What Missionaries Ought to Know about Maintaining Mental (and Physical) Health

  • Approximate Time Commitment: 20 minutes

What Missionaries Ought to know… does not mean that the author sat down and decided what missionaries ought to know, but that missionaries themselves asked about these topics. During the author’s 35 years of college teaching he learned that if one person asks a question, others probably want to know the same thing—and if two people ask, it was certainly a topic that others need to know about. These are things missionaries need to know because several missionaries have asked about each of them at one time or another.

To read more from the What Missionaries Ought to Know series


Resource Description


A missionary asked, “What do you do when there are so many things to do and not enough people to do them, and there’s no way to prioritize because everything’s a priority? This seems like a no-win situation and can lead to quick burnout. Because of such a high level of ministry responsibilities on the field, there’s no time for rest, renewal, or recreation, much less trying to be proactive and keep the body in shape, or to have quality time with the family.”

In this one paragraph the missionary has touched on the most important factors relating to maintaining your mental and physical health. Let us consider what we can do by considering our priorities.

Schedule your priorities.

The missionary was right in talking about priorities. Some people may tell you to “prioritize your schedule,” but it is much more important to “schedule your priorities.”

When you prioritize your schedule, you constantly feel under great stress, but you may accomplish little of lasting value. You may become one who is constantly putting out fires, rather than preventing the fires in the first place. Prevention is better than cure.

What is most important?

Jesus was asked this question in Matthew 22 when an expert in the law asked him which commandment was the greatest. Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, soul, and mind. Of course, Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 5 where Moses had told the people to love God with all their soul, heart, and strength. The command to love God motivationally, emotionally, physically, and cognitively has been around for centuries, and it is still valid today.

You may say that this command is certainly relevant to your spiritual condition, but what does it have to do with your mental and physical health. Consider the following quotes from an article by Harold Koenig in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October, 2000.

“More than 850 studies have now examined the relationship between religious involvement and various aspects of mental health. Between two thirds and three quarters of these have found that people experience better mental health and adapt more successfully to stress if they are religious.”

“An additional 350 studies have examined religious involvement and health. The majority of these have found that religious people are physically healthier, lead healthier lifestyles, and require fewer health services. The magnitude of the possible impact on physical health-particularly survival-may approximate that of abstaining from cigarette smoking, or adding 7 to 14 years to life.”

The best thing you can do to maintain your mental and physical health is to place your relationship with God on your schedule first. This should be time for at least the following.

  • Spending time with him
  • Talking to him in prayer
  • Listening to him through meditating on his Word
  • Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation

Like missionaries Daniel lived and worked in a culture different from the one in which he was reared. With his packed schedule of doing an outstanding job as one of the three top administrators in the nation, one might think that Daniel would not have much time for God. However, his custom was to be on his knees thanking God for what he had done and asking for his help three times a day (Daniel 6).


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