take charge of all our thoughts, because what we ruminate on will have powerful sway in our lives (Prov 4:23). Anxiety is a thought pattern. In another letter, Paul uses military language to convey the urgency of the matter: “Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).

Our thought patterns can literally lead us to life and peace–or to death. Scripture makes it clear that there can only be one of two pilots in the cockpit of our mind—the flesh or the Holy Spirit. And these two pilots have completely opposing flight plans and destinations:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom 8:5-6).

In theory, we all know that anxiety robs and destroys today and is utterly fruitless for tomorrow. We know that fretting cannot change the outcome of a situation and only breeds more worry. It saps our strength and spills over to those around us. If left unchecked, anxiety causes spiritual fruitlessness (Matt 13:22).

Most of us will admit that worry doesn’t bring us closer to Christ and drives us further from supportive human connections. We recognize that an overly anxious Christian is hardly an attractive advert for family members and friends to seek out Christ!

But all this head knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into helpful action which will achieve the peace we seek.

Stress relief tools and medical intervention can be helpful. Our bodies and minds are inextricably connected, so if we are to be good stewards of ourselves, we need to learn to work with our bodies, not against them, as explained in this podcast.

But ultimately God has given us the best protocol for deep and sustained mental health which affects our body, mind and soul. The Bible’s definition of mental health is to experience the “peace of God”.

Peace of God.

What is the ‘peace of God?’ Isn’t the whole world searching for peace?  In the past, I seem to remember people striving for happiness, money and success, but these days “peace’ is the most coveted prize of all. Perhaps that’s because there’s so little of the genuine article around.

Paul starts his letter with this greeting: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:2).

The Bible promises trusting, praying believers the “peace of God”, which is beyond rational explanation (Phil 4:7). This peace is unique and unlike any other fleeting peace that the world can offer.

Paul is describing an inner confidence in the Lord that springs up within a Christian in a way that is unrelated to the adversities or circumstantial blessings of this life. The peace of God is not a euphoric emotion, but a settled state of being, rooted in the salvation achieved by the Lord Jesus. It is a protective peace that does not abandon us when life gets rough, chaotic and uncertain.

But when it comes to our own wellbeing, often it’s Christ plus our health, Christ plus our family, Christ plus financial stability and the good life, Christ plus a spouse.

But God’s peace is Christ plus nothing. The source of this peace is knowing that our eternal security is guaranteed in Christ’s finished work. Therefore, we are at peace with our Maker. If our trust is placed in anything else, the peace of God will always elude us and our mental peace will just be a superficial feeling that comes and goes.

This is not just Paul’s understanding of God’s peace, but Christ’s too. Peace is linked to trusting Jesus as our Saviour and Lord:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;  believe also in me (John 14:1)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Jesus has overcome! And so, there is no other source of peace apart from a relationship with the Prince of peace himself. It is a divine peace flowing from an objective source: “Being found in Christ, not having my own righteousness, but the righteousness of God through faith in Christ (Phil 3:9).

But this divine peace is not reserved for the elite Christian, nor the Pollyanna type, nor the lucky individual who always seems to land with their feet on the ground. If we’re in Christ, we are just as qualified, and just as able, to subjectively experience the peace of God that guarded Paul’s mind in a dark, cold prison cell in 60AD.

Paul’s peace.

In fact, we are expressly told to imitate Paul’s example (1 Cor 4:15-161 Cor 11:1Phil 4:91 Thess 1:6-72 Thess 3:7-9), regardless of whether we have a melancholy or upbeat disposition.

Consider Paul, the author of Philippians. He wrote these words from a prison cell in Rome. The apostle was a human being just like us, who experienced every trauma and terrifying memory known to man, including literal starvation, cold and nakedness (2 Tim 4:13212 Cor 11:27); shipwrecks, severe illness (Gal 4:13-142 Cor 4:7-8); mobbings and stonings (Gal 4:13-14Acts 14:192 Cor 11:23-29). If you want to feel better about your troubles, just read about Paul’s!

Every time a guard walked by, Paul would have remembered his numerous beatings with whips and rods at the hands of authorities. He knew what it was to “despair even of life” (2 Cor 1:8).

As an elderly man, Paul’s mind must have been haunted by regrets of a sinful past as a murderer of Christians (1 Tim 1:12-17). He would have regretted all those wasted years believing he could earn his way to heaven and misleading fellow Jews.

By the time he wrote his letter to the Philippians, Paul had been expelled from his place of worship and cast out by leading Jews, who plotted to take his life (Acts 13:4550Acts 17:5-7Acts 18:6Acts 20:3). Exclusion and death threats are hardly conducive to mental health.

And perhaps most painful of all, Paul was deserted, neglected and betrayed by fellow believers (Phil 4:15Acts 15:382 Tim 1:154:1016Gal 6:17). These are intensely traumatic and stressful events for any human to endure.

And yet, it strikes me that throughout his prison letters, Paul displays no symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Instead, he expresses his joy in Christ and spurs on other believers to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 1:4-51:17-181:252:17-184:4). In fact, Paul considers joy in the Lord a ‘safeguard’ for the Phillippian Christians (Phil 3:1).

Paul did not only prescribe what is necessary to receive “the peace of God” (Phil 4:7). He practiced what he preached, by praying with thanksgiving, even when worries threatened to overwhelm his mind.

And Paul calls us to learn from his example, so that “the God of peace will be with you” too (Phil 4:9). We can infer from this that it is our Father’s will for all his children to experience this divine peace, even in the most stressful circumstances and regardless of our personality type.

The book of Philippians provides a straightforward, effective prescription for God’s peace, with no hidden side effects.

Join us next week as we explore each remedy one by one—

  1. Prayer. 2. Supplication. 3. Thanksgiving. 4. Moving forward. 5. Filtering thoughts.

I will leave you to meditate on Gerald Bilkes’s words on the protective power of prayer:

“When by faith we are “fully persuaded” that He will hear our prayer, according to his faithful promise, then our faith triumphs in a measure over unbelief. We might not feel like victors; we might lose our nerve over and over again. The confidence we have one moment might be shaken the next, yet God does not leave his struggling children to themselves. They can rest on the promise of his assistance.”

Sources and further reading:

Gerald Bilkes, How can I stop worrying? Reformation Heritage Books, 2018.

Edward Welch, Depression—The Way up When You Are Down, P&R Publishing, 2000.

Tim LaHaye, How to Win over Depression, Zondervan, 1974.

Anatomy of an Epidemic:Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America: Whitaker, Robert: 9780307452429: Books

Cross-sectional Comparison of the Epidemiology of DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Across the Globe – PubMed

The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence | Molecular Psychiatry