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)

Prayer.

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.

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