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.  

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