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.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The High Price of Integration in Psychology and Christian Counseling: Personal Discipline and Obedience

Learning in the area of psychology is fairly similar to learning in any other academic area. However, integrating psychology and the Scriptures seem to elude many who desire to integrate their practice of counseling and the truth of the Scriptures. Two common themes in the recent writings about integration are the importance of the Bible as authority and the character of the counselor.  Jones, Johnson, Powlison, McMinn & Campbell, and Beck & Demarest (just to name a few) all discuss different frameworks to utilize when thinking about counseling, or when counseling from an integrative perspective. There seems to be two parallel tracks concerning biblical teachings emphasized: the explicit teachings from the Bible about counseling, and the specific words of direction concerning how to resolve life’s problems.  Nevertheless, many Christian counselors, and educators for counseling programs still struggle with finding a balance between using or teaching biblical concepts, and how they “fit” with psychological concepts.  In the counselor education program where I teach, the majority of the students are highly motivated to learn the academic concepts of psychological principles, but the high price to learn just as thoroughly important biblical principles and concepts seems beyond the motivation of many.

Perhaps this struggle continues for many because the price for being able to think “truth” includes allowing God’s truth to “renew our minds.”  (Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this word, 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." ) Integrating biblical truth with principles from psychology requires not only an “academic” knowledge of the psychology and the Bible, but also experiencing first hand the transformational work of God and His Word in the counselor’s personal life. Many Christians have spent years attending worship services in a church, and/or attending some type of regular Bible study in their church. Unfortunately, those experiences do not guarantee the “renewal” of the mind of the individual. I would challenge Christian counselors to explore the need to spend personal time in the Bible reading, studying, memorizing, and mediating on God’s Word, and obeying God’s Word.  Paying that “price” prepares the counselor to be able to recognize God’s truth, whether in specific revelation (the Bible) or in general revelation (psychological or scientific data), and to help clients recognize those truths.

One of the memorable stories of the Old Testament comes from II Kings 5, the story about
the prophet Elisha and the commander of the army of Aram, Naaman who was suffering with leprosy.  This rich story illustrates how God works even in through simple actions. In recent years what has really struck me about this story is how often we are just like Naaman. God gave Naaman, through Elisha, the simple direction to go to the river Jordan and wash himself seven times, with the promise of his flesh being restored and that he would be cleansed. The Scripture tells us Naaman went away angry because he thought Elisha’s instructions were too simple. Fortunately, his servants were able to reason with him, and he decided to follow Elisha’s instructions, and as a result, he experienced healing and cleansing.

As Christians living in a complex, multi-faceted world, we have this same tendency to think God’s simple, clear instructions are just not enough, or perhaps somehow not worthy of our time and obedience.  For example, in Joshua 1:8, God says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”  Apparently most of us don’t really believe this verse because we do not practice it. In the same breath we are crying out to God about how hard it is to trust in Him, to believe in Him (in an every-day-practical way), and how we can’t do what He calls us to do.

What has to happen for us to be able to think “truth” and allow God’s truth to “renew our minds?”   I believe that if we do not allow God’s truth to “renew our minds” we can still know about God and about God’s Word, but we will become like the Pharasees and Saducees, with just an outward “exterior” form of religion rather than the inward transformation that God desires. God desires to build His very character and nature into our lives, so that we think like Him and we allow Him (through the surrender of our will and desires) to live through us. Paul often referred to this concept: Colossians 1:17 to them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  It is important that we meditate on what it means that Christ is in us, indwelling in us. If Christ is in me, and I allow Him to live through me in my response to others, that means His love can flow through me when I don’t feel like behaving in a loving manner. His indwelling Spirit within us is our hope.  Without Him living within us, we are not able to obey His commands and desires.

Ephesians 3:16 allows us to hear Paul’s prayer for the people of Ephesus: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being. 17. So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  Can you imagine being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God? I envision being “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” as becoming a person that when others see me, they would see Christ. That can only be accomplished by His empowering us from within. Numerous times as I’ve challenged Christian clients to act in loving ways, they’ve responded that they cannot do it, they aren’t strong enough.

If I have never experienced God’s empowering love in my own life, how will I be able to help the client?

Paul described this transformation as being an ongoing process that happens across a period of time. He stated in Ephesians 4:13 “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” “Becoming mature” indicates that “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” is not a one-time experience, but an ongoing process. What a great life goal! Additionally, Paul’s prayer for the people of Ephesus is a great prayer for the Christian counselor to pray for his or herself, as well as for the client. Many of the serious relational problems based on selfishness or a lack of agape love would be resolved if the client could “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Perhaps one of the reasons Christian counselors often are not working out of a biblically sound base is that we are unwilling to pay the high price of personal discipline and obedience to know God’s Word, to be able to understand how to apply God’s Word to every day life situations, and to obey God’s Word in our own life daily.
What would it look like if I were to pay the high price of discipline and obedience to know God’s word? Next week I will write more about that.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The final component that enhances bonding or that sense of love is touch. Research shows us that the hormones (vasopressin and oxytoin) stimulated by touch promote a sense of bonding and connection. Just recently I read how holding hands with your spouse can actually can raise your immune system response and lower your blood pressure. Touch is a powerful factor to maintain bounding or attachment between a couple.

How does touch in a marital relationship reflect how Christ loves the church? That’s a great question! For some time I have been seen the value of Gary Chapman’s ‘love languages" as a great metaphor to help couples understand each other and learn how to speak each other’s love language. However, I was amazed when I read his book "The Love Languages of God" and he illustrated how God expresses His love to us in all five languages (including touch), and how we tend to express our love for God through our own primary love language. Many of those who have the primary love language of touch seem to enjoy expressing their worship of God through physical expressions such as uplifted hands and forms of worship that include physical expression like clapping hands, dancing, etc. If Chapman’s theory is correct, touch is a primary way for some to express their love, both to spouse and God.

On a much deeper level, biblically the act of sexual union is viewed as two bodies becoming one-Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." That "one flesh" connection or relationship was meant to be shared with only one other human, according to God’s original plan. Biblically, this type of oneness is unique in that we do not have it with other friends or relationships, only with our spouse.

The unique oneness in marriage is a wonderful picture of the oneness God desires that we have with him spiritually. Among some of the analogies of Christ and the church in the New Testament, the church is compared to being a body, with Christ as the head (I Corinthians 12 and many other passages). Christ considers us one with him.

Often throughout the Scriptures unfaithfulness to God is compared to unfaithfulness in marriage. Jeremiah 2:20 speaks of the children of Israel and their lack of faithfulness to worship the one and only God: "Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute." In the New Testament I Corinthians 6:15 says "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!" Our faithfulness to Christ requires oneness with Him and no other god.

In the New Testament numerous passages refer to the truth that Christ lives in you, or "oneness." Romans 8:10-11 "But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you." Not only are we one in spirit, but just as the sexual union produces new life physically (a child), so oneness with Christ produces new life within us spiritually.

Our physical union in marriage is a beautiful picture of our oneness with Christ. The commitment that keeps us physically and emotionally pure (faithful) in our marriage is a strong image of the commitment each Christian should have to be spiritually pure and have unity with Christ in their relationship with Him. Remaining strongly attached, or bonded to Christ requires this "oneness," just as sexual oneness is a factor in maintaining attachment in marriage.

So, all five factors identified in science to be crucial to maintain a healthy attachment to a marital partner (know, trust, rely, commitment, and touch) are also factors that are crucial to maintain a healthy attachment to God. No wonder God uses marriage as a symbol of His love for and relationship with the church!

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Have you ever felt like you have "lost your first love?" (Revelation 2:4). While Christ was speaking directly of the love of the Ephesian's church toward him, there are many couples that come to counseling and feel that they are not "in love" with their spouse anymore. One of the secrets to maintaining that ‘first love" is commitment. Commitment, one of the strongest and most obvious factors in God’s love for us, is reflected powerfully in the idea that marriage is an earthly picture of how Christ loves the church. Commitment is also the 4th factor essential to bonding for a couple in Van Epp’s RAM model.
The heart of commitment has been described as "how you belong to each other in the relationship" (John Van Epp).Van Epp goes on to remind us that commitment produces a "resiliency in marriage that strengthens a couple’s ability to cope with stress, required separations (military duty, etc), and difficulties. But, it "must be more than a vow made those many years ago. It must be translated into daily promises and actions." What a great description of God’s commitment to us and our commitment to Him! In the same way that commitment produces resiliency in marriage, commitment to God, and an assurance of God’s commitment to us produces resiliency for His children in dealing with the difficulties of every day life. It is essential that we remember that we "belong" to God (Mark 9:41; Romans 1:6; Romans 14:8; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; I Corinthians 15:23; 2 Corinthians 10:7 –just to name a few).

For many years I have thought the heart of biblical marriage, the truest definition of love, is the concept of "commitment." The vows that were used for many years in most churches reflected this concept in the phrase "til death do us part." We committed to love no matter what financial difficulties, physical illnesses, or emotional pains came in the relationship. In a study of how people would describe love and commitment, researchers discovered that about two thirds of the words used for commitment were also used as synonyms for love.

Dr. Scott Stanley (sometimes known as Dr. Commitment) has done extensive research on commitment. He believes there are two sides of the coin of commitment: 1. Dedicated (devoted) commitment and 2. Constraint commitment.

1. Dedicated commitment is the sense of connection, of desire to stay together (bonding)–no matter what happens. Most couples experience this type of commitment in the beginning of their relationship, but it tends to come and go, and can be impacted not only by the quality of the relationship but also by emotional ups and downs most individuals experience. Brain research has revealed that there are several neurotransmitters that impact our sense of bonding or dedication to each other.

"In humans, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch, and plays a part in the human sexual response cycle. It appears to change the brain signals related to social recognition via facial expressions, perhaps by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a primary role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. In this way, oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior. ‘That’s why oxytocin is sometimes called ‘the love hormone,’said MacDonald. ‘It’s said that the eyes are the window to the soul…they certainly are the window to the emotional brain. We know that the eye-to-eye communication—which is affected by oxytocin—is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kind of emotions – love, fear, trust, anxiety.’" (

It fascinates me that eye-to-eye communication produces oxytocin, and that God has instructed us to focus on Him. In Matthew 6:22-24 Jesus speaks about the eyes. "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money." Jesus connects the importance of where our focus is and where our commitment (devotion) will be.

After losing his sight when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, and regaining his sight 3 days later when Ananias came to him, Paul prayed for believers in Ephesians 1:18 "I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." We must focus our eyes on Christ to truly know Him.

Hebrews 12:2 tells us to "fix our eyes on Jesus." The more we focus on Him, the deeper our commitment and devotion to Him will be.

Because the chemicals in our brain come and go, husbands and wives do not always, every day, feel a strong sense of "devotion" to each other. Some days I just don’t feel very "loving." Fortunately God created us in such as way that our commitment is not dependent only on a set of chemicals in our brain. He saw the need for another side to commitment. Constraint commitment (the second side of commitment identified by Stanley) includes the impact of those issues that might keep us committed to our marriage even when our heart is not in it. It would include things like not leaving a marriage due to what the family, co-workers or friends might say, religious beliefs or convictions, staying together for the children’s sake, or even fears of the financial impact. As Christians, husbands are commanded to love their wife as Christ loves the church. Wives, although never directly commanded to love their husbands (wives are commanded to respect their husband), would certainly fall under the command to love your neighbor as yourself. When the sense of commitment due to desire (devotion) waxes and wanes, constraint commitment will often keep us in the relationship until the difficult time passes. Constraint commitment based on our beliefs and convictions about what the Bible teaches can enable us to keep acting in loving ways even on those days we don’t feel very loving.

Of all the factors involved in the bond and connection for the marital relationship, commitment is probably the most reflective of our relationship with God. He loved us–committed to us-- before we knew Him, and before we loved Him. Romans 8 is a beautiful picture of the depth and strength of God’s commitment to us. It ends reminding us that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39).

Not only is there nothing that can ever separate us from His love once we have become His child, but He is always with us. (Matthew 29:20). The most common rationale people give for wanting to get married is to not live this life alone, to have a companion to go through the experiences of life. We always have Christ with us, no matter what we face, what we experience. Marriage is one of the closest reflections here on earth of that wonderful experience of having someone with you to face life.

When a couple or even one partner in the marriage "feels" like they are not "in love" anymore, constraint commitment will enable them to stay in the relationship and to keep acting "as if" they loved their partner. Love in the scriptures is described in I Corinthians 13 as a set of actions and behaviors. Words like "patient, kind, not envying, not boasting, not self-seeking, keeping no record of wrongs, protecting, trusting, hoping, persevering" are all actions that we can chose to do or not to do. These are the words of love, but also of commitment!

These same concepts of commitment in marriage are essential in maintaining a healthy relationship with God. My challenge to you and myself is that we continue to work at keeping our eyes on Christ and our spouse, and we recognize we have the ability to "chose" commitment in our everyday behavior whether we feel like it or not.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Reliability is the third factor  Dr. Van Epp places in the Relationship Attachment Model that will enable couples to maintain healthy connection. 

Reliability is trust put into action.  When your mental image of a person is accurate, they will (unless there is an unusual circumstance) follow fairly closely what they have told you they will do. If you ask them to pick up the children from school, they are reliable to do that. If they said they will be responsible to vacuum each week, they will do it most weeks. You know that they will do what they have said they will do.

Across seasons of life, levels of reliability can shift. For example, when a new baby is born, the new mom may not be able to complete the responsibilities she has previously been completing, and may need to rely on the husband more for some of those tasks. When the husband opens a new business, he may need the wife to complete certain tasks for him in the new business. A lack of reliability almost always begins to break down the level of trust between a couple.

How is reliability reflected in our relationship with God?  Most of us, if asked, would quickly say that God is reliable.  At least in our prefrontal cortex (that part of the brain that reasons and makes judgments) we would assert that God will do what He says he will do. But when it comes to everyday life, we often doubt that God will do what He says He will do.  God says He will provide our every need. The children of Exodus doubted Him when they were thirsty, and began complaining and grumbling, instead of asking God to provide for their needs.  They had already witnessed great miracles from God, including the plagues in Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea. 

We often are quick to doubt God, and not believe that He is reliable.  When we need something, and don't have the money to meet that need, often our first action is to get out our credit card and go purchase whatever we think we need, instead of asking and waiting to let God provide.  When we are in a difficult or painful situation, instead of crying out to God to comfort and strengthen us, our response may be to complain and do whatever it takes to run from the circumstances, or to numb our pain in some way.  Our behaviors betray our words that we believe we can rely on God. Is He able to direct the decisions of  my boss or supervisor? Is He able to direct the heart of my husband or wife? Can I rely on Him to use even painful losses or illness?  Putting our trust or faith into action is one of the behaviors that pleases God most. (Hebrews 11:6  "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

I wonder how reliable we are for God?  As Christians we claim to be His servants.  But how often do we bring disgrace to Him for our un-Christ-like behaviors and attitudes?  How often do people think "If that is what being a Christian is all about, I'm not interested." 

To have a strong bond, a strong attachment between myself and God, I need to believe that He is reliable and I need to be reliable to God. I am convinced that God is reliable...He always is who He says He is, and does what He says He will do. But I need to work on my confidence in that and be sure my life reflects that belief.  And I need to evaluate my own behavior and attitudes....can God rely on me?

Sunday, September 25, 2011


A second factor in the marital relationship that is important in maintaining a healthy relationship is trust.
Dr. John Van Epp describes trust as a mental image one has of another person. That image includes being fairly certain that you know the other person well enough that when you are not together you can still imagine what your partner might be doing or even thinking or feeling. Obviously the level that you know your spouse impacts the level of trust that you experience.

As mentioned in the previous blog, time is an important component in knowing someone. However, for many couples, the issue of time can also be a disadvantage, because once a strong image of "who the other person is" has been established, across time it is easy to become lazy, or distracted by the busyness of life and not continue to grow in "knowing" each other as you change through life. Suddenly the partner may do something not consistent with your image of them, and trust is broken. This especially becomes obvious when one spouse is no longer open about what is going on in their inner thoughts and feelings, both good and bad. Usually you realize a sense of being "shut out" from your partner's inner heart, but may not know how to change what is happening.

Often a partner that gets involved in an affair will say, "We just grew apart, and were no longer connected." The partner not involved in an affair will say, "I don't know him/her anymore."  By this point the relationship feels dead, and unless both of the partners are willing to work on rebuilding their relationship, the marriage is likely to end.

Trust is not only necessary in issues related to faithfulness, but even in areas such as being truthful regarding finances, expenditures, parenting, and many other areas of marriage. When a partner makes it unacceptable to fail or to have a different opinion, it becomes very hard to be open so your spouse can "know" you. No one likes to be critized or mocked, so many will withdraw rather than risk a negative response from their spouse.  The lack of feeling accepted shuts down your willingness for your partner to know you.

So how do these patterns of knowing and trust parallel our relationship with God? We know trusting God (also called faith) is of great importance to God. Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that "without faith we cannot please God, for anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him."  He desires that we trust Him. What is our mental image of God? Is He who He claims to be? Is He truley there, as He says, even when it appears He is not? The difference between my mental image of God, who He is, and whether I can obey Him (even when it seems like a bad thing for me) will be the measure of my faith. If I truly believe God is good, and always doing what is best for me, then I will be able to obey Him even when He asks me to stay in a painful place or obey at the cost of a sacrifice.

To know God at this depth of trust, I must continually work on my relationship with Him. God is so different from us, even in a lifetime we will never fully know Him. As we move through the varied experiences of life we get to know a different side of God. When I have a financial need, I learn more about His provision, as well as His wisdom about the differences between my needs and wants. When my heart is broken over some loss, I learn about the depth of His comfort, and His tenderness. When I fail, I learn about His mercy and grace. When I face a task beyond my ability, I learn about His strength and power.

Without really knowing God, I will not trust Him. When a person begins his or her relationship with God and decides to commit themselves to God, there is an excitement about the new Savior. But the growth of faith requires an on-going growth in knowing Him, His desires, what pleases Him. Too many believers do not continue to grow in their knowledge of God, so they do not grow in their trust of God either. The relationship breaks down, just like a marriage does. In Revelation Jesus compared it to marriage "You have lost your first love" (Revelation 2:4).

May you accept the challenge to allow your knowledge and trust of God be paralleled to the level of knowledge and trust in your marriage!

Monday, September 12, 2011

How is your relationship with God is paralleled in your marital relationship?

Dr. John VanEpp1 has identified five primary factors that play an important role in bonding and maintaining relationship in marriage. There is an abundance of research that illustrates the importance of each of these factors. The five factors are: to know, trust, depend, commitment, and touch.
Marriage is a model, a picture, of how Christ loves us, the church. In Ephesians 5:25, husbands are exhorted to "love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." It is only logical that the five factors that enhance attachment and bonding in a couple also play an important role in our relationship with God. In the next few blogs I want to process a little through the impact of these factors, how they play a part in marriage, but also how they reflect our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is paralleled in our marital relationship.

God knows us. Psalm 139: 1-4 "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord."

He even knows how many hairs are on our head (Matt. 10:30--information we don’t even know about ourselves). If I am going to "love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind," (Matthew 22:37) I must continually be growing in my knowledge of him. That means learning how He thinks, what He desires, how He has acted in the past.

It is easy to slide into a relationship with God defined by what He gives us and what we give Him. Often our conversations with Him become one-sided with our doing most of the talking. God tells us "I don’t want your offerings, I want your love. I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know me" (Hosea 6:6, LB). God created us from the beginning for a relationship with Him. His knowing us and our knowing Him is an integral part of the love between us.

Our knowing God, and His knowing us parallels our knowing our spouse. One of the primary keys to building intimacy is to know someone. If I do not know my partner, how can I truly love them? How can I demonstrate that kind of unconditional, "always looking out for your best" type of love if I do not know my spouse–who he is, what he likes, what his dreams, fears, and hopes are. I cannot understand my partner if I do not know him, what he has experienced in the past and what he is currently experiencing. Knowing your husband or wife is an on-going goal in the marital relationship because we are ever changing, developing, growing, and taking on new roles. We are never the same person that we were 5 years ago–or even one year ago. Life experience itself brings change and development in each of us.

God often allows us to experience a broad variety of life circumstances, and in the midst of those experiences, we often come to know Him in new ways. This is also true of our marital relationship: with each new life experience, we change, and couples have to continue to grow to know each other.

As our knowledge of God-- who He is, His faithfulness and character-- increases, our faith and trust in Him grows. In the same way, the more a husband and wife know each other, the richer their relationship becomes. A great challenge for all of us is to continue to grow in our knowledge of God, and in our knowledge of our spouse.

1Van Epp, John. How to Avoid Falling in Love with A Jerk

Monday, September 5, 2011

Families: Reflecting God’s Glory

This weekend my husband and I had a wonderful privilege to be with a Hispanic church for a Family Retreat. The families had been saving their money since January so they could participate in this event, and around 200 members of the church were there. It was incredible to see whole families with children of all ages, singles, all types of families, to be playing, eating, and worshiping together. I was impressed with how the emphasis was on being together and playing together. Instead of long days of conferences and workshops to learn more "content" there was only one workshop session (2 hours) each day, and a short time of worship or devotion each day. The rest of the time was spent doing activities as family groups (three or four families on a team). Even though it rained non-stop Friday through Sunday night, they played together–even outside in the rain.

Family is one of the major metaphors God uses in the Bible to describe his relationship with us.
Not only do families serve as models of God’s relationship with us and His love for us, (although an imperfect picture because we are not perfect), but I believe family is one of the major tools God uses to mold His very nature and character into us. The family is a perfect opportunity to reflect God’s glory! Where else but in a family are we challenged to show on-going, everlasting unconditional love? Where else but in a family are we pressed to love even when it is undeserved?

Additionally, in a family, there are no masks. Family members see what we really are, who we really are. Our imperfections are highlighted by the reaction of our family members to us and our behavior and attitudes. If we have ears to hear and eyes to see, God can use our family to make us aware of our stubbornness, selfishness, impatience, and laziness (just to name a few areas we have not surrendered to God).

God frequently challenges us to grow in our faith and trust in Him in areas of family relationships. Sometimes it is in the form of financial stressors the family faces, or a crisis in health, or maybe trusting God to change our spouse, or believing that God will provide all your family members need in terms of support when away from home. Children will never have a greater opportunity to learn to believe in God than those years they are at home and get to watch their parents trust God in the difficult times.

One of the greatest challenges and privileges we have as Christian counselors is to work with families. Working with several people at one time is not for the faint-hearted. It is difficult to balance the voices that speak, and desires that flood the counseling room, to manage the quick emotions that surface at unexpected times. But it is rich to see God at work in a transformational way in a family.

I wonder if fewer families would need counseling if more churches had family retreats, encouraging families to play, worship and be together, forming bonds and memories that will never be forgotten. May we all make family unity our goal that God may be glorified!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Within/Without...are they the same?

There must be a quiet place where all is in order, a place from which comes the energy that overcomes turbulence and is not intimidated by it."

As I was preparing some material to present for a retreat, I read Gordon MacDonald’s book
Ordering Your Private World. This book originally came out in 1984, with the latest revision being printed in 2003. MacDonald asks a very important question that often relates to an unseen issue in many people who come to counseling. Are you taking time regularly to order your inner life?

After describing what a Florida sinkhole looks like, he states "The Florida sinkhole is a physical picture of a spiritual problem with which many Western Christians must deal. As the pressure of life continues to grow in the first years of the 21st century there will be more people whose lives resemble a sinkhole, unless they gaze inward and ask themselves, Is there a private world beneath the noise and action at the surface? A world that needs to be explored and maintained? Can strength and resilience be developed that will bear up under the growing pressure at the surface?

Christ recognized the same problem when he accused the religious leaders of his day of being "white washed tombs." (Matt 23:27)They gave one appearance on the outside, but inwardly they were rotted (the dead body).

Stress and pressure in life eventually beings to reveal the emptiness within us as sin-fallen humans. Perhaps that is why God inspired several of the biblical writers to write about "tests of faith" as blessings, and something to rejoice about. Those problems, stresses, or "tests" often force us to see what is really inside our inner world, and to recognize the need to make changes to become a person of integrity. A dictionary definition of integrity is "a state of being whole or entire." Most chocolate bunnies don’t have integrity–they are hollow inside. Far too often we are like the bunny–we are not the same inside that we appear to be outside. When the tests come, if we are hollow inside, we will cave in. Our clients, too, often do not have the inner strength to deal with the issues of life.

Before we can truly help our clients "order their inner life," we must learn to do so in our own lives. MacDonald states: "If my private word is in order, it will be because I make a daily choice to monitor its state of orderliness." To order my inner life, I must know my "inner life" or my heart, as the Bible calls it. Not only do I need to know my inner heart, but I also need to know God’s heart, so I will know how to order my inner life.

If I am who I say I am (a Christian counselor, or even "a Christian"), it will require taking time daily to know the heart of God and to know my heart. Psalm 139 highlights how God knows my heart, my inner thoughts, and even my inner motivations. But do I know His heart? Hosea 6:6 reminds us (God speaking) "I don’t want your sacrifices, I want your love. I don’t want your offerings. I want you to know me." Making a choice to "order my inner life" means I take time to know God’s heart, and to know my own heart, so I can have courage and strength to believe and trust God, and choose God’s desires over my own. That courage and strength is the opposite of anxiety and depression that often overwhelms many people.

How do we do that? Of course, our primary revelation of God is from the Bible, so spending time in the Word is essential. Reading through the Bible every year is a great starting place, but we also need to be studying, memorizing, and meditating on God’s Word regularly. How do I come to know my heart? Journaling each day is a great way to become honest with myself and my heart motivations. There is something about expressing thoughts and emotions externally that enables us to see them more concretely. As I have processed my own latest "great stressor" in life, journaling through the Psalms has been a rich experience for me. Most of my journal entries are written as letters to God, containing segments of telling Him what is in my heart, segments of confession, and segments of praising and thanking Him for all He has done and will do.

MacDonald tells us "A disorganized spirit often means lack of inner serenity. For many Christians, what should be tranquility is in fact only numbness or emptiness." How many people come to counseling for this very reason? They can’t really identify what they need, or how to resolve their problem, so they come to a counselor.

Are you willing to pay the cost for an "ordered life?" Not only will you benefit from this choice, but those who come to you for help will benefit, and God will be glorified.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

10 Things I Want Counseling Students to Know

10 Things I Want Counseling Students to Know (as they start a new semester).
1.  God is always in control.  We often forget this, and begin trying to "fix" things ourselves...whether in our own lives, or in the lives of our clients.
2. It is ok to feel emotional pain. No doubt, pain in not fun, but sometimes it is a very important  part of healing. If I avoid pain, or help my clients avoid pain, I will miss an important element in the healing process, and may deny there is even a problem. All of us need to learn to accept pain and learn how to deal with it rather than running from it.
3. Knowing God and spending time with Him is more important than learning about Him.  I must keep a personal time with God daily as a priority. Just because you are studying here at the seminary or are taking a Bible course doesn’t mean you are building your relationship with God.
4. The Holy Spirit has been assigned the role of "convictor." Although I am charged to  "speak the truth in love," I also must be careful to not take over the role of the Holy Spirit.
5. Characteristic excellence glorifies God. In all I do--in all you do--do it with   excellence.  If  God has called me to study, then I must study with excellence. Sometimes that might mean taking fewer classes so I can learn more.
6. Discipline yourself to memorize Scripture. God's Word is living, and sharper than a "two-edged sword." God uses His Word to transform our thinking patterns, as well as emotional response patterns and behavioral patterns. I need God's Word in my life, just as my clients need God's Word.  It is more important than any other study I might complete.
7. Take time to get to know other students and your professors. God often works through others to reveal His character and truth.  This is a golden opportunity during your seminary days to build godly relationships.  Iron sharpens iron.
8. Develop a merciful response in your heart.  None of us are perfect, and humbling ourselves will allow us to become merciful.  If you do not have the gift of mercy, ask God to give you a merciful heart. (Matthew 9:13; Matthew 18:33)
9. If you are married, and if you have children, remember your spouse and children are your priority second only to God. Be sure you make time to invest in them and their needs.
10. Rejoice when you experience suffering (suffering can be as small as feeling lonely as you build relationships to financial stress to health problems). God uses suffering in our lives to draw us to himself, and to build His character and nature into us. (James 1:2).

Sunday, August 14, 2011

God's Holiness in Us

1 Peter 1:15-16 “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; (16) for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Have you ever had a relationship with someone who rubbed you the wrong way? It might be a family member, a coworker, or even a client or a client’s spouse. You know that find yourself being reactive or impatient with that person.  As counselors, we are trained to pay attention to our inner feelings and notice when we are responding reactively to our client or even a family member of our client. [If you have never felt this way toward a client, you may not have ever worked with someone who has narcissistic or borderline tendencies.] Moses struggled with the children of Israel in this way. It didn’t seem to matter how many times God showed His faithfulness to them, or Moses told them God’s commandments or directions, they still continued to whine, complain, and disobey.  Sometimes our “difficult person” may not be whining or complaining, but may have some other trait that irritates us.  It could be that they seem unable to recognize their own weaknesses, or they dig in their heels and refuse to make a change even when they knowledge changing would be a good thing. The important factor for us to consider is our response.

Mothers (myself included) often find ourselves being reactive with our children–“why can’t they just do what I ask?!!!! How many times do I have to tell them?” or “Why can’t they just do what they are suppose to do?”  Usually the persons we struggle the most with are those God has entrusted to our care or our shepherding. Jesus described himself as the good shepherd. (John 10:11). “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That whole concept of “dying to self” or “laying down my life” blossoms in the New Testament. Those God has entrusted to me in the circles of my life are the “sheep” He has given me.  That might be a new colleague at work, a new believer at church or someone God has called you to disciple, or even a new client.

In Numbers 20, once again the children of Israel came to a place where there was no water. They began blaming Moses and Aaron, declaring Moses and Aaron had brought them to this place to die. [Just as an aside–isn’t it so very painful to be accused of something you were not guilty of?] Moses and Aaron went to the entrance of the Tabernacle, and fell on their faces before the Lord.  We have shared the experience of going to the Lord about those we are working with (shepherding) who seem to never move forward, who keep repeating the same mistakes. Going to God, of course, was the right thing to do, and God gave Moses and Aaron instructions to assemble the people, speak to the rock, and water would pour out.

Numbers 20:9 says Moses did as he was told.  His actions were in obedience to the Lord. However, Moses struggled with the same thing we struggle with–our attitude. Numbers 20:10-11 “Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. ‘Listen, you rebels!’ he shouted. ‘Must we bring you water from this rock?’ (11) Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So all the people and their livestock drank their fill.”

God completed his commitment to Moses and Aaron --he did what he said he would do–bring water out of the rock. Moses obeyed by bringing the people to the rock, and using it as a source of water for the people.

Why, then, did God discipline Moses? Numbers 20:12 “But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!’”.  Whew! That is pretty strong disciplinary action!
Why was God so upset that Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock?

God pointed out to Moses that he did not “demonstrate my holiness” to the people of Israel–and that was a lack of trust in God. For a long time I wondered what “striking the rock” instead of
speaking to the rock” had to do with demonstrating God’s holiness. Then as I thought about what Moses actually did differently, I realized maybe it had to do with his attitude, the condition of his heart. Perhaps Moses’ impatience with the people was the opposite of God’s patience–His character and His holiness. Moses obeyed in his actions, but his emotional response (attitude) was not consistent with God’s character and nature. God has long-lasting patience with us. He never gives up on us.  He continually works with us and patiently waits for us to learn to obey. When I am not patient with someone God has placed in my life (client, coworker, child, husband, etc), I am not demonstrating the character of God. Jesus displayed that same character of patience as he dealt with the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, even his own disciples.

Am I a good shepherd? Am I displaying God’s holiness to my client, my child, my coworker, my spouse? Or am I striking the rock and shouting at the person God has entrusted to me?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Why and Who of Suffering

Think about a time when you thought you couldn’t go any further, or you couldn’t make it to the end of whatever you were working on. For some of us, that might be a rather minor experience, such as “I thought I would not be able to finish the paper I was writing” or “I thought I couldn’t continue another day at my job with the conflict that was present.” For others, we may have experienced a time that we thought we couldn’t go on with life, that we didn’t have enough strength –physical or emotional–to continue on, such as the death of a loved one, or the death of a relationship, or even the death of a long-term dream. Paul must have felt something like this when he wrote II Corinthians 1:8 “I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it.” (Italics mine).

We don’t typically think of Paul as being a person that had come to a place emotionally that he felt like he just wanted to “give up,” and that he would never be able to get past his current circumstances. But he did experience those emotions. Job experienced the same emotions and thoughts...that he could not go on living. Job, in Job 6, describes the depth of his pain: “my troubles...heavier than all the sands of the sea;” “poisoned arrows deep within my spirit;” “all God’s terrors are arrayed against me.”  He finalizes his description of his pain with these words: “But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on” (Job 6:11).

Job then tells his friends they have not been helpful to him in his place of difficulty. (Job 6:14, 21) “One should be kind to a fainting friend, but you have accused me without the slightest fear of the Almighty.” and “You, too have proved to be of no help. You have seen my calamity, and you are afraid.”  Then Job states the cry of his heart (Job 7) that echos the cry every person has clamored  who finds themself dealing with suffering: “Why?”. (Job 7:19-21). “Why won’t you leave me alone–even for a moment? Have I sinned? What have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why have you made me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just pardon my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone.”

Job’s friends continue to try to answer his question of “why,” all the while basically telling him he is guilty of some sin and God is punishing him. (Job 8-38). After all this conversation of accusations and Job continued to disagree with them and continued speaking the truth about God’s nature, God himself finally answered Job.

When you have been hurt, or in the pit of despair or struggling with a hopeless difficulty, haven’t you asked “why?”  It seems to be the universal need of all men and women to understand “why.”
When my husband and I recently encountered some difficult circumstances, for weeks our minds struggled and wrestled with “why.”  Almost every still moment that didn’t require focus of my mind, the question would return, along with the endless search for an answer to “why.’

God came to Job (Job 38-41) and spoke about a number of things with Job. But none of it concerned “why.” It was all about “Who” God is.  And that is the state of mind all of us must come to if we want to have peace in the midst of any circumstance that is difficult. We must focus on “Who” is in control, the nature of our God and his eternal love, and his power and wisdom. As we focus on the “Who” we realize that our “why” question really isn’t important...only that God is who he says he is, and will do what he says he will do. Then we will be able to agree with Job and proclaim (Job 42:2-3) “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You ask, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I. And I was talking about things I did not understand, things far too wonderful for me....(v 6) I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

As long as I have a “Who” (I AM), why doesn’t really matter.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wrong Response to the Suffering of Others

A Wrong Response to the Suffering of Others

Have you ever expressed your emotions surrounding some difficulty you were experiencing, and the listener gave a “quick solution” answer? How did you feel? Responses such as  “God will take care of you,” or “God has a reason for this,” or (sometimes not verbalized)  “You must have some kind of sin in your life,” or “If you had only ____, you wouldn’t be experiencing this.”

God has given us a powerful case study of ineffective responses to those who are suffering in the book of Job. In Chapter 3, Job had gotten to the lowest point he had experienced so far. He began to express his emotions to his three friends who had been sitting with him silently for 7 days. Wisely, those first seven days they saw “his suffering was too great for words.” (Job 3:13).  After seven days, Job, in his desperation to express what he was feeling, began speaking, wishing he had never been born. He states “What I always feared has happened to me. What I dreaded has come to be. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; instead only trouble comes.” His friends began to respond with ineffective words. Eliphaz used two types of responses typical of how we might respond to someone struggling in the midst of a difficulty. He reported what he saw that has happened in the past (which contains truth), and he gave his theory about why Job was suffering (which contained partial truth).  Neither of these responses really helped Job.

Job 4:3-6 Eliphaz said “In the past you have encouraged many a troubled soul to trust in God [true]; you have supported those who were weak [true]. Your words have strengthened the fallen; you steadied those who wavered [all true]. (5) But now when trouble strikes, you faint and are broken [true]. (6) Does your reverence for God give you no confidence? Shouldn’t you believe that God will care for those who are upright?”

In Job 4:3-5 Eliphaz expressed truth–a description of the behavior he had observed in Job. As counselors, we often explore the behavior of the person. But rather than move from that exploration to giving an empathic response, Eliphaz began to speak his own thoughts and ideas.

In verse 6 he expressed two ideas that were his own theories. His first idea assumed that Job’s negative emotional responses meant he had no confidence in God.  Eliphaz didn’t express exactly what he believed Job should be believing God would do, but his second statement alluded to God taking care of Job materially and physically.

Obviously, in the midst of losing everything, including his health, Job didn’t see evidence of God taking care of him. Eliphaz’s second idea “that God will care for those who are upright” was an incomplete understanding of God and how He works. The theology of suffering in the Old Testament Jewish community that was commonly taught was based on the idea if you avoided sin, you would be blessed. Eliphaz continued to flesh out this idea in Job 4:7-11. No doubt there are numerous passages in the Old Testament when God states that blessing will come to those who obey him. However, the idea of what a ‘blessing” is may have been misunderstood. There are numerous servants of God who experiences long periods of not being “blessed” materially or physically (Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, to name a few).

Even if Eliphaz had only spoken his observations (verses 3-5), he still did not respond to the emotions of suffering Job was experiencing. Job responds with resistence to Eliphaz’s comments. Job 6:5 “Don’t I have a right to complain? Wild donkeys bray when they find no green grass, and oxen low when they have no food. (6) People complain when there is no salt in their food. And how tasteless is the uncooked white of an egg!”

How could Eliphaz have responded to Job’s suffering? An empathic response would have been something like “Job, your suffering is beyond what any man could deal with. This must the most difficult thing you have ever experienced in life. I can’t imagine the depth of despair and hopelessness you must be feeling.”

As Christian counselors, we must evaluate our responses to those who are suffering, and be sure we don’t fall into the trap Eliphaz illustrates.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Suffering and Joy

Recently I heard a Christian woman talking about how she was amazed that her friend, even though going through a very difficult time in her life, was praising God for everything, and very happy. “I don’t know how she does it,” the Christian woman replied. “When I am suffering, the last thing I feel is ‘joyful’, and I can’t go around smiling.”
I’m not sure where we got the idea that praising God and being happy, or joyful, were equal identities. I have often heard Christians express the idea that if we are not happy and joyful all the time, obviously we are not trusting God.  A close look at the various characters of the Bible make it plain that we can praise God and not be joyful.
After Job received all the various messages about his losses (Job 1:13-19), the Scripture says “Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground before God. He said “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be stripped of everything when I die. The Lord gave me everything I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
In this passage we see Job experiencing  the normal emotion of suffering—grief –which he expressed even physically by tearing his robe, shaving his head, and falling to the ground.  But he also verbally praised the Lord. This is a perfect example of praising God even while feeling negative emotions. 
In the Psalms, David often expressed verbally his negative emotions, and then praised God. Psalm 69 is a great example of this. David speaks for 32 verses expressing mostly negative emotions, and then in verse 34 says “Praise him, O heaven and earth, the seas and all that move in them.” 

Although joy is a fruit of the spirit, we may not have a complete understanding of what it means to experience joy and express joy. We know Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit, but we don’t see any hint of what we would define as “joy” in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew it was ok to feel those negative emotions that were consistent with what He was experiencing. That is true integrity.
I don’t believe God expects us to be happy in the midst of our suffering. But I do believe He expects us to praise Him—to acknowledge who He is and to declare that to others.  Many Christians feel a sense of guilt because they are not able to feel “happy” or “joyful” during suffering.  We can relieve at least some of their suffering by helping them realize it is biblical to feel sadness, sorrow, and other negative emotions in the midst of suffering, and that it is possible to praise God without feeling “happy.”