The world is changing; culture is shifting. Never has safety and security been more desired. What shakes also spills. Pressure spills to the surface. And when struggles become visible, safety becomes more invaluable. We only encounter true freedom and wholeness when we know we can speak and hear truth with no fear of retribution. Look at the ministry of Jesus. He created spaces of safety. He also never blamed people for how they got sick. Jesus' invitations are never based on whose struggles are more easily dealt with. In His Kingdom, in His house and under His care, there is no 'us' and 'them'. Jesus said over and over that He came for the sick, the broken, the oppressed, depressed, those caught in chains. He came for us. Each person, as well as every part of who we are, body, soul and spirit, matters to God. And if it matters to God, it must matter to us. With the world changing so are people's struggles. In years past what worked in prayer and ministry may not work today, because people's concerns and experiences of personal difficulties have changed. And just with anything else we should be growing in how we learn and deliver ministry. God wants to bring people into wholeness. And one of the greatest acts of kindness we can do is provide a safe place in order to witness people's struggles, so that we may love, care for and pray and minister to them more effectively.
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About the Author
Christy Wimber is an author, speaker, and pastor. She resides in Southern California and regularly travels around the world, teaching on a range of subjects to equip and encourage the Church.
Read an Excerpt
A bit of my story
"I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape."
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
I FEEL AS IF I CAN FINALLY WRITE THIS. It has not been easy. In fact, this has been one of the hardest projects I have ever taken on. As someone who has grown up in the church, I feel as if I have spent the last few years unlearning what I thought and had believed to be true, coming to the conclusion that, yet again, I still have much to learn.
I didn't really know life outside of the church except during my older teenage years when I decided that going to the beach or playing soccer was a better idea. I still fight that temptation at times! My parents were saved in the Quaker church and that's where my Christian life began; in Yorba Linda, in a Quaker church on a hill that overlooked the city. I think I was around seven when my parents decided to leave the all too familiar church on the hill and go with their friends, who had led them to the Lord, to be a new thing, which met in a home. These were the early days of the Vineyard movement.
I was still able to see many of my friends, as we went to school together – also at the Quaker church. On one hand, it was great, but there were days which weren't so easy as I quickly found out that my parents were "wrong" for leaving their church. Of course, I didn't understand any of it. I loved my family, I loved my friends, and I loved the Quaker church. I still love the Quaker church and think of myself as a Quaker in many ways. Some of my closest of friends are Quaker and I still believe they are among the best examples of Christ I have ever come across. That was a gift from God to me when I was little, and when we left the only church I had known and adored it was a difficult transition into a new way of life for me. Even though I was little, I still remember quite vividly being a bit scared, shocked, and surprised at what I saw. I remember one meeting in particular where I was wearing a big, red, puffy jacket and someone first prayed for me. What a strange memory. Equally, what the heck was I doing wearing a puffy jacket in southern California? None of it really makes sense, the jacket or the prayer!
Young eyes only can take in so much but, as kids usually do, I adapted quickly, and this way of church became my new normal. I had seen things I was told were bizarre, and some of them were, but I was too young and too distracted to understand any of it. As I grew up and the church also grew, I spent most of my younger life going with my dad to set up the carpet at the local high-school for "night church". I, of course, played more than helped but Sunday nights were fun. I would wear my yellow Rockabilly T-shirt, which was super "in" at the time, and my Levi 501 jeans, which were also very popular then. I had the look! I obviously have the ability to remember the weirdest of things!
Every Sunday night when church ended, some of my friends and I would go behind the black curtain in the gymnasium. That was where the real ministry stuff took place, while we played on all the gym equipment. In the midst of all the prayer, I was always pretending to compete in the Olympics! I saw a lot of people get healed. It became our normal way of life in a very unusual context, which is probably why I can't remember a time when I didn't believe that God heals, and that he always wants people to get well. Just writing that feels a bit odd to me. I am sure that many people didn't get healed, but that's not what I took away from all the prayer behind the black curtain. I understood that people were getting help – meanwhile, in my head, I was dreaming of winning the Olympics.
God healing people has never really been a roadblock for me, even when he didn't heal people when I thought he should! Although I may not have questioned God's ability to heal, I have questioned the human vessels who use bizarre methods and make exaggerated claims. In fact, many times I have disagreed, and flat out disliked the way that the church has handled healing, feeling that there have been many times where it has done more damage than good. Sometimes, the way the church operates looks very different from the model Jesus left for us in the Gospels. I would much rather see the focus to be on the person who is being prayed for, not the one doing the praying.
Being in ministry is full of incredible encounters and opportunities, which is a massive privilege. There are times when God reminds me, "Oh, this is why I do what I do." When someone encounters hope for the first time, it not only changes them, but it changes me. Teaching and preaching at several events around the world for many years now, I always get the chance to pray for people who need healing. I've seen God do incredible things, and for that I am grateful. At the same time, over these last few years, I have not been able to reconcile what the Scriptures seemed to model about healing with what was happening in my own personal life – and compared with what I was seeing empowered on various Christian platforms. None of it was adding up, and I felt the Lord trying to get my attention.
To be honest that is not a new thing for me. There have been other occasions where God has moved me towards things way before it became "popular" or something the church wanted to look at. But I have learned that paying attention to these times is quite valuable. Ruth Haley Barton, founder of the Transforming Centre, wrote in her book, strengthening the souls of your leadership: "If spiritual leadership is anything, it is the capacity to see the bush burning in the middle of our own life and having enough sense to turn aside, take off our shoes, and pay attention." Learning to pay attention is a key factor for those in spiritual leadership. When we don't pay attention, we often lead ourselves and others down a misguided path.
To pray for anyone is a privilege, and the things that people fight or struggle with don't surprise or bother me. My role is to support and pray; God's job is to be present and to heal. In the last few years, I have noticed some changes in what people want prayer for. Instead of people asking for healing from diseases and other physical conditions, there has been a dramatic increase of those wanting prayer for anxiety and depression and other mental ill health conditions. The chats that I was having with pastors and leaders showed an increase in those who felt they needed to be in hiding because of the personal struggles they were having with their own mental ill health. I heard from many who needed to take medication and were ashamed of having to do so. Some even felt that they had to hide because the church wasn't merciful to their condition. Some leaders were even released from their positions when their elders were told of their struggle.
I was heartbroken listening to so many tell their story and found my own heart feeling convicted for my poor theology when it came to mental ill health. I was faced with my own prejudices and it wasn't pretty. I was one of those who landed on the side of judgment. I truly believed that to get depression was one thing, but to continue to live that way was a choice; a choice of weakness.
"Why can't you just pull yourself together?" "Why can't you just stop yourself from freaking out?" Even though I would, of course, pray for them, I didn't get it. For years, I prayed for peace over people's minds and honestly wanted them to experience peace. I still believe this wholeheartedly, but truthfully, I've always been a person who didn't understand why people just couldn't stop making things harder for themselves. I often thought it must be an attention-seeking thing. I saw those who got depressed as weak. Not always, but enough to cringe now when I think about my own judgments; really cringe. I was judgmental about something I knew little about, yet this has been part of my journey. The sad thing is that I wasn't alone in this; it was what I was taught. We all get our worldviews through what we see and what we are told. Mental illness was generally put to one side with the result that those who struggled did so in secret, and those who asked for prayer were often labelled as having some kind of demonic influence. At least, this was something that was often left unsaid, but it was definitely assumed.
It wasn't until I started doing some research that I realized that not only was mental ill health not a "new" thing but also that many people who changed the course of history were deeply affected. Three of the greatest teachers in the history of the Christian religion are believed to have suffered from mental health issues: Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. All appear to have had severe cases of what is now called obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD. It seems each of them had to overcome insurmountable odds to accomplish their calling.
You don't have to dig deep into church history to find that many of the greatest leaders of the Christian faith struggled with poor mental health, according to the many biographies written. It has been suggested that A. B. Simpson, a Pentecostal leader, struggled with depression. Evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers is said to have had a four-year breakdown while teaching at Bible College. Biblical teacher David Pawson reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown halfway through his ministry and couldn't work for a year and a half. Preacher C. H. Spurgeon is believed to have struggled with such great depression that he called it his "black dog". Bible translator J. B. Phillips reportedly suffered panic attacks and several major breakdowns, to the extent that he left the ministry. There are claims that famous hymn-writer William Cowper suffered severe mental illness and attempted suicide. Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, is said to have had a breakdown after writing his famous commentary on the book of Romans. Alan Redpath, the twentieth-century Bible teacher, is thought to have had a major breakdown after he was established as a pastor at the well-known Moody Church. German theologian Rudolph Otto was reportedly a lifelong depressive.
In addition to these well-known Christian leaders, scripturally we find many examples of hugely influential people who suffered with mental illness: Moses was too afraid to speak in public without using his brother, Aaron (see Exodus 6:28–7:7; Numbers 11:15). Saul was psychotic (see 1 Samuel 18:8–10). Many of David's psalms suggest that he had suicidal tendencies (see Psalm 42 and 43). Elijah wanted to die (see 1 Kings 19:4). Jeremiah was known as "the weeping prophet" (see Jeremiah 9:1). Jonah experienced terror, aggression, and depression (see Jonah 4:3). Paul said that both he and other disciples, "despaired of life itself" (see 2 Corinthians 1:8). Also, Paul's "thorn in the flesh" (see 2 Corinthians 12:7) has been a much-debated term and it is unknown whether his condition was physical or emotional.
It is worth noting that none of these biblical characters ever saw the fullness of healing this side of heaven. So often, teachings in churches seem to skip over these realities, and the pain of what they lived with, and focus instead on the triumphant stories of what they did for God. I wonder if we only preach the "good stuff" because deep down inside we are afraid that people won't say "yes" to Jesus if they know that it doesn't mean the instant promise of an easy life?
In 2013, a Lifeway survey found that 48% of self-identified evangelical, fundamentalist, or born-again Christians believe that prayer and Bible study alone can overcome mental illness. That's frightening to me. Not just because we think we carry that much power, but also because that statistic gives an insight into how the church can feel like such a judgmental place. Many people believe that individuals would have power over their mental health if they just read their Bibles more. This has been part of what I have had to unlearn. Sometimes there are areas where we think we know so much, but God has no problem coming in and making it clear that we're fairly clueless. Let me tell you, for a long time I was clueless in the areas of healing and mental health.
None of these Biblical characters ever saw the fullness of healing this side of heaven.
When God interrupted my thought processes in these areas, I began to realize just how uneducated I was. That wasn't, of course, the first time that he had intervened to get my attention, and I don't think it will be the last either! If he showed us everything at once it would probably kill us, but, as in any healthy relationship, we are in a constant state of being stretched by God, and hopefully growing in some way. When we think that we know something, perhaps even that we know more than others, God has a way of teaching us just how far off the mark we might be.
I often remind myself that people on platforms only have one way to go, and that's down! It takes humility to step down, step aside, and allow ourselves to be teachable and to relearn. Often, when we go through difficulties, we don't learn from them because we focus on just trying to get through them. However, just going through things is not what helps us grow. That only happens when we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us. God tends to reveal things to us which we didn't even realize that we needed to know.
God has a way of teaching us just how far off the mark we might be.
I do not believe that God harms us in order to show us his goodness. I also don't believe that he uses forms of pain to make us follow him. God doesn't need to stoop to the level of the devil and his tactics in order to reveal his goodness to us. I do, however, believe that God allows things, just as he allowed Paul to have an excruciating pain (thorn) in his side. He allowed David to have to run for his life; Joseph to be thrown into a pit and then into prison; and young Timothy to struggle with an upset stomach.
There are so many stories where we find that instead of rescuing, changing, or removing circumstances, God allows them. The Scriptures show story after story where suffering is very present and where God allowed it – but also, where there was a deep power within those who were suffering. This is seen in Acts 7:55 when the Holy Spirit came upon Stephen as he was stoned to death. The Holy Spirit gives us power to walk through deep suffering, not just for instant miracles. To believe that those who have endured suffering like this have somehow missed the mark devalues their great sacrifices, and the massive advancements many of them made in the kingdom of God.
The reality is that, no matter how much of the Bible we read, how much money we give, or how many times we attend church, it is often not until we go through very difficult seasons that we are then qualified to identify with those suffering. Comforting someone and being there for them as they walk through something painful can heal the hurt at a particularly deep level, and may also deepen the relationship. How can we really identify with suffering if we ourselves have not suffered? It is not until we ourselves encounter deep pain that we then become sensitive to those facing similar circumstances. Jesuit priest Father Greg Boyle, who works with street gangs in Los Angeles, said, "If we don't welcome our own wounds, we may be tempted to despise the wounded – and they are our faithful guides."
I have felt moments of exhaustion as well as despair.
I have walked through a bit of this with my own son, John, who has had to have several surgeries. I have felt so helpless at times, and the truth is that when I hear of a young mum who has a child with a chronic illness, my heart sinks. I can identify. I can identify what it's like to sit, and to live, in a hospital room. I can identify with the fear of wondering what is happening, or going to happen, with my child. I have felt those moments of exhaustion as well as despair. I have felt like I was missing something or failing as a mother. I can identify with the worry, and even the wondering, about where God is in the midst of it. I have had to walk through this so many times that it is close to my heart. I can not only comfort, but I can identify deeply, knowing what is involved with those who have children with a chronic illness. Let's be honest, not one of us would pick this course for our life. However, it has caused me to be moved with compassion towards those who are hurting and living in similar circumstances.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Wholeness"
Copyright © 2019 Christy Wimber and Katharine Welby-Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Lion Hudson Plc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 A bit of my story 13
Chapter 2 Medication struggle 35
Chapter 3 Body, soul, and spirit: why seeing all of us matters 45
Chapter 4 From someone who suffers with mental ill health by Katharine Welby-Roberts 53
Chapter 5 The stigma of addiction 81
Chapter 6 The spider's web of shame 113
Chapter 7 If God heals, why am I still sick? 145
Chapter 8 The meaning, purpose, and goal of healing 165
Chapter 9 Learning to trust 185
Chapter 10 Seeking help 203