Principle #3: When You Find Yourself Talking To Yourself . . . .

It was one of those rare jewels that you tuck away, not so much because of its beauty, but because you recognize its potential.  

Principle #3:

Whenever you find yourself talking to yourself,
you’re probably sinning.
Switch gears and TALK TO GOD INSTEAD!

My friend Sharon said a missionary friend had sent it to her saying, “it was too rich not to pass on”–and she was right!   For almost thirty years I have learned to rejoice in God’s provision of conviction that draws me to repentance and a deeper reliance on Him.  In the Counseling Room it has saved many a heart from hardening, as God has reminded each Client to talk to Him more.

When given this jewel, its truth made me chuckle as I remembered a “conversation” I’d entertained earlier in the day:

“I don’t have to put up with that!  I should’a said this, and I could’a done that . . .
boy oh man, that was so unfair!”  

Sound familiar?

In a contentious, mean-spirited world, sin comes all too easily.  It is tempting to say the growing ugliness that surrounds us is unique.  However, I suspect that the times Jesus lived in were no less difficult or dangerous.  The point is (humanly speaking), when sinned against, it is difficult to resist responding in kind.
So how can we avoid the trap?  Switch Gears!

SWITCH GEARS by:

  1. Confessing the sin that has crept in–whether it came at your own invitation or snuck in there.
  2. Refusing to continue down the path you were on.
  3. Talk to God (pray!) instead by first giving thanks to Him for sending His Son to free you from, “the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1*)

Switching gears spiritually comes up frequently in the Counseling Room.  To begin the process we use what I refer to as, the Triangle Illustration.  The Triangle Illustration asks two questions:

  1. Who (or what) is (or was) the major influence over the decision made in a certain situation.
  2. Was God the primary influence? Or was it something (or someone) else?

The local Pregnancy Help Center (was located below my old office) serves as a helpful illustration as to how The Triangle Illustration works:

When a woman who was abortion-minded came to the Center, her Counselors would draw the Triangle Illustration on a white board.  She would then write the woman’s name in the bottom right-hand corner, and “unwanted pregnancy” in the bottom left corner.  The Counselor would ask the question, “Who (or what) is the major influence in considering aborting your baby?”  Whatever the woman said, was written at the top of the triangle.  (Many times it was pressure from others, fear or the inconvenience of it.)

Then the Counselor would talk from the perspective of the Scriptures.  How before God every life is precious and that ultimately we will be held accountable for out decisions.  Just that simple perspective was often enough to help the woman shift gears from having an abortion, to trust God to provide the help she was going to need in making further decisions.

For many years the Triangle Illustration has been a useful tool for my Clients (as well as myself) to keep God as the Ruler over our hearts. In those seasons when such things as hurt, fear, anger, pride or our desire to please others threaten, it gives clarity that has kept such sin from finding its way to the Top.

However justifiable we may believe that placement to have been,
allowing anything less than God to influence our hearts is an idol.

Also, God’s call to, “Love thy neighbor” is an impossibility, unless we make loving Him our first priority.

Be encouraged when He calls you through conviction, to trust Him to love others as Christ has loved you.  This verse from Proverbs is one that nails the importance of our response to His call each and every day.

“Guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”
Proverbs 4:23

All to His Glory!

*Hebrews 12:1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . . .”

Perspective Is Everything . . . .

When she walked into the Counseling Room yesterday, I could see the discouragement and disappointment weighing heavy on her shoulders.  Knowing how far she has come in recent months, I ached for her.  Angie has been a pleasure to work with–a living, breathing miracle of God!

From our first Session, after listening to her story I told her, “Perspective is everything . . . you need to draw closer to God.”  I introduced Journey Notes Praise Journaling to help her but, still reeling from a recent divorce and a lifetime of hurt and rejection, the suggestion of journaling held no appeal for her.   Angie tried to resist but in the end she agreed to try–it was a last resort:

“I am so not a writer . . .
 I believe in God . . .
that Jesus was who He said He was but . . .
God never has had much to say to me.”

Even so, she started to write.  It was awkward . . . coming up with three praises to God “was like pulling teeth.”  The first week she wrote one entry and reported, “I’m not sure if I am doing it right, my writing goes all over the place . . . it makes no sense.” 

Still, she continued to write . . .
one more week,
then the next . . .
and has kept it up until now. 

In the weeks between “then” and “now” a light dawned in her mind and heart that became visible in her eyes as the tension left her face.  Angie discovered that God has much to say to her . . . HOPE was rekindled and LIFE burned brightly in her countenance.  The evidence of God’s faithfulness became a reality for all to see:

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” 
Psalm 40:2

As a result, Angie came to love doing her Journey Notes; the coffee-splattered pages of her notebook began to fill with the miracle of a conversation between her and her Maker.  As she interfaced with God through her Journey Notes, Angie started to look at herself and at “life” from God’s point of view–rightly concluding, “Perspective is everything!”

Yesterday, Angie reported she had had a “rough week.”  She talked about how seeing her ex-husband twice during the week had brought back old memories of his abuse.   Angie mentioned a broad shelf of books she read over twenty years while trying to save their marriage.  But, despite her efforts, her husband continually made it plain that he did not love her and did everything he could to get her to leave.   In desperation she finally did leave, but always with the hope that they would get the help they needed to save their marriage.  Instead, he filed the papers to obtain a divorce and it was a done deal.  Angie admitted that it was hard to see, that even now, he took no responsibility for the demise of their marriage– placing the blame fully on her. The question that pounded in her mind and heart: “Why didn’t God save our marriage?!!!” 

Isn’t it interesting how, when we are overwhelmed by life’s challenges and disappointments, 
our initial response is often to blame God–I have done it and I trust you have too? 

The problem we have when we begin to doubt God’s goodness, is that we close ourselves off to the One who knows us and can best help us.  When we do that, our perceptions darken and we lose hope.  Isaiah 30:15-18 offers a prescription to address our tendency to run from God:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength . . .” as it also encourages us to turn back to Him:

 ” . . . the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!

To help Angie stop being run by her feelings, we opened the One Book that has carried and changed her these many months– Ephesians 5:21-33 says in part,

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body,
of which He is the Savior. 
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her . . . .  
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies . . . 
each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

I reminded her . . . “Perspective is everything!”  As we reflected on all Angie saw and felt during the previous week, we began to see God’s faithfulness emerge from where the darkness sought to overtake her.  We thanked God for His mercy and love in providing for her needs and for His plan and purposes for her life.  To help Angie avoid another hard fall we talked about the following:

  1. Her husband has no power to “make” her carry the blame she felt heaped upon her; better to give it to God with thanksgiving and in faith.
  2. Rather than fall into the trap of doubting God’s goodness, resolve to run to Him–assuming the best of God as Creator and King.
  3. It takes two to make a marriage and two to break it apart.  It is right to mourn the demise of her marriage–to continue to pray for conviction and repentance on both sides; for healing and eventual reconciliation for their entire family.
  4. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said divorce was permitted because of the hardness of men’s hearts.    I encouraged Angie to give thanks to God for His mercy in bringing her out of an abusive marriage; for protecting and watching over her as He has faithfully done.
  5. Continue interfacing with God through the Journey Notes process to help stay on track.  (Angie admitted that in the previous week she avoided reading her Bible and suffered the consequences of it–No Peace!)

Are you facing an unexpected challenge that you never expected to face?  Whatever it is, large or small, God is worthy of your trust.  Truly . . . Perspective is Everything!

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 
II Corinthians 4:18

All to His Glory!

With Conviction There Is Hope ~

When she walked into my office I was surprised as she offered an almost shy smile.   She called a few days earlier asking about “anger management.”  I responded with a question, “Who is it for?”  She answered with a quivering voice, “It’s for me.  I have no friends because they’ve all distanced themselves from me.  I’m so lonely . . . I hurt people without thinking with my sarcasm . . . can you help me?”  Although I could not see her, I knew tears were falling . . . each one marking the pain of regret. Concerned yet aware of a knowing smile forming on my face, I remembered myself a lifetime ago with nowhere to turn . . . so angry . . . so afraid when I realized my anger had become a prison.  Life was hard but I soon found out that God is very, very good. . . .

During our first meeting, I introduced myself and talked about what I do as a Biblical Counselor.   I explained that I don’t “do” anger management but that I would help her get into the Scriptures to gain insight into God’s perspective on life and how He sees her.  I told her about how God helped me with my anger and that He could certainly help her too.  A light came into her eyes that I can only describe as a glimmer of hope as she responded, “That’s exactly what I’m looking for.”

It was my turn to listen as she told me her story.  She talked about her family, about hurt inflicted upon her by others.  She admitted that being angry had been a way of life; only recently did she realize that it was becoming a prison.  I appreciated her candor as she spoke of losing the people she holds most dear as they have distanced themselves from her angry outbursts and cutting remarks.  She admitted being confused as to why God allowed bad things to happen to her while also feeling convicted about hurting people who had done nothing to her.

I spoke to encourage a dry and hungry soul, not with pat answers but with the assurance of God’s provision:

Conviction is a good thing; with conviction there is hope.

She looked at me with her face twisted oddly as she tried to make sense of what I had just said.  She finally asked, “How can conviction ever be good?”

I answered simply, “When it serves as evidence of God’s Holy Spirit working in your heart.  God convicts in order to bring us to our senses, to recognize our need for salvation because we know we deserve hell.  When we repent of our sin (no longer making excuses for it) and trust in Christ Jesus to save us, we are truly free to live our lives well before Him.”  A light seemed to dawn as she listened and considered what I had said; that glimmer of hope began to widen as we looked at the Scriptures together . . . .

In a world that avoids taking personal responsibility for anything that happens and shifts blame to others for our sinful ways, the idea of conviction being a blessing is absurd.  Yet, consider the parable Jesus told about the youngest of two sons recorded in John 15:11-20,

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’  So he got up and went to his father.”

When the rebellious son “came to his senses” he became convicted of his sinful behavior.  It was with that conviction that he realized his only hope was to return to the father he had dishonored and to confess his sins in the hope of being allowed to work for him as a hired hand.

Of course the parable has a much happier ending as Jesus pictures the father ready to receive and restore:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”  (vs. 20-24)

I still remember the day I realized I deserved hell.  I realized that before a Holy God there was nothing I could do but ask for the mercy I had refused to give to others because of my anger and resentment.  It was when I understood how filthy I truly was, that I came to appreciate the awful necessity and wonder of what Christ accomplished on the Cross.

17th century Commentator Matthew Henry lends insight into the blessing of conviction under the Holy Spirit:

“Without clear discovery of our guilt and danger, we never shall understand the value of Christ’s salvation; but when brought to know ourselves aright, we begin to see the value of the Redeemer.”

Truly, with conviction there is hope when it is placed in the Lord Jesus Christ!

“He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”  John 1:11-13

Feeling convicted?  Go to God as the younger son returned home to his father.  You can know and trust that God is watching for you just as the father watched for the son he had lost.

All to His Glory!

When It Hurts So Bad That It’s Hard To Breathe . . .

“On a scale from one to ten (with ten being the worst)- how painful is this?”  It is a generic but surprisingly helpful question asked in medical situations.   Asking such a question helps to bridge the gap between the individual in distress and the helper.  For the patient, it helps take a small step away to make a more objective evaluation of their physical pain.  It also is a practical means of communicating the pain level to the caregiver; information that can be very valuable in prioritizing treatment.

But what about measuring emotional pain?  Can we use the same scale?  I thought about this after talking on the phone to a woman calling to make a counseling appointment.  When I asked her the nature of her problem she said, “I just found out my husband has been having an affair and is leaving me.”  My heart went out to her; I could hear the pain in her voice.  It was what she said next though that really touched me, “I don’t think anything in my life has ever hurt me so deeply.”  Somehow the clinical question, “On a scale of one to ten . . .” misses the mark completely when it comes to measuring pain experienced in the human heart and mind.  

For me, the ultimate “ten” on the emotionally wounded scale is when it hurts so bad that it’s hard to breathe.  That depth of wounding almost always is tied to a broken relationship or loss.

Such pain often tempts the wounded one to build barriers of protection (hardening the heart)to avoid being hurt again.   Sadly, the fruit of such action complicates matters, as those emotional barriers isolate us from other people and from God.  The better way to deal with the emotional “tens” of life is to run to God through prayer and the comfort and perspective of the Scriptures.

Joseph is an example of someone who was hurt so bad it was hard to breathe numerous times in his life.  (To read about Joseph’s life see Genesis 37,39-50, it will be well worth your time)  Joseph was number eleven of twelve sons and the doted-on favorite of their father.  His jealous older brothers sold 17-year-old Joseph into slavery and let their father believe he had been eaten by wild animals for over twenty years.  The interesting thing about the Genesis account of Joseph’s life is that it says little about his emotional ups and downs of being sold into slavery, of being falsely accused of a crime he did not commit and then winding up in an Egyptian prison for the next thirteen years of his life.  What the Bible does speak of is God’s faithfulness to Joseph during his years of suffering and how Joseph was eventually released from prison and made second in command over all of Egypt. Eventually God sees fit to reunite Joseph with his family.  Joseph forgave his brothers and blessed them and their families by bringing them out of the famine to the shelter of Egypt to settle.  In the final chapter of Genesis we are given one last look at the relationship between Joseph and his brothers:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.  (50:15-17)

Where did this emotional “ten” come from?  Why do you think Joseph wept?  The Bible does not tell us, but my thought is that after choosing to be a blessing to his brothers and their families for so many years, it hurt him to realize that his brothers believed the worst of him.  God had blessed Joseph with a heart willing to forgive and love his brothers, but his brothers never changed.  It was a painful revelation for Joseph.  Here is the final account of Joseph’s dealings with his brothers:

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.  (16-21)

In a letter written after 9/11, Queen Elizabeth of England wrote, “Grief is the price we pay for love . . . “.  Joseph grieved for his brothers but chose to trust God by continuing to forgive and love them all of his days.  Are you hurting so bad that it’s hard to breathe because of what someone has said or done to you?  Perhaps there are barriers you put up long ago that need to come down?  Or, are you still suffering the loss of someone you held dear and you do not have the strength to move forward?  Believe me when I say that I understand on all counts!  Yet, I write to encourage you to learn from Joseph’s example to trust and honor God even in your grief.  Life IS hard, but God is always good when we choose to trust and honor Him.

“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.”  
I John 4:9

All to His Glory!

Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

One of the most exhilarating Scriptures that causes my mind and heart to soar beyond the cosmos is Galatians 5:1.

“It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do no let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

What a precious gift our Christ-won freedom from sins bondage is!  For many years, resentment and bitterness weighed deeply in my mind and heart.   What I am about to share with you is a personal story.  It is a story that impacted my spiritual growth as I was freed to live for, love and serve God (and those He puts on my path) with a glad heart.  It is a difficult story to tell because of the oddness of it, but I assure you that it is absolutely true.  I share it in the hope that it will encourage to you (or someone you know) to trust God to accomplish what seems impossible: To be free from the hurts and regrets that weigh heavy on the soul.  The formula is simple: Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love

The Call:  It was late one evening, my husband was away on a trip and our little girls were asleep.  I was sitting in bed reading my Bible.  I cannot tell you what I was reading, except to say that it did not have anything to so with what was about to occur.  As I read I heard a voice say, “Kathie, you must forgive.”  Startled, I looked around our bedroom but realized the voice was not really audible–I heard it in my head.   Assuming it was God speaking to me, my mind started to race, “Forgive what?  Forgive who?”  The room remained quiet, but as I thought about it I realized that I blamed my mom for many of my inadequacies.  The voice spoke again, “Kathie you must forgive, otherwise you will remain an emotional cripple.”  I sat there thinking about my options, “Emotional cripple or forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . forgive my mom . . . emotional cripple . . . .”  I recognized that forgiving my mom was the only viable option so I thought, “Okay, I forgive my mom,” and promptly fell asleep.

Forgiveness applied?  The saying that “old habits die hard” is all too true.  When I said I forgave my mom I meant it.  But it was not long before I recognized the old anger and frustration overtake me when I interacted with her.  I went into a tailspin . . . devastated by the thought  that, “I lied to God!”  I struggled with depression for many months.  It was awful.

I continued to struggle with my failure to forgive until one day reading in I Samuel 13:14 where King Saul, the first king of Israel, was replaced by David, “a man after God’s own heart.”   I remember wondering why this was so, when David was by no means a perfect man.  Curious, I began to read the Psalms because so many of them were written by David.  What stood out to me was that David, more than anyone else in the Bible, exposed his heart to God.  Desiring to become a woman “after God’s own heart”, I began to pray the Psalms where David opened his heart to God.  I found the process to be helpful until the day I came to Psalm 139:23,24–

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

As I contemplated praying those words I experienced a panic attack!  Suddenly, I was in God’s operating room and I was about to come under the knife; my heart was about to be totally exposed!  Should I trust Him?  It took several minutes to decide . . . .  Finally, I moved forward in faith, scared out of my mind but determined to remove the unforgiveness that plagued my mind and heart.  I wondered, could I stand the pain?

God’s Gracious Hand:  It was a pivotal moment in my life.  What I found out was that God is far more gentle than I ever dreamed!  Where I expected the old junk of resentment and bitterness to be ripped out once and for all, He was far more gentle and thorough!  Amazing grace flooded my fearful heart in a profound way with the revelation of an all-encompassing love that ran far deeper than I ever imagined.  It was at that moment, that I knew that I could trust His divine power to finish the work of forgiveness in my heart that I desired, but had not the ability to complete.

I would love to tell you that after such an amazing encounter everything fell into place.  It did not . . . but change did come.  Rather than beat myself up when resentment reared its ugly head, I ran to God instead and said, “Take it!  I hate it!  Help me Lord to walk worthy of Your Name!”  Ephesians 5:21 took on new meaning for me:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” 

As I reverenced Christ by surrendering and confessing my sin, He continued to cleanse and make me whole within.  It was nothing less than a miracle being worked out in my heart.  Then one day it happened . . . .

Freedom to Love:  I will not go into the details except that one day God finally broke down the last wall of resentment in my heart, replacing it with a heart of compassion for my mom.  The thought still brings tears to my eyes when I realized that I was truly free, not only to forgive but to truly love my mom!  Having just recently lost her, I cherish the twenty years of being able to love and enjoy my mom (warts and all) as one of God’s sweetest gifts to me.

How about you?  Is there an area in your life where forgiveness needs to be applied?  Perhaps you are in a place as I was, feeling like a failure as you battle within?  If that be so, then learn from my experience and go (RUN!) to God for the cleansing work that only He can work out to completion. Let’s face it, only God can accomplish the miracle of change in any of us . . . one heart at a time.   Forgiveness + God’s Gracious Hand = Freedom to Love . . . it’s totally a God-thing!

All to His Glory!