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.