We are privileged to have Pastor Mark Smith from Refuge Church on the show today to discuss the topic of healthier theology surrounding healing and suffering.
-Why God doesn’t heal everyone who prays for healing?
-The struggle between relying on God’s control and the reality of coping with pain and suffering in this world.
-Pastor Mark’s personal experiences about how he has learned to depend on God through difficult times.
-The need to address mental health and counseling in the church and finding a healthy understanding of emotional health and spiritual health.
-How Christianity is unique in its approach to suffering and death.
Scripture verses mentioned in this episode:
Mark 9:14-29 – Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
1 Timothy 6:5
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 95. Today on the show I have with me Pastor Mark Smith with Refuge Church in Nashville, which is a bilingual congregation and Pastor Mark preaches in English and Spanish, which is pretty cool. And this was a church that Steve was going to prior to us getting together and getting married.
And then, since you guys are so far away from us, not too far, but you’re far enough that it’s hard to get there. We kind of made the decision to. Go closer to home, but enjoyed coming quite a bit during Covid, while the church I was attending was shut down because they were meeting in a school. So it was a joy to be with you guys during that time.
We, on the podcast, we had a very early episode, as in episode two. On unanswered prayers for healing. And one of the reasons I wanted to do that episode was because so many people were coming to me and saying, I’m praying and my anxiety’s not going away. I don’t understand why God isn’t healing me. But that’s a great interview if people wanna go back and listen to it.
Why Doesn’t God Heal Everyone?
And we talk about the value of prayer more than just kind of getting what we want. It’s about our connection with God and communicating with him. God’s always working behind the scenes and a lot of times we don’t know what he’s doing or how he’s using these situations in our lives. And I wanna bring up this topic of healing back around.
I don’t know Pastor Mark if pastors do this, but as a podcaster and as a therapist, I’ll see like themes of things that keep coming back around, coming back around. And I’m like, maybe we needed to talk about that a little bit more because it seems to be something like God’s bringing up over and over again. Do you find that’s true?
Pastor Mark: Oh, without a doubt. There are moments when, for example, for years I felt like I was butting up my head against the same. Issues over and over again, and I felt like that was part of the Lord telling me to, we needed to address it as a faith family or whether it was mental health issues or marriage issues, relationship stuff, whatever.
Absolutely. There are themes that come up and with every new kind of season in life, things change and I feel like it’s really important for us to be sensitive enough to it to follow the Holy Spirit and say, Hey, we just have to say, hey, we need to deal with this.
Carrie: One of the themes that keeps coming back around for me, whether it’s in counseling or people that contact our podcast, is, okay, we understand from reading the Bible that there were people that they just, they came up and they touched Jesus and they were healed.
Or Jesus even spoke a word and said, okay, go home. This person is healed. They’re no longer sick. From our self-centred view, I’m gonna call it that. We look at it and we say, okay, God, you could heal me. You could take this away. Why am I still suffering with this? And so if God’s all-powerful and he can just heal me at any point.
Why doesn’t that happen then? People fill in answers. May or other people sometimes will fill in answers for them if they’re talking to people. Maybe you’re not praying enough, maybe you’re not praying the right way. Maybe you’re not studying your Bible enough. What are your thoughts on this?
Pastor Mark: I was telling a few people we were doing this podcast and my only fear in doing this is this is a big issue. And it’s not an easy one. I will tell you even among what people would consider maybe the healthiest of concepts of theology or spirituality, there is a healthy tension between trusting in the sovereignty and the grace and the beauty of God and dealing with pain and suffering on this side of eternity.
How we deal with that? And you’re absolutely right. It’s the most natural thing to look in the scriptures and say, man, every time Jesus turns around, he’s healing someone. He’s helping someone. Why doesn’t he do that for me, and I think there’s a few things, as I was kind of walking through some of this, there were a few things that I thought were helpful.
One. I asked the Lord, I said, God, there’s so many scriptures of healing in the scriptures. Is there one place that I can go that I think would be helpful to your listeners today? And one of the things that I found was the story of the healing of, and if you remember the boy with the unclean spirit in mark nine.
Now, I will say this also, there’s very little distinction in the scriptures, especially New Testament between physical illness and spiritual sickness. Sometimes Jesus says, get up. You’re mad and walk. Sometimes he says, your sins are forgiven, and the Bible doesn’t really give us a clear picture. Sometimes it’s both.
Sometimes they may be dealing with mental illness or demonic depression, or a combination of the two. I think it’s really important to understand that this is not a simplistic issue at all. That story in Mark chapter two. I’ll try not to sermonize. Okay. Cause I know that’s, that’s my tendency. But you know, they’re the Jesus and the disciples are coming out of this mountain of transfiguration where it’s been an amazing scene and they want to build these huts and tents and like camp out there.
And God says, no, I’m no time out. You’re just supposed to experience this and see it for what it is. And then they come back to reality. And the reality is that the rest of the disciples, crowds, and religious leaders are all in this big major debate over the disciples not being able to heal this boy. Now there are some confusing things I would love to help explain because there’s a lot of, I think, misunderstanding about that scripture. Once again, the argument is that disciples can’t heal him and Jesus calls He, it’s kind of a blanket statement to everybody, but he calls them a faithless generation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re faithless because they cannot heal the boy.
Faithlessness comes because they want to use Jesus as a means to an end. You know what I’m saying? It’s about, it’s kind of a results faith. Mm-hmm. They must not have faith because they don’t see any results. And I know we’ve seen that with people suffering through anxiety or OCD, that they’re like, I’m praying this, but I’m not getting the results that I’m looking for.
So there’s either something wrong with the Lord or something wrong with me. Right.
Carrie: Yeah. And so many Christians that have memorized scriptures on God’s not giving me a spirit of fear, pray, and peace of God will pass all understanding. I mean, they know these verses inside and out, taking every thought captive, and they are praying and they are seeking the Lord and they’re still in this wrestling place of suffering.
And I think. We miss the big picture though, like what you were saying of what Jesus was here to do and what he’s here to accomplish, and it’s not about me and my individualistic theology, basically. Yeah. I find it interesting, and I’ve shared this with clients as well in the past, in the beginning of Mark chapter one, verses 29 through 39.
Jesus is healing many people. And then essentially he sneaks away to go be with God. And the disciples are like, wait a minute. Everybody’s at the house is looking for you. Like, what are you doing? And he doesn’t go back to the house and heal the people. He just moves on. And I thought that just kind of shows Jesus’ mission, not that he was not compassionate towards these people, because obviously he healed many people, but he didn’t show up on earth to be a healer.
And that’s something that I think we’ve gotten our theology of healing a little bit confused on, especially in certain circles.
Pastor Mark: Without a doubt. And it’s interesting that Jesus, often we see, especially in the gospels, that Jesus show his power and his strength or his position as the Messiah. But there’s a testimony part of that.
In fact, in that Mark chapter nine-story, the parents finally come up to them and it’s clear that they’re not even believers. They don’t even, they, they said, Lord, help us in our unbelief. And Jesus waits to heal the boy. Because he wants to make it a clear testimony to them, so it’s, and though he does have compassion for the kid, he wants to help him.
But Jesus is seeing a bigger picture that sometimes when I’m in the middle of my problems or my suffering or my issues, it’s hard for me to see the bigger picture that God may have that I can’t see.
Carrie: Yeah, and I was thinking too, as you were talking about that, how many different types of healing stories there are in the New Testament, like you said, some of them are clearly more of a physical nature.
Get up your mat and walk and other ones. Say like the man that was lowered down into the house that actually says, like his friend’s faith that brought him there were responsible. Another one I was thinking about was the man who was born blind. Mm-hmm. And they asked who sinned that this man was born blind.
But then really it was for the glory of God to be revealed. In that situation, and oftentimes we don’t realize how God’s glory can be revealed even in the myths of our own suffering experiences.
Finding the Gift in Anxiety, OCD, and Trauma
Pastor Mark: One of the things I think through my own struggles and issues that I’ve had, one of the things that I’ve learned over the years is how my personal suffering, maybe Jesus hasn’t taken away yet, or maybe I’m still walking through that Dark Valley.
But it causes us to kind of pay attention to our soul care, to our art. And obviously, the go-to for the disciples in that story you were talking about was blame, right? Yeah. Assigning blame. And we see that in mental health issues all the time. Why is this happening? Is it because of my parents? Is it because something’s wrong with me?
Do I not have enough faith? We play all these blame games when if we can get to a healthy point, I believe when we can really pay attention to our heart. And our soul, and listen, truly listen, and I’m not trying to find the silver lining and everything. That’s not what this is about. But I do think it’s an opportunity to enlarge our soul through paying attention during that suffering or that reprocess.
Carrie: It’s interesting just working with people, finding what I call the gift of anxiety, the gift of OCD or even trauma. And people will tell me, I really have become a more compassionate person because of these experiences that I’ve had, or it’s caused me to seek God even more than I would have before. It caused me to get to a place of salvation because of these things that I’ve been through and the depths of the disparity.
I know that there’s many things that we’re not gonna understand, probably this side of heaven. And I think if our lives were easy and perfect on earth, there might be that lack of longing for heaven. What are your thoughts on that? Like if we became a Christian and God said, okay, I’m gonna make your life easier.
You’re not gonna have the same types of physical pain and suffering that other people have. I wonder if we would have as much longing for heaven
Pastor Mark: or a depth of compassion on this side of it either. But yeah, I agree. We are promised is that God is preparing us a place. And I think that that as much of a physical space, I think a, an emotional space where there is true peace and true freedom, but the longing to get there and the journey that we have to get there along the way.
You know, you mentioned someone that may have come out of anxiety or is still dealing with it, but they’re able to relate to somebody else that’s walking through the same thing and there’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood. That takes place with that. I was talking to a group last week. They were actually talking about she was a breast cancer survivor, and when she’s going through that process, she would never have wished that upon herself or, and not even thanking God necessarily for that.
But on the other side of that, the sisterhood that she has with other cancer survivors, she wouldn’t give up for anything. And we think about the suffering that you and I walk through that other friends family walk through, and the longing and the desperate desire to be at full peace with the Lord forever in eternity.
That’s an amazing thing to, to look forward to.
Carrie: Yeah, I know there are definitely been times where I can look back for things I’ve prayed for and I’m like, oh, I’m so glad God didn’t answer that. Like, yeah, that was not what I needed. Yeah, it was what I wanted maybe and what I thought I needed, but it wasn’t actually, I. What’s best for me and I think about my daughter a lot because she’s one.
I mean, if you let her do her own devices though, like she need cat food and all kinds of things and put stuff in her mouth. She wants to mess with the carbon monoxide alarm. There are all these things and she doesn’t understand like, no, like you can’t stick your finger in the socket. Like that’s not appropriate.
My job is to keep you alive. And I think sometimes we’re that childlike in our experience. We think we know more. Like she thinks like, oh, I could just grab this. I can do that, it’s fine. But there’s so many things that we have no idea what’s coming around the bend in our own personal lives or professional lives.
And sometimes God doesn’t give us things because we’re not ready for it. Or because he’s wanting to do something greater down the road, we’re not at the end of the story till we get to heaven. And so that piece is encouraging to me that God’s always continuing to work in our lives regardless of what suffering we’re experiencing.
Experiencing God’s character more profoundly through personal struggles and suffering
This is more of a personal question, but how have you seen some of this play out in your own life, just kind of as you’ve wrestled through like struggles of why has God allowed me to go through certain things?
Pastor Mark: Well, for example, some know that we served on the mission field in Guatemala for, lived there for nearly five years. We lost two pregnancies while we were there and there was a lot of spiritual baggage for us. And I really question, Lord, we’re here because we’re serving you. We’re here because we’ve sacrificed. We sold our cars, our home. We moved over here and why is this happening to us? And so we’re trying. So I’ve walked through trying to blame and trying to figure out, but I will tell you the depth of pain does not match the depth of grace and love that I’ve also experienced through some of that difficulty. Uh, and I know, uh, during, right at the height of Covid, uh, about two years ago between what was going on with the isolation and just in church life and homes and we were all quarantining and, and that kind of stuff.
Between that and some isolations that I had with some family members, I developed panic attacks about two years ago. And ended up having to go into counseling for about six months or so to get to a healthy point again in my life. And I really struggled with the Lord on why I was having to go through that.
Why was I felt like I was having a heart attack every time I went out on my bike and I went up this certain hill. All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was gonna pass out. And I went through all the medical studies and everything and realized it was all related to my emotional health and the lack of control that I felt.
When I couldn’t change the situation, there was nothing I could do. Absolutely nothing that I could do. Now, I won’t say I’m fully recovered. I still deal with anxiety and there’s still moments where I’ve been in tune to my heart enough to know, okay, I’m binging on this TV program because I’m avoiding something that I need to deal with or I’m falling into, or I’m eating too much because of this, or whatever.
But I, this issue of control, God has really opened up a new window of spiritual understanding and trust in him that the lie was that I was controlled in control to begin with. Yes, true. Those are a few things that I’ve learned just through my own personal experience.
Carrie: I think for me, one of the things, and I talked about this on my first episode, really, is I had this kind of formulaic version of God and it’s like a vending machine.
Like if I put in what I’m supposed to, then I’m gonna get out. You’re gonna bless me, basically, like things are gonna go well. And then tragedy strikes and you realize, okay, well this is completely outta my control and it doesn’t matter that I’m going to church every Sunday, and it doesn’t matter that I’m trying to serve the Lord and do these different things.
Sometimes things happen in our lives and tragedy strikes and painful things happen, but it took me on a journey really of who God is. That was really the question. It’s like, okay, who are you? Are you really good and are you really kind? And how are you gonna show up in this season? And he did and definitely changed so much of my view of God.
And I think everything that I go through now has led me to a deeper place of trust, what we’ve been going through with Steve’s SCA, and I’ve talked about that on the podcast. I just remember like when we first got that diagnosis, just every day like. I didn’t understand what was going on. We didn’t have a clear picture of what the future was gonna look like, and I just got up every morning.
I said, okay, God, I trust you. I trust you. I don’t know what’s gonna happen, but I trust you. And God’s just been faithful and he’s been really good to us through this process. And definitely blessed us in many ways that we were unexpected. I think we have this, like you were talking about before, this results mentality about our spirituality.
Sometimes if I put in this effort, it should be successful, or if I do this, then God should do that. And I’ve been reading the book of Isaiah, which is super challenging. I’m just gonna say that it’s super challenging because basically, God told Isaiah to go preach to some people that weren’t gonna listen to him till the city fell down.
That’s a very condensed version, and I’m like, oh, that’s like very far cry from American Christianity, right? I’m just kind of like cut to the core of, okay, God. So there may be some assignments that I have that don’t actually work out into this perfect, amazing success, and that’s okay. You’re still gonna be with me through that process, and I still need to follow through and do what God’s asked me to do.
Pastor Mark: I love what you said about that through some difficult or challenging times, it caused you to think about who God is and help maybe redefining that or understanding a little bit more about that. I think that’s a healthier approach than to say, what’s wrong with my faith right now? Or that results base of maybe I’m not praying enough and, certainly there are spiritual disciplines.
That we should all have, that ought to connect us to God in different ways. And sometimes our anxiety and our O C D or whatever can reveal some pax in the armor that maybe we need to work harder at meditation or work harder at Bible memorization or going on a spiritual retreat. I think anything that reveals more soul care for us personally is a healthy approach.
But often I find God expanding my understanding just of who he is and what his character is about. If I can share it real quick, I was just reading this the other day, but John Piper, who’s one of my favorite preachers, had an analogy between approaching God as a running spring or as a watering trough.
And he said, you know, if you approach the Lord as this endless flowing stream, that’s always replenishing. That’s always there. That’s an amazing thing. But he said, oftentimes we approach God like a watering trough, that we have to refill it. I have to work towards that. I have to perform, and I’m so grateful to the Lord that.
He will not be confined by our limited understanding that. So oftentimes I feel like we always wanna put God in this box. And if we think of God just in those terms, then it’s always about me. It’s always about do I have enough faith. Am I performing enough? This kind of stuff. But if God is truly a, an eternal source of living water for us.
The only thing that we can do to honor that is to bow down and drink from it. Yeah. And we often think about offering God our best, but sometimes we need to offer God our thirst, our weakness. He says, when in your weakness I will be made strong. He says, the prosperity gospel cannot explain what we just talked about.
That theology cannot deal with me coming to the Lord in my weakness and finding strength in him and finding understanding that element of his character.
Carrie: Yeah. That’s so good. Definitely true. This episode is not coming out anywhere near Christmas, but I feel like Christmas is so important to this conversation.
Christianity’s Uniqueness: Finding Life Through Embracing Suffering
Just a sense of God. Becoming human. Jesus coming down to the earth and being with us in the midst of our struggles, that when God doesn’t take your suffering away, that he’s always there with you in the midst of that. What are your thoughts on that?
Pastor Mark: Ooh. Once again throwing me the softballs, but one of the beautiful things about Christianity and our faith, it’s that scripture from John chapter one where it says the word was made flesh and literally made his dwelling among us.
That means several things. Obviously, we can talk about his divinity and his humanity and so many other things we can talk about that he is our high priest that understands and empathizes with everything that we’re going through. But I would say one of the most beautiful gifts of our faith is the gift of God’s presence in our lives where things may not be resolved, I may still be battling physical, emotional, spiritual issues.
I may be walking through a dark valley. But I sense the presence, the incarnation presence of Jesus walking with me, suffering with me through this. And I know there’s a promise of eternity. I know I’m going to get there at some point, but I know I’m not alone. And that is an amazing gift that we celebrated Christmas, that I think you’re right, sometimes gets overlooked.
Carrie: Yeah. In the sense of Jesus being the suffering servant. Yeah. And if we are seeking to become more like Christ, that there are elements where we’re going to have to share in suffering within.
Pastor Mark: That’s another thing that’s very unique to Christianity. No other religion in the world talks about it. It’s our nature turn away from suffering and death. That’s a natural response. And that’s sometimes that causes our emotional life to truly struggle. Cause we wanna avoid everything. We wanna pack it away and we don’t wanna deal with it. But Christianity is truly the unique faith. It says that life is found through death, and that liberation and freedom is found through the crucifixion.
You mentioned Isaiah 53, the idea that he was wounded and afflicted so that we could find life and peace. That’s an amazing promise that we have that is absolutely unique to our faith.
Carrie: I know we’ve gone really deep on this conversation and thrown in a few personal nuggets too. I think it’s really good though, because this is how people who are struggling with anxiety and OCD think, and these are some of the questions that are rolling around in their heads.
I think many people who are in Christian circles that are struggling with anxiety and O C D are struggling from non-biblical theology, from theology that’s coming from man or one or two scriptures pulled out of context instead of looking at the totality of scripture and who God is.
Pastor Mark: Well, I would say a few things to that. I think in general the church has had a negative view of mental health and counseling and it’s kind, it’s, it’s still, it’s crazy to think in our day and time that it’s still a taboo subject for some. And then obviously our church, we have multiple different ethnicities represented in each country. Each ethnicity involved has a different idea of mental health issues and those kind of things.
And so there’s a lot of baggage that we find here that we have to kind of unwrap to help people understand how to breathe. And it’s okay to say, I’m going to counseling right now, or I’m having panic attacks, or I’ve got issues of anxiety that I need help with. And that we can share that burden together and we can pray for one another.
I would encourage those who are out there if, obviously you need to pray about it, but find a church that really has a healthy understanding of emotional health as well as spiritual health. Uh, look for that Lord has taken me on, a journey that I’ve made, a personal commitment to the award that I’m gonna at least.
There’s at least one series that we do every year that is specifically devoted to either anxiety or some other mental health issue. But we don’t prop that up like it’s mental health month or anything like that. But we just wanna be conscious and aware of that. Uh, some of the statistics that I read say that one in five adults in America are dealing with some kind of mental illness, and that means one in five in our churches are dealing with that too.
And what I often do is, I’m trying to teach or preach here in our ministry, is to always look at through a filter of, okay, God, I understand what this says spiritually and biblical, but even emotionally, God, where does this hit me and my heart? Where does it hit our people and how can we address that emotionally?
as well. Now, I think it’s a healthier approach because there is, and you were afraid to say it, but I will say it, there’s a lot of bad theology out there, okay? And it’s detrimental to people who are just trying to figure this stuff out.
Carrie: It’s so important to have these types of conversations. Wrapping up on at the end of the podcast, I like our guests to share a story of hope, which is a time in which you received hope from God or another person.
Pastor Mark’s Story of Hope
Pastor Mark: I already shared some things about my battle with panic attacks a couple years ago and how God has helped free me from a lot of that. But I will say that I still deal with anxiety. I still react in ways that I know is not healthy. Or I will hear something and immediately I’ll go negative or I’ll come up with five different worst-case scenarios that aren’t even warranted.
My hope comes from being a part of a family of faith, and I’m so grateful, not because I’m the pastor of our church, but. I’m just grateful that I’m a part of a faith community, that I don’t have to perform, that I don’t have to be perfect, that I can have a bad day, and others can too, and we can walk in faith with one another, even with our baggage, even with our issues.
And I’m just grateful that I don’t have to walk in this thing alone. And not only is Jesus walking with me, but I’ve got other believers that are walking with me, brothers in Christ, people that may not seem significant to the rest of the world. But man, they’re so important to my heart. They’re so important to our faith, and I’m so grateful for that.
Carrie: Yeah, I think it helps a lot of people reduce stigma just to hear a pastor say, there are times where I struggle with anxiety or the worst-case scenario, and I’ve had a panic attack before, and I know it feels like you’re gonna die and counseling is okay for you. And so I’ve just appreciate all those messages that you shared with our audience .
I know pastors are busy and sometimes it’s hard to get them on the podcast, so I appreciate you taking the time to spend with me today.
Carrie, my pleasure and I love you and your family and I wish you guys all the best.
I know I asked Pastor Mark a lot of tough questions, but I really appreciate his being willing to take a stab and answer them in a short format version, obviously.
We only have a short amount of time on the podcast to talk about these things, but it’s so important that we do, and I hope this episode challenges you to step back and ask the question, okay, God, who are you? And that you allow Scripture and the Holy Spirit to speak and answer that. I know I’ve shared this on the podcast before, but we get at least one inquiry a week.
It seems now, for a Christian counselor who works with OCD out of the state of Tennessee. Since I’m not able to work with those individuals due to licensure laws. If you have a counselor in your state who you’ve come to trust in has provided really great quality counseling, who is a Christian and can treat OCD, please contact us through the website contact form at hopeforanxietyandocd.com.
You may be able to help someone else that you might never meet, but it would just be a great blessing to us if we could get this referral list off the ground. Hope for anxiety and OD is a production of By the Well Counseling. Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, licensed professional counselor in Tennessee.
Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or By the Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum. Until next time, may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.