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?