Thursday, March 22, 2012

Godly Counseling

Somehow in the development of the Christian counseling field a spectrum formed, with counselors using only the Bible on one end and counselors using only principles of psychology on the other end. The primary focus seems to be on the content of what the counselor uses in the counseling session.  Some believe that if you use any “content” containing ideas or practices not found  in the Bible that it is not “Christian Counseling.”  Others believed that if you are a Christian, it is ok to use primarily psychological principles, and that ethically the counselor has a responsibility to not mix “religious” beliefs with the work of counseling. 

 My husband works in the field of worship leadership, and I have often heard him (and others in his field) refer to the “worship wars.”  In past years I think the Christian counseling spectrum could be referred to as the “Christian counseling wars.”  It was almost as if parties at each end of the spectrum considered those who thought and practiced differently than them as enemies. It is easy to begin to describe others who are different than we are, or who think differently than we do, as our enemies.  Yet, it is obvious in the Scriptures that God values “variation” or “difference.”  I do think it is only fair for me to identify that I see myself in the middle of this spectrum, seeking to use both biblical principles (always the ultimate authority), as well as psychological principles that are consistent with the biblical principles. 

When I look at creation, I am amazed at how God created such variety—whether in the incredible assortment  of the color green one sees in the grasses and trees, or in the curious differences in the length, circumference, design of the necks of all the animals of creation.  When I consider how each human God has created is uniquely formed and developed, it is beyond my capacity to comprehend how much God truly loves variety!  Yet, in our fallen nature, it seems that we tend to desire the opposite. We think everyone should be like us, have the same preferences we have, and think like us.  

I am thankful in recent years the “Counseling wars” seem to be dying out and there is more receptivity to understanding the value of counselors from all places on the spectrum of differences.  My purpose today is not to analyze the differences between Christian counselors of all stripes. There have been many books written already analyzing this topic, so other than a few comments, I will not write a lot about this topic.  
I do believe there are actually a variety of “spectrums” that could be identified in the field of Christian counseling.  It is not just all about “content.”  I would like to suggest at least three different “continuums” in the field of Christian counseling.  All three continuums are interrelated and have an impact on each other. These are not exhaustive, but three continuums that I have noted include: 

Content of Counseling:
Counselors using only Scripture     VS           Counselors using psychological principles
Area of Calling:
Discipleship Counseling                 VS           Clinical Work

Character of Counselor 
Not exhibiting the character of Christ  VS   Exhibiting the Character of Christ

Content of Counseling:
This is the area that has probably received the most attention in the “counseling wars.”  The differences in this continuum primarily center around whether the use of principles of psychology is biblical or not.  At one end of this continuum are those who believe only direct content from the Bible should be used in Christian counseling, with the belief that counseling rarely has anything to do with biological changes within a person, and more to do with the choices the person makes(sin).  At the other end of the continuum are those who primarily use principles of human behavior, whether developed as theoretical models of behavior coming from observed conduct, or behavior that is the result of brain activity inferred from neurological science.  Theoretical models would include a long list of theorists such as Freud, Beck, or deSchazer.  Neurological science has increasingly produced  more and more data about the brain and how it functions .  Current theorists in this area (Daniel Siegel, J. Schwartz, Cozolino, etc.) are weaving neurological data into theories concerning human responses, attitudes, and mental/ emotional health and diseases. 

There have been multitudes of books written about the “counseling wars,” often called the “integration of psychology and theology.”   It is not my intention to rehash all writers have written on this subject.  (A few examples would include Narramore, McMinn, Coe, Jones, and Johnson).   In recent years it seems there has been a reduction in the “war” part of integration, and the two extremes are attempting to understand each other a little more, and to accept that it is acceptable to have differences in opinion.  Acceptance of the need to respond to clients in a holistic manner appears to be increasing on the part of individuals from each end of the continuum.  God created humankind with both a body and a spirit, and a truly biblical approach will never separate the two. Learning all that can be learned about the brain and how it functions, and the impact of both the genetic inheritance and environmental influence on patterns of behavior and emotional response is important, just as learning how God and His Holy Spirit transforms the mind and spirit of a man is important.  (For more on this topic see the posts titled “Brain Research and Scripture” ,Parts 1, 2, and 3)

There is so much to study and learn both in the Bible and in the sciences if I want to truly glorify God and have my “tools” sharpened to allow God to work through me in helping hurting people.  For this reason,  I have come to the conclusion I don’t really have time to focus on the differences in what I do and practice and what someone else does and practices who resides at a different place on this continuum.  I do not say this to disparage or diminish in any way those who have written about this topic. There have been some thorough and very thoughtful works written about these differences, and I am thankful for the time and effort various authors have expended. But I believe it is time we broaden our understanding of our differences, and the validity of those differences. It is not just “content” that is important in what we do as godly counselors. 

In the next post we will think more about how the content of Christian counseling is related to godly counseling.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Nurturing relationships with others

Nurturing relationships with others        March 4, 2012

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."

You might ask, what does “growing in favor with men” really mean? Other passages in the scriptures encourage us to not be worried about what others think about us and their opinions of us. A close look at the life of Jesus reveals that he lived in relation to others with healthy boundaries, loving them, but not looking for his sense of value and worth from them. This is a great model for us to follow.

Most Christians, when first asked where their value and worth come from, will immediately answer “God.” We all know the “right” answer. But our inner most thoughts and emotions often indicate that we have a deeper belief that we need the approval of men. If you doubt this, just watch how your respond internally when someone criticizes you or responds negatively to you. Do you feel that little “sting” of rejection, or resentment that they don’t like you, or that you can’t quite “please” them? You might have the thought “They really don’t like me, and I don’t know why.” Another typical thought is “What did I do wrong for you to be so upset with me?”  The internal dialogue begins and there is a rehearsing of “I said,” “ or ” he/she said,” followed by trying to rationalize what has happened and why they responded that way. Depending on  personality and life experiences, a person usually either gets angry or irritated (at least internally, and sometimes externally), then feels hurt. That results in either avoiding the offending person (if possible) or expressing your anger to them. 

When I entered my 30s, I discovered in my own life that I looked to people for approval and value.  Up until that time, I had been fairly successful at gaining the approval of others–at least those who matter the most to me. But I began to encounter people that I could not “win over.” It was stressful as I struggled with being hurt by their responses, forgiving them, and then being hurt all over again.  Across time God began to reveal to me that it was impossible to please all people, and not even really necessary, because my real worth and value come from Him. Many times people respond negatively to us simply because of issues they are struggling with. They are not able to respond positively because they had a fight with their spouse that morning, or their teen is in trouble, or they just don’t feel good.  If my value and worth is dependent on someone else giving me approval – which usually is dependent on how their day is going– I am going to have many days that I don’t have much value or worth.

God tells us He values us so much that He sacrificed His only Son so we could have a relationship with Him. He wants a relationship with us. The greatest measure of value and worth for us is that someone wants to know us–know our thoughts, desires, hurts and pains, and understand what is going on with us–good or bad. God is like that. He wants to know what we think and how we feel and what we desire. And, of course, He wants that to be mutual. He wants us to want to know what He thinks, and what His desires are. He is so interested in us that He even knows things about us that we don’t know–like how many hairs are on our head. He knows when we get up, when we lie down, and where we are going. He knows what we are going to say before we do. He knows what is in my heart that even I am blind to at times. Even though He knows us better than any one else that ever lived, He still loves us perfectly. Wow! He values us!

So, when I feel that little “sting” because a person seems to be upset with me (and I haven’t done the wrong thing or responded the wrong way and need to confess and ask forgiveness), the first truth I need to focus on is “It is ok if he/she is upset with me. My true value and worth comes from God.”

Why would this make your relationships with others healthier? If I don’t have to have the approval of others, it frees me to love them no matter how they respond to me. I think this is why Jesus was able to love others so completely–even his enemies. He was very secure in His Father’s love. Twice in the New Testament God spoke out loud about Jesus, and each time He affirmed that “This is my Son with Whom I am very pleased.”  Jesus knew the only One he had to please was God, His Father.

Learn to be content with the Father’s pleasure, and you will be set free! Even if someone treats you in an unkind or unloving way, you will be set free to respond in love because you don’t have to have their approval. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Growing Toward Glorifying God Physically

#3 Jesus grew in stature  --Goals for the New  Year                                        

Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? (Mark 12:30)

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."
In God’s Word, we encounter numerous passages that refer to our physical body and the importance of taking care of our body. Probably the best known verse is I Corinthians 6:19-20  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Jesus was fully human, and had a physical body. It was important for him to grow and be healthy physically if he were going to fulfill God’s plan for his life. It is important for us, also, to recognize that we honor God through our body.

It is one thing to say those words—believe those words—but it is another thing to follow through on what God tells us in this passage.  Gary Thomas, in his book Every Body Matters, reminds us “all the proper doctrine in the world can’t save us from eating away our sensitivity to God’s presence or throwing away years of potential ministry if we wreck our heart’s physical home. We want to pursue God, to serve God, to know God, but we live in a body that often seems at war with our soul.” (location 44 of 2881, Kindle edition).   

For most of my adult life I have struggled with my weight. There have been seasons of time that I have exercised and eaten as I should, but unfortunately, there have been more and longer seasons of time that I did not discipline myself to exercise and eat as I should. God has relentlessly convicted me across the years about the importance of this ongoing battle, yet I have not made regular exercise a priority.

My desire to discipline myself should not be motivated by a desire to “look better” (everyone still ages, overweight or slim) or to “enjoy better health”  (many fit people die of cancer or heart disease).  No, my desire should be to be more holy.
“For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13. 

My struggle with the discipline of what I eat and the effort I expend in exercise is actually part of learning to say “no” to worldly passions and “yes” to living a self-controlled life. 

So, my goal for this year is to exercise consistently--4 days a week, and to loose weight to be healthier. You can see that I have quantified how many days I will exercise, but not how much weight I want to loose. I have set that specific number [Just not making it public. :-) ]  All goals need to be measurable, possible to complete, and beneficial.

What goal do you need to set for this year concerning better health? If you can not think of ways you could be healthier, consider doing some reading about brain health (many lifestyle changes and foods that can impact brain health).
Ask God to give you direction about what He would see as a good goal for you in this area.   A couple of great books to help you would include Gary Thomas' book, Every Body Matters, and Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Daniel Amen.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Year's Goal #2 Living each moment as if God is enough for all my needs..

Using Luke 2:52 as a model for setting goals each year, let's break it down into more practical thinking.

Luke 2:52 "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."
That first goal would have to do with growing in wisdom. Wisdom is a word we hear used with some frequency, but seldom defined. It is sort of one of the "ethereal" concepts that we could probably recognize a person that is wise, but we might not be able to define exactly what wisdom is. 

For a long time I have been impacted by this definition of wisdom: "Wisdom is the ability to see things from God's perspective."  For me, that is a "WOW!" We are so prone to see things from only our narrow, limited perspective. It doesn't seem to matter whether we are thinking about our circumstances or our relationships and how someone responds to us.  But that is one of the tremendous advantages of being a Christian--we are no longer limited to our small, restricted, limited perspective!

And, we have a God, who in His great foresight, has provided us with a lot of information about who He is and how he thinks. In fact, in the New Testament, Paul stated that we should be able to have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16 "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ."

This does not mean that we are able to know everything God knows or even be like him. But, since He lives within us, I believe that He desires to develop His own character and nature (and ways of thinking) into us. Romans 12:2 says "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will."

God does desire to transform the way we think, and He desires for us to learn to think like He does--to understand and know what He would think.  In the Scriptures we have a tremendous account of how God responds, what He thinks and what He desires.

In many circumstances I will not be able to know exactly what God is "up to" or "doing." Job certainly did not know what God was doing! But there is much I can already know about what He is thinking about the situation. For example,
Ø  I know His love is eternal (will never end), so whatever my circumstances, I know He loves me and has a purpose in what He allows to come into my life. (Romans 8:28).
Ø  I know He knows and cares about what is happening--even more than I can ever comprehend.
Ø  I know He promises to carry me through and provide whatever I need to get through that circumstance.
Ø  I know He made me for fellowship with Himself, and that can never be taken away once that relationship with Him has been established.

Applying these types of thoughts toward whatever circumstances I find myself becomes one of the ways to "see my circumstances from God's perspective" or of developing wisdom. Another word we might use to describe this is "faith."

Hebrews 11:6 tells us that "without faith we cannot please God." Then the writer goes on to say "anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."  How often do we find ourselves in some difficult situation and begin to doubt if God really is there, or if He cares?  We catch ourselves thinking thoughts like "God, where are you?" "Why are you letting this happen to me if you love me?"  (WHY always seem to be the big word we get hung up on, just as Job did.) These are times when our faith (belief) in His existence is truly tested, because it doesn't make sense to us that if He is there, and if He loves us, he would not allow us to experience this pain or difficulty.  Maybe we realize that our idea of "rewards  those who seek Him" may not be the same as His idea of rewards!

At this point our faith is truly tested, and we may begin to wrestle with one of the greatest questions of men and women, "Where is God when I hurt?" (or someone I love hurts).

Whether in great or small difficulties, I believe God's heart desire for us to have wisdom (seeing life circumstances from His perspective) is directly connected to His desire that we will truly believe He loves us.  Brennan Manning spoke to this in a video clip I watched the other day--calling this question "Did you believe that I love you?" the most important question God will ask us when we meet Him face to face.

All of this is to say that my #1 goal for this year is to believe daily--moment by moment--that God is enough--knowing that His love is enough, no matter what else is going on around me, no matter what I experience, no matter how much pain or frustration or irritation I encounter, it is ok because His presence and His love are enough.

In practical ways, that means when someone treats me disrespectfully, I can respond assertively--without overreacting--because I know what really matters is "He loves me" (I don't have to have the respect of others to have value). It means when someone doesn't provide the emotional support or kindness or love that I think they should, it is ok because "God is enough." (I don't have to be loved by family or friends, and I can release them from my expectations).  It means when I fail, I can get up and go again because "God is enough." (I don't have to have success in my life to have value).  These are all goals that would be helpful to clients that come into our offices also.

What's your goal related to growing in wisdom this year?  Give it some thought and let me hear from you!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Did you do New Year's Resolutions?

January 15, 2012

Last night I just returned from a teaching trip in Cuba, so this post is a little later than I intended.

Although I am very goal oriented and love planning, I do not always set New Year's resolutions. Since I teach, my year tends to revolve more around the school calendar, with the thoughts of "newness" coming in the fall at the beginning of the new semester, and in the spring with the beginning of a fresh semester.

As I was thinking about New Year's resolutions, however, I began to think about what would I consider important resolutions for the Christian counselor to set as goals for this year of 2012.  The goals I thought about are really goals that each of us should have in our own lives, as well as encourage our clients to work on.  For the next few weeks we will consider these goals--why they are important and how we might go about being consistent in allowing God to transform us (and our clients) in these areas.

For many years when I have set specific goals (whether at the beginning of the new year or at the beginning of the school year), I typically follow the outline found in Luke 2:52 "And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men."  I've always thought if it were important for Jesus to grow in these areas of wisdom, physically, in relationship with God and in relationship with men, it is important for me to grow in these areas also! Of course, these are broad areas, and there are many specific goals that can be set in each area.

With those areas in mind, the broad goals I have chosen to focus on for 2012 include 1. Living each  moment as if God is enough for all my needs; 2. Disciplining my thoughts; 3. Nurturing my relationship with God; 4. Nurturing my body; and 5. Nurturing relationships with others.  Each week we will look at one of these areas, at possible specific goals or objectives in that area both for ourselves and our clients.

Some of you might be thinking "But wait--I thought we were only suppose to work on the goals of the client--not my goals for them."  I believe this is an important distinctive between a Christian counselor and a counselor who does not work from the foundation of God's Word.  Of course we need to work on the goals of the client. Discovering and working on the goals of the client indicates that we truly care for them (agape love) and that we have healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries empower us to work not only on client goals, but also goals that we have for the client. God models for us healthy boundaries. There are numerous ways we see His healthy boundaries in the Scripture that set an example for us in how we work with clients.

God models healthy boundaries with us in the area of His knowledge. He knows what is best for us, since he knows everything about us (even things we don't know about ourselves). He knows how many hairs are on my head (Matthew 10:30; Luke 12:7). That is a lot of detail! I don't even know that about myself.  This reminds me that it is imperative that I have an attitude of wanting to know, to understand, to learn about my self, and to learn about my client.  What else does God know about us besides the number of hairs on our head?

Ø  God knows my heart, even the things I hide from myself.
            I Kings 8:39 reminds us "then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive and act; deal with each
         man according to all he does, since you know his   heart (for you alone know the hearts of all
            Jeremiah 17:9-10 "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?
        "I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, 
         according to what his deeds deserve.  
It is very easy for us to deceive ourselves., but we never deceive God.

Ø  We need help to identify the things that are in our heart that are not what God desires.
            The Psalmist in Psalms 26:2 asks God "Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my 
            In Psalms 139:23-24, the writer cries out to God, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test 
            me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in my heart, and lead me
            in the way everlasting."
            Proverbs 21:2  says "all a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." 

Ø  Often the tests that God allows in our lives reveal to us what is truly in our hearts.  These "tests" are what bring many people into the counseling office.
Ø  God not only knows all that is in our heart, but he knows what the future holds for each of us.
            Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and 
            not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Yet, with all his knowledge, God does not force us to do what He knows is best for us. He allows us to choose to obey or disobey. Of course, we will experience the consequences of our choices, but He allows us to choose.  As Christian counselors we should have those same healthy boundaries with others as God does.

With that in mind, our understanding of the condition of people's hearts and the opportunity to hear their circumstances gives the Christian counselor an opportunity to help the client formulate and work on goals that will be beneficial for the long term. 
Proverbs 20:5 reminds us that "The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out."

Frequently the goals of the client will be enhanced by our understanding (although limited) of what God is working on in their lives.  For example, a couple may come to counseling with the goal of improving their communication skills in their marriage. In their limited understanding they may focus primarily on one thing their partner does that blocks their communication, like interrupting, or a defensive response. If the only goal I work on with them is to change the pattern of interruption, another pattern may develop that is just as irritating as the first pattern. Learning the skill of listening to understand would be a more helpful goal--and come from me, as the counselor. 

Helping Christian clients discover God's goals for their lives may be one of the greatest services we perform for them.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The High Price of Integration: Knowing God is Obedience

True integration of the Bible and Psychology is impossible if we are unwilling to pay the high price of knowing God and obeying him, as well as studying in the areas of psychology. Perhaps the highest price of all is coming to obey God's desires in our own lives. 

Knowing God is much more than knowing about has to do with not only knowing what He says, but also understanding what He desires, and taking on His desires into our own heart and life. Colossians 1:9 “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of god, 11. Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.”

It requires spending time with Him on a regular basis and allowing Him to speak His desires into my life, and my making His desires my desires.  It is that ability to read, study, memorize, and meditate on God’s Word to the point that it penetrates our heart and our lives, and we began to understand how God’s Word relates to our daily thought, choices, desires, and relationships.

Some years ago my husband and I began memorizing large quantities of Scripture. The first thing we memorized was the book of Philippians. As we worked through memorizing this book across several months, studied it, and meditated on it, I was astounded at the things I began to see and realize because I was looking not only at “pieces” but at the whole .I had memorized verses and short passages previously during my college years as I began to really grow spiritually, but this was very different.  As one meditates on God’s word, the truth in it begins to penetrate your life, and you become more and more aware of how God is thinking, and what His truth is.  God’s Word becomes real and living as you meditate on what applying those words would look like, or on what they really mean.  As we continued to memorize more passages, we began to see many interconnections between the passages we were memorizing and other parts of God’s Word we had memorized.  Common truths began to stand out, and the Holy Spirit began to reveal them to us as areas in our lives he was calling us to obey.  

It is costly to spend time memorizing God's word, meditating on it, and applying it to our lives. It means we have to give up some activities that we enjoy, or that bring us recognition. It means we have to discipline our thoughts and our time. 

These same truths are those truths individuals and couples need to hear when they come in with problems related to their relationships, problems, and struggles in life. If I have not discovered God’s life truths for my own life, I will not be able to recognize them in the lives of others. Paul speaks to this in II Corinthians 1:3-4 in a general way when he reminds us “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles,(4) so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. (5) For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (6) If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  (7) and our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

Although I am grateful for my training in psychological principles, especially those that reveal common patterns in thinking and response of people (which actually occurred after we began memorizing large passages of God’s Word), it all pales compared to knowing God’s Word and seeing His truth revealed to help others discover His solutions for life’s problems. The psychological principles or data only reveal what man does, not how man can be empowered to change.

I appreciate and value being able to recognize when there may be a biological basis for mental health problems, such as bipolar or major depression, but even in the midst of receiving biological treatment for these physical problems, people need God’s truth to truly be able to become all He has created them to be. 

Of course, knowing God’s Word, and understanding what God is asking us to do in every day life experiences, is not the same as obeying God. In the majority of situations, God gives all of us a choice about whether we will obey or not. It is interesting how God models healthy boundaries for us. He communicates clearly with us the consequences of not obeying, and the benefits of obedience, but He still gives us our choice. And, He offers us His Holy Spirit to empower us to change and obey Him, if we are willing.

It appears that many of us don’t obey because we don’t know...which is not excusable. We have everything we need to know God’s desires.  The greater problem seems to be wrapped up in the very definition of sin...going our own way, missing God’s mark. Our sin nature leads us to prefer to do what we want to do, rather than to do what God wants us to do.  There is a high price to obedience...death to self. Very few of us are ready and willing to die to our own desires and to die to self.  Matthew 16:24-26 24. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

In addition to this, Heb 11: 6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Intertwined with our resistance to dying to self, is our lack of faith, or belief. Too often we doubt that God least we act as if He didn’t exist. He promises us that He will provide all our needs, yet when he hasn’t provided the cash to go buy a car when our car needs to be replaced, we chose to let our credit card or bank loan provide for our needs.  When our husband or wife doesn’t provide our need for orderliness and structure, we try to provide for our own need by nagging or  using anger to motivate him or her to do what we want. When God doesn’t chose to provide what we think we need, we act as if He didn’t exist.

Or, we doubt that he truly rewards those who earnestly seek Him. When the difficult situations come, we refuse to believe that it is a “reward,” and don’t see how God could possibly use the negative situation or circumstance. We run from suffering as if it were a punishment rather than part of God’s greater plan to develop character in us, or in His people. And we certainly don’t think it is fair to suffer for the sin of someone else. We fail to see, as Habakkuk did, that in God’s greater plan, often those who aren’t guilty have to suffer. It is rare for most Christians today to cry out to God, share our heart and hurt with Him, and at the same time affirm His sovereignty and wisdom. Habakkuk was honest with God about his fear and hurt (3:16) “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. (17) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, (18) yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (19) The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”

Sometimes my suffering is related to people I love suffering. Am I willing to trust God when those I deeply love suffer? When my mom was unable to walk, growing weaker by the day, some days being very confused, and my dad, caring for her, become more and more exhausted and fearful, I had to learn to trust God even in their suffering.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was watching mom take her last breaths, laboring to breathe for two hours before she died.  God frequently asked me “Kathy, do you trust me with their suffering? Do you believe I love them more than you? Will you trust me with your pain and their pain?”

Suffering...none of us want to experience it…we run from it. Yet God’s word tells us we should consider it pure joy when God allows us to suffer. Paul and Peter both tell us there are tremendous benefits of suffering. Jesus learned obedience through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). Our missionary experience seemed to be the school of suffering. Sometimes our suffering was extreme stressliving in a communist country for 2 ½ years, then experiencing a war in the next country we served in. Sometimes it was living conditions...heat, lack of goods we usually consider to be basic to a regular lifestyle, lack of medicine prescribed by the doctors. Most of the clients who come to see us are suffering on some level. If I am to be insightful and compassionate toward them, and have some understanding of what God might be about in their lives, I must have experienced suffering myself.

Perhaps our greatest resistance to obedience relates to our own sinful attitudes we don’t want to release...our pride, our selfishness, and those other core issues of the heart that are opposed to the very nature of God Himself.

True obedience requires Humility–death to pride. Am I willing to be a nobody, if that is what God wants? Am I willing to recognize idols of my heart? Our hearts are deceitful. If I can’t recognize the deceitfulness of my own heart, I am not likely to be able to help clients recognize their own deceitfulness that keeps them stuck in their problems.

What does it cost to integrate God’s scriptural principles and concepts from psychology and science?
  • It costs a willingness to experience death (die to self) to my personal dreams and desires
  • It costs time--a willingness to stretch myself to spend quantity time in God’s word and with Him, as well as to learn about scientific research and data (self discipline)
  • It requires Humility–death to pride (willing to be nobody, if that is what God wants?)
  • It requires me to recognize idols of the heart (heart is deceitful)
  • It requires a willingness to believe in God and trust Him no matter what the circumstances
  • It requires me to evaluate and surrender things: am I willing to live with what God provides? Am I willing to be his conduit rather than just using His blessings?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The High Price of Integration: Knowing God's Word

Knowing God’s Word does take discipline, just like learning about any other topic or area of interest, we must discipline ourselves to spend the necessary time in God’s Word to even know
how God thinks and what He desires.

One of the most simple commands from God, yet most demanding, is for us to study His Word. Even a child can study and read God’s word. It doesn’t take a special high level of intelligence to be able to read, study, and memorize God’s Word.  But it is almost as if we are like Naaman; we don’t really think taking the time to know God, His desires, His wishes, His ways, and His thoughts should be the priority of our lives.

Most Christian counselors are aware of the various ways they can know God through His word.  We can hear the Word....there is an undeniable power in hearing God’s Word (Romans ...and how shall they know without hearing?) We can read His word. With just a mere 3 chapters a day, a person can read through God’s word annually. We can study God’s word. You would think this would be the most common activity for those who are called into God’s work, but there is only a small number who actually study God’s word on a regular basis. We can memorize God’s word, and meditate on it. Memorizing and meditating are the most challenging, and it seems few are willing to spend the time necessary to do this.

All these activities are spoken of in the Scriptures, recommended and commanded for us to obey. But few ever obey these simple commands. It is almost as if we don’t believe what God has told us to do is really important. If we really believed it, we would do it!

We complain about our “weakness” in dealing with temptation, but we forget the simple instruction of “thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee” (Psalms 119: 11). Or when we have difficultly trusting God in the midst of difficult circumstances, we refuse to believe that our faith is strengthened by focusing on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Why do we not make knowing God a priority? Why are we not willing to discipline ourselves to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s Word?  There could be any number of reasons listed, but perhaps at the heart of all of them would be the idea that we just don’t see it as a priority in our lives, even though God has commanded it. It takes time daily to read, study, memorize and meditate on God’s Word, and we are much more interested in using our time to accomplish our own priorities, whether it is time for ourselves to accomplish our desires, or time to accomplish tasks that are directly related to the fear of man (pleasing or impressing others).
Not only are priorities an issue, but even the mental discipline it takes to focus on God’s word to memorize or meditate on it is a major issue for most of us. Our minds are prone to wander, and it requires a great deal of energy to focus our thoughts on God’s thoughts and God’s ways.

As in all disciplines, usually we don’t follow through on them unless we have a plan to be consistent. When I don’t have a plan to be regular in my reading, study, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word, I rarely do it. My challenge to you, as a Christian (counselor) is that you pick one of these disciplines and develop a plan to do it regularly. Write it down and set a reminder alarm on your phone, or include it in your calendar agenda.

Next week we will think about how knowing God interfaces with our ability to apply and practice God’s Word in our daily life.