More Than a Cup of Tea . . . .

“A woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is
until you put her in hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

When I read the above quote I laughed aloud as I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt, how very biblical!”  Like it or not, it is adversity (or as Eleanor put it,“hot water“) that builds the kind of character and maturity that pleases God.  James bears this out in the introduction to his letter,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you
may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

James 1:2-4

Just as brewing tea with scalding hot water brings forth the best cup of tea, it is often the challenges we would otherwise avoid, that mold and change us when we choose to trust God. This can also apply to relationships:

  • In my teens and twenties I enjoyed the simple pleasure of drinking a cup of tea while doing some personal reflection.
  • In my thirties my appreciation for the benefits of sharing a pot of tea with a friend broadened as I savored the warmth and fragrance of tea with friends and, in the process, became a better listener.

Looking back, I can now see how God blessed those conversations,
as He challenged me to love others as He loved me,
by learning to trust Him as the Shepherd of my heart. 

As time passed, God put two women on my path whom I quickly decided “needed more than a cup of tea.” One was a friend of someone I knew in a Bible study I was teaching. She was facing some tough personal issues that I felt were beyond my experience. At almost the same time, another person I was just getting to know, opened up to me about having been raped more than a year before.

After looking for a Christian counselor locally and finding no one, I widened my search and finally located one living about 40 miles away. Both women went there for counseling and were helped, but it bothered me that they had to drive so many miles on back country roads to receive the help they needed.

As I recognized the need for a Christian counselor in my community, I enrolled at a University to begin work toward a Master’s degree in counseling.  With 3 growing kids at home and a husband who traveled A LOT for his job–I studied the major schools of psychology, with the idea of  integrating the best of those methods with the wisdom of Scripture.  However, soon after starting my internship, I discovered that the secular base of psychology tended to undermine the strength of biblical wisdom.  It was that realization that led to developing Journey Notes Praise Journaling and the counseling approach I have used for 25 years.

Helping Clients look at themselves and their problems
by interfacing with the Scriptures, has proven to be extremely helpful
to those who embrace the process.

So why did I decide to write about this? To encouraged you to not be afraid to minister to the people God puts on your path with the wisdom of the Scriptures..Here’s where I went wrong:

  • Once I got counseling help for those two precious women, I continued to pray for them–but backed off from trying to help them . . . fearing that I might “undo” whatever therapy they were receiving.
  • I didn’t think about it at the time, but in doing that, I diminished the value of Scripture in my mind as I looked to psychology to provide the help that was needed.*

It was true that the two women I was trying to help DID need, “more than a cup of tea” (or simply a good listening ear.)

So how can you move forward? Here are my thoughts:

  • Make prayer for your friend a priority.
  • Commit to bringing God into the center of every conversation you have with your friend, by asking your them to list 3 things they are thankful to God for. (This can seem impossible at first, but it helps to break up the negatively skewed thinking that feeds anxiety and depression.)
  • Encourage your friend to start doing Journey Notes to help them draw closer to God as you do the same. (I promise, it won’t hurt and you’ll actually grow too!)
  • When you get together, talk about what God is showing each of you through the Journey Notes process.
  • Be sure to share some of your praises and close your time together with both of you giving thanks to God for His faithfulness.

I like the picture of God’s plan for relationships illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:

“Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of THREE STRANDS is not quickly broken.”
(Verses 9, 10 & 12)

God’s intent for relationships is blessing–as we share in our labor or help one another when needs arise. Yet, the larger blessing in relationships comes when we bring God into the center of how we relate to one another as that powerful THIRD STRAND .Speaking from experience, when we bring Christ into the center of our thinking in how we relate to others, blessings abound.

In the end this is what I learned: Being a good listener–as in sharing a cup of tea--when someone who is hurting can be helpful . . . but it has its limitations. Helping them look outside of themselves to God and the Scriptures, however, is to encourage them to discover boundless hope and joy in a God who is faithful . . . Always.

All to His Glory!

*To be clear: In a fallen, largely unbelieving world, psychology has its place and can be helpful. But that should never negate the value of Christians helping others look to the wisdom of Scripture and relying.on God’s Spirit to minister to the human heart and mind.

Hope That Rises Through Change . . . .

Change is rarely something I seek but have come to appreciate.  My husband and I, married for almost forty-eight years, have lived in the same house for more than thirty of those years. We’ve made many changes to the house over time, but the placement of the couch in the living room has not changed since the day we moved in. (Just to clarify, we did replace the couch–twenty years ago!)

Yet we have learned to appreciate change–largely through our kids.  We enjoyed them when they lived at home (for the most part), but celebrated when they became contributing members of society, married, and gifted us with our seven grandchildren.  Last year we entered a new stage of change when our oldest grandchild left home to serve in the Army–much sooner than we were ready for.  But we have been gratified to see the fruit of that change . . . the man that he is becoming.

Change can be difficult and even unwelcome.
But we have learned that when change comes (not if),
God is always–always(!)–good!

Change is in the air . . . .

Meaningful change has come to the Counseling Room.  I wasn’t looking for it, but there has been a noticeable shift of attitude in the majority of Clients seeking help:

  • When I became a Counselor more than two decades ago, Clients sought help dealing with their problems–period.

Clients back then were open to looking at the Bible, much the same way that we do today, but their focus (and probably my own) was mainly on resolving their problem(s).

In recent years, change having to do with the long-term goals of Clients, has made work in the Counseling Room gratifying.:

  • Where resolving problems was the emphasis in the past, the majority of Clients today are expressing a “desire to grow spiritually” as their primary goal of Counseling.  

This is how one Client expressed it recently:

“I’ve been in [secular] Counseling for 2 years and nothing much has changed.
I’ve ‘vented’ for countless hours and filled journals that need to be burned.
Now I’m realizing that nothing’s going to change,
apart from God changing me.
I want . . . no, I NEED to know God better!”*

What has caused this change? My thought is that as our times have become increasingly uncertain, and as what is “right” and what is“wrong” have become blurred within society, people are looking for clarity and with it, HOPE.  In essence, this shift has taken place because hearts are craving what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:6,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.”

There is a palpable “hunger and thirst” being manifested in the Counseling Room, like I have never experienced before.  I have found that the only way to satisfy that longing, is to bring God’s Voice (manifested through the Scriptures) into every conversation that takes place..

But the change doesn’t stop there.  Clients are more committed to actively continuing that conversation with God by doing their Journey Notes.  (to the point of challenging me to re-enter into doing Journey Notes myself.)  Every time we meet, I count it a joy and privilege to watch their faces and to listen to what God has taught them since our previous Session.  Please don’t get me wrong, there are still the harsh realities in their lives that need to be faced and worked through.  But even so, HOPE continues to burn brightly as the Voice of the Shepherd ministers to both our hearts.

As I write this,  I marvel at the freshness of HOPE received as God’s Spirit ministers to hearts through words written more than two thousand years ago.  Consider the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who wrote:

“And HOPE does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
You see, at just the right time, when we were still sinners,
Christ died for the ungodly.
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person . . .
but God demonstrates His own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:5, 7 & 8

How do you respond to change?  Do you give way to fear or get angry as you try to cling to what was? Or do you lean into God when change hits, determined to trust and embrace every lesson He has for you?

This week I discovered fresh insight into dealing with challenging times in Psalm 143, especially verses 5 and 6:

“I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.” 

At first glance we may perceive only a glimmer of light on the horizon of our lives. But as we remember God’s faithfulness to us in the past and we thirst expectantly for God to work out His best, we discover HOPE rising as it renews and floods our senses.

That promise of HOPE in God’s steadfast love continues in verses 8 and 12:

“Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
for to You I entrust my life . . . .
In Your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am Your servant.”

No matter what you are facing, no matter how dark things may appear, our God of HOPE will never abandon you.  Do you have a friend who needs help but feel as if your efforts are going nowhere?  Then I encourage you to bring God’s Voice into your conversation for the direction and HOPE found only in Him.

“May the God of HOPE fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with HOPE by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Romans 15:13

All to His Glory!

*In no way do I mean to disparage the value of secular counseling–certainly there is a place for it in a hurting, fallen world.  However, the benefits of Biblical Counseling–learning to look at problems and ourselves from God’s perspective–is largely ignored and opportunities for personal growth never realized.

 

While It Is Still Today . . . .

In a world where money, talent and fame garner highest praise, the suicidal deaths of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain hit hard last week. Spade and Bourdain appeared “to have it all'”, yet they chose to end their lives as the world wondered, “Why?”  

Kate Spade’s family and friends pointed to a long history of battling depression and anxiety.  Those who knew Anthony Bourdain pointed to possibly the pressure of working on a film series, but otherwise were clueless.  The saddest part (from my perspective) was that they both left young daughters behind, ages 13 and 11.

While it is still today . . . .

This was in stark contrast to the four women I saw in the Counseling Room last week.  Each one vastly different in terms of background, yet each Client familiar with the downward spiral of depression and therefore desirous of biblically-centered counsel.

What stood out was not their differences in background, but their agreement in recognizing the value of doing their Journey Notes.  Each Client talked about how being encouraged to talk TO God (rather than ABOUT Him) helped them to focus more on Him and less on themselves.  They also said digging into the Scriptures helped them keep their thinking straight as they gained clarity into themselves, the world around them and into God as the Shepherd of their hearts. As a result, each reported that the spiral of depression was much less of a threat to them than previously.

What touched me most, was hearing to them talk about their hopes for the future, as well as changes they intend to make in future choices.  These three praises logged in one of their Journey Notebooks reflect the tenderness of relationship between God and one of His children:

Thank You God:

  1. You’ve never taken advantage of me.
  2. For Your sense of humor.
  3. You brought me out of depression.

When it comes to loving others in a hurting world, this nugget of wisdom from Hebrews tells us not to put off what we can do to help someone now:

“You must warn each other every day,
WHILE IT IS STILL “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be deceived by sin
and hardened against God.
For if we are faithful to the end,
trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed,
we will share in all that belongs to Christ.”  
Hebrews 3: 13 & 14
New Living Translation

Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be within the body of Christ?  When we claim Christ as Lord and Savior, we are responsible, while it is still today, to love and to encourage others facing depression, anxiety and the innumerable other problems that can hit so hard.

The question is, HOW?

One way to help such a friend is to offer a listening ear, a heart willing to pray with them, and a steadfast commitment to helping that friend to get closer to God.  If your friend is willing, put a Journey Notebook together for them (and perhaps one for yourself.)  Then commit to getting together for an hour or two each week to pray with thanks for God’s faithfulness as the two of you talk about what He had revealed since you last met.

I love the perspective of the Apostle Peter given as a blessing and a warning all:

“Whoever would love life and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech.
They must turn from evil and do good;
they must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and His ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
I Peter 3:10-12

While it is still today . . .
loving our neighbor in a hurting world is risky business,
but it’s the only business that truly counts!

All to His Glory!

 

With Every Problem . . . .

The first time I read the opening declaration of James*, I was a new Christian:

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many 
kinds . . . .”  

I was terrified!

Even now, four decades later, when hit  by the twists and turns of life, my first response is rarely to embrace hurt or disappointment with “joy.”  Even so, I committed to live out the wisdom of James and determined to test the promise that follows his declaration::

“The testing of your faith produces perseverance,
and perseverance must finish its work so that
you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything,”

 With that, I have embraced this truth:

Opportunity to trust God more . . . .

“With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust God more.”

Of course this commitment has not only impacted my personal outlook, but also how I counsel others.  From the onset, my goal in building a relationship with each Client has been based on my conviction that:

Biblical counseling
is more than fixing problems.
Biblical counseling should be about strengthening our relationship with the Shepherd of our hearts.

When people seek counsel, they often perceive God as being very distant and assume the worst of Him. To circumvent this, we rely on prayer and the Scriptures to bring God into every conversation that takes place in the Counseling Room. This “conversation” between God and Client continues as Clients are encouraged to do their Journey Notes outside of the Counseling Room two or three times a week. Those who follow through are the ones who do the best overall, as they learn to trust God not only with details of their lives but also their eternal future.

One passage that is a favorite with Clients is found in Isaiah 30. In it God urges His people to resist the temptation to run from their problems–but to run to Him instead.  The passage begins with this prescription:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength. . . .”

Meant to calm the heart and mind, the passage goes on to acknowledge what we are more likely to do:

. . . but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
(Verses 15-17)

It then reassures us with this beautiful picture of a caring Shepherd:,

Yet 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!

Isaiah 30:18

Did you catch that? “He will RISE UP to show you compassion.”  A perfect illustration of God being ACTIVELY concerned when it comes to the lives of His children.

The passage continues, with this assurance of God’s faithfulness in seeing us through dark valleys, as it challenges us to reject the things we cling to instead of God:

“Although the Lord gives you
the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
your teachers will be hidden no more . . . .
Whether you turn to the right or to the left,
your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”
Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver
and your images covered with gold;
you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth
and say to them, “Away with you!” 
 

No matter what we face, God calls us to come to Him with problems large and small.  I especially love the encouragement of Jesus’s invitation to all,

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me,
for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28-29

It’s all true:

With every problem comes opportunity . . .
opportunity to trust and love God more.

How to begin?  Give thanks to Him for His love and mercy as you rely on Him to provide the wisdom and perspective you lack.

So . . . what are you waiting for?!!!

All to His Glory!

*James 1:2-4

The Lost Art of Humility . . . .

Words rarely heard these days:

“I’m sorry . . . I was wrong . . . will you please forgive me?”

It’s called an apology–
an admission of error or discourtesy
accompanied by an expression of regret.*

We practiced this when our children were small, often finding it most helpful to lead by example. To apologize is an outward demonstration of humility, but it does not necessarily reflect what is in the heart.

In the Counseling Room we talk a lot about the importance of humility before God.  First Session we almost always turn to Jeremiah 17:5-10 to establish the importance of sorting out who (or what) needs to be the primary motivation behind resolving problems.  The passage warns against relying on other people who will ultimately lead us“to a salt land where no one lives,”  (verse 6).  It then encourages us to trust only in God’s faithfulness. When we get to verses 9-10 the passage warns:

“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 each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’” 

Not every Client sees it right away, but we talk about the danger of relying on our feelings rather than on God in problem solving. All too often it is as we “follow our hearts” (the counsel of the world) that lead us down destructive paths.

Humility defined:  “Freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble–not haughty or assertive.”*

We live in difficult times. With each passing day hatred has become increasingly easy and humility is perceived as weakness.  It is our natural bent to want to respond “in kind” to those who offend or hurt us.  But Jesus taught His followers to do the opposite:

The lost art of humility . . . .

“You have heard that it was said,
‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’

But I tell you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you . . . .”

Matthew 5:43, 44

For Christians, humility has less to do with who is right or wrong but what is right before God:

To love Him first and foremost and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) are what should be our primary motivation in how we live out our lives.

Humility is about choosing to trust God as Sovereign, Good and Just. I love the way Romans 12 broadens the scope of how we are to put humility and love together as we pray for our enemies::

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,
live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge,
my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay. . . .’
On the contrary:
If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
(Verses 17-21)

Humility becomes an art form when the mysterious working of God’s Spirit strengthens us to love the unlovely by praying for those who have hurt or disappoint us. 

Such humility is revealed by our attitude and actions toward God and others:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,
but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
Each of you should look not only to your own interests,
but also to the interests of others.”  

Philippians 2:3,4

Humility is a God-thing.  It is a reflection of the loving sacrifice demonstrated on the Cross by Christ.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

For many years I blamed the modern emphasis on building self-esteem as a major contributor to our cultural rejection of Christian principles. However, I no longer attribute the downward spiral of culture solely to the self-esteem movement.  Certainly, our self-centeredness has contributed to our downfall. However, God calls us to have a healthy regard for both our neighbor and ourselves as we remember His call:

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another . . .
God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

I Peter 5: 5b-7

Only recently have I come to see that, even among many Christians, our problem has more to do with our lack of humility in our dealings with others than with our self-esteem.

So is there a way to stop this downward spiral that threatens to divide us?  In the Counseling Room we talk about the strength of biblical humility as it centers on Christ: the key to living and finishing our lives well before God.   

The artful working out of biblical humility calls for;:

  1. Prayer, first and foremost, as we confess our need for clarity when hate threatens to consume us.
  2. Reliance on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts and direct our steps. (the entirety of Romans 12 provides a helpful perspective.)
  3. Praying for teachable hearts as we seek God’s wisdom and perspective on ourselves and others.
  4. Giving thanks to God that He is in control and His justice will ultimately prevail.

So is there any hope of restoring the lost art of humility? Absolutely!  Such beauty shines through when Christ’s own choose to love others as He has loved us–sacrificially.  It is the beauty and mystery of His Presence in our lives that will ultimately shine through to touch a hurting world.

All to His Glory!

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary

The Quiet of Now . . . .

The first time I thought it, my heart skipped a beat because I knew it didn’t come from me.  It came when I was curled up with my Bible, writing my praises to God in a Journey Notes entry:  “Thank You, God, for the quiet of now.”  

The quiet-of-now, is that profound peace of soul we crave in our cluttered lives, that too often eludes our grasp.  It is the fruit of seeking after God for the strength and perspective we lack. That elusive quiet-of-now, comes only after yielding to His question:“Will you trust Me in this?” with,“Yes Lord, I will trust you.” 

It struck me recently that, the quiet-of-now, is what Jesus was offering His disciples as He prepared them for His departure:

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.

I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and
do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

The quiet-of-now,, is what He continues to offer to us no matter what our circumstance:

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened . . .
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me;

for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.…
Matthew 11:28, 29

The quiet of now, is a God-thing . . . .

The quiet-of-now”, is the rarified Gift of God that once received is meant to be passed on.

 No matter what your station in life, if you have entered into a relationship with Christ, then you are meant to pass on His Peace, His Love, His Mercy and the resulting quiet-of-now blessing to all He puts on your path.

While waiting for a Client several weeks ago, I was struck by how my office encourages, quiet-of-now moments.  I am always grateful for the time right before a Client arrives, when I can ask God to help me see that person with His eyes rather than my own. The setting is simple, There are two upholstered chairs for Clients to chose from, a few things on the walls, a bookshelf, my desk, chair and a white board that I use mostly for drawing illustrations.  On my desk is my Bible and a red leather notepad given me many years ago by an appreciative Client.  Directly across from where I sit is a cabinet located between the two Client chairs with a red leather Bible sitting center-stage.

At the start of a Session, the Bible waits quietly, as each Client tells their story.  But as soon as the worn leather Bible is opened, and the words on the crisp pages tinged by time and frequent use are read, it speaks truth to receptive hearts.  It is when we read and ponder the words inside that Book, that God enters the conversation between us, and interesting (even miraculous) quiet-of-now moments are most frequently shared.

Quiet-of-now moments come with a yieldedness of mind and heart . . . .

So is there a key to unlocking the door to such quiet-of-now moments on a regular basis?  As I reflect on this question, I am struck that such moments have less to do with setting and more to do with attitude and heart:

If you seek Me you will find Me,
if you seek Me with all of your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:13

Quiet-of-now moments come upon us, when Scripture takes center-stage in our minds and we yield our hearts to the Sovereign Goodness of God’s Spirit.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10

All to His Glory!