“If Any Of You Lacks Wisdom . . . . “

I can still remember the first time I read James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all
without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” 

 I was a new Christian with much to learn as a wife, a mother and a daughter of God Most High.  In my world before Christ, making mistakes or showing oneself as weak was a dangerous thing.  Once exposed, the resulting fault-finding and blame-shifting were elements that tore at the soul of this wounded and confused kid.  I had lived most of my life desperate to please and keep peace at just about any  price.   The thought of not having to guard against being ridiculed for showing weakness intrigued me and was downright revolutionary.   In the thirty-plus years I have walked with Christ since reading James’ letter, I have tested this promise many times and in various scenarios:

Crying out to God in fear. . .
Turning to Him with deep regret . . .
Seeking Him for the comfort and assurance I lacked–
 
God has proved Himself faithful . . .
EVERY . . .
SINGLE . . .
TIME . . . .

In my last post, I wrote to you about humility being the key to helping others as we rely on God for the wisdom and strength we need.  We looked at a picture of relationships being lived as God designed them to be–“Two are better than one . . . “–in Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12.  We focused on what happens when we invite God into those relationships as the powerful “third strand.” We marveled at how God’s people are strengthened and how those relationships become cosmic because of His Presence.

As I concluded that post, I promised to write in my next post about a very practical tool/exercise that has been helpful to me and has benefited many others.  I ask but one thing of you–I ask that you apply it personally before attempting to help someone else with it.  I make this request because you will never appreciate the value of what is offered unless you have personally reaped its benefits.  Also, by applying it first, Christ’s admonition that you, “take the plank out of our own eye” before going after the speck in the eye of a friend or neighbor (Luke 6:42) will have been honored.

The goal of the exercise is to discern (or expose) who or what the primary influence ruling your thinking and responding at various times is.  It is based on the assumption that there is always a rule or authority that influences how you think and/or act.  We start with the bare bones:

  1.  Draw a triangle on a piece of paper with a heart placed in the center of the triangle.
  2. Write your name next to the right bottom tip; to the left of the triangle write either “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or a specific problem or concern that comes to your mind.  (The point here is, that this illustration holds merit in both difficult (challenges) and easier (joyful) times.)
  3. Draw an arrow from where you have written your name to the top of the triangle.
  4. Draw another arrow from the top of the triangle to the bottom left where you have written, “Life’s Challenges and Joys” or have entered a specific problem or concern.

Now, put some flesh on those bones:

  1. The premise of the exercise: we rarely respond to the challenges and joys we encounter straight on–draw an arrow between your name and the other side underneath the triangle, then “X” the line out.
  2. Instead, we are influenced by whatever “rule or authority” we hold to at any given time.   Identifying what is at the top of the triangle is the key to determining what rules the heart at any given time.  (When working with a Client I ask them, “who or what” is influencing their thinking about their problem?  The answers vary: pressure . . . fear . . . anger . . . hurt . . . anxiety . . . pride . . . money . . . confusion . . . guilt . . . resentment . . . and the list goes on!)
  3. The next step (remembering James’ encouragement)– ASK GOD for the wisdom you need to identify what is influencing your thinking toward what you wrote to left of the triangle.  (Write those influences above the top of the triangle.)
  4. Now, take a deep breath and consider this: Anything written there that is influencing you (other than God) is probably an idol.  Write “God or Idol?” above your reasons listed over the top of the triangle.
  5. Finally, ASK GOD for the help you need to clean out the excuses and keep Him in His rightful place–“God and . . . ” never works!

There are times when I know my attitude is not right or when I know what my problem is but I feel stuck.  In both cases, when I ASK GOD for the wisdom and courage I lack, He has delivered without fail.  I have learned through this simple exercise that when God exposes my sin He does so, not to ridicule me for my failures, but to free me by facing my sin to enjoy a deeper faith.

Proverbs 16:2 warns:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

To hold onto our “reasons” for what we do is to lose what we need most–
the blessing of Christ’s Presence in our lives.
 Seek Him for the wisdom you lack to grow and mature spiritually through those difficulties.
He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

Meaningful Encouragement in a Hurting World~

 
 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
I Thessalonians 5:10, 11

Do you see people who are hurting but feel intimidated or unsure about how to reach out to them?  More to the point, how can we as Christians offer meaningful encouragement to a hurting world?  Before answering these questions, I invite you to think about the definition of encouragement:

Encouragement, according to the online Oxford Dictionary, is defined as:

    • The action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope.
    • Persuasion to do or to continue something (To not be a quitter!)
    • The act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief

True encouragement, does not tell someone what we think they want to hear–encouragement is not about “warm fuzzies!”

Christian encouragement speaks truth in love, to build courage and strengthen the one in need with the hope and assurance of Christ Jesus.   

There are times when I wonder if Christians are intimidated by our “politically correct” culture to the point where we are afraid to to love as we have been loved?  Have we abdicated our biblical responsibility to love our neighbor by relying on “professionals” to deal with the messy lives of others?  (I in no way mean to denigrate the need for mental health professionals.  Sadly, the need for such services will continue to be great in this world until Christ returns.)

What I am suggesting is that as a Biblical Counselor, I take seriously the responsibility of helping each Client I serve look at themselves and their problems as God sees them with the help of the Scriptures and prayer.  The thing is, every follower of Christ bears such a responsibility to whomever God puts on their path.  I write this not to scare you (truly!) but to encourage you to use what WE have–the Scriptures and prayer–to offer meaningful encouragement to the hurting people around you.  How?  By looking to God for the wisdom and courage we lack.

A good place to gain the perspective we need to help others is Philippians 2:1-4.  The Apostle Paul, encouraged his friends with these words:  

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (2:1-4)

As you reflect on Paul’s words, what stands out to you?  I see encouragement, comfort and unity in Christ as what draws us together.  Once we are drawn into Christ, tenderness, compassion and our joy in Him frees us to love others as a reflection of the grace He has extended to us.

In essence, Paul encourages us to keep Christ central in our motivation as we are freed to love others in humility and in faith.

 The result? A formula for meaningful encouragement in a hurting world where we:

  • Make prayer for and with those who are hurting a priority.*  As you pray for their needs pray also:
    • With thanks to God for their lives and for the fact that He is watching over them even now.
    • Give thanks that no matter how dark things may seem, God’s intent for them is blessing–that their faith will deepen as they trust in Him.
    • Give thanks for Christ’s sacrifice made on our behalf as a meaningful way of gaining the courage and perspective needed to face every challenge.
  • Dig into the Scriptures prayerfully, asking God for a teachable heart.  (Consider Journey Notes Praise Journaling if you don’t have something in place.)   Think in terms of application as well as inspiration as you read, Then, as God ministers to your heart, pass on what you learn to those whom you desire to encourage.
  • Better yet, encourage the person you want to encourage to also dig and pray.  Then arrange a time to get together to share insights gained and pray together.  When you get together be sure you both share at least three things you are thankful to God for.  (There’s no doubt about it, we humanly gain strength when our focus is more on God’s gracious provision rather than on what we lack.)

The Bible is full of meaningful encouragement that offers the wisdom and perspective we need to help others navigate through the worst of times with the love and hope we have received from the gospel of Christ.  .

All to His Glory!

*Many years ago a friend told me about meeting Corrie Ten Boom (author of The Hiding Place.)  My friend told Corrie about her sister who was being held behind the (then) Iron Curtain.  My friend related that they were in the middle of a room full of people when she felt herself suddenly pulled down on her knees as Corrie said, “We must take this to our Lord right away!”  That story has been an encouragement to me for many years to make prayer a priority when I see someone who is hurting.  I cannot get down on my knees but I have been known to put my arm around someone who is hurting to pray for them.

Voices ~

Did you know that September 14 was Hearing Voices Day?   Living in a world that labels those who “hear voices” as schizophrenic, it was interesting to discover an international movement committed toWorking across the world to spread positive and hopeful messages about the experience of hearing voices.” 

The Bible unabashedly speaks about non-audible voices that can influence our lives in powerful ways.  As a Biblical Counselor I must affirm that helping people sort through problems involves much more than uncovering the bare-bones details of what may have started the problem.   Over time I have learned that those “inner-voices/beliefs” we listen to can either help resolve or complicate the problems we face.

The Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus, warning that problems are part of an ongoing spiritual battle.  In Ephesians 6 he wrote,

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Verses 10-12)

Those “spiritual forces of evil” represent some of the voices that trip us up and seek to rob us of the joy and peace Christ has for us. That is why it is so important to be able to recognize His voice as the Shepherd of our hearts.  Jesus taught in John 10:

 “My sheep recognize My voice.  I know them, and they follow Me.  I give them real and eternal life.  They are protected from the Destroyer for good.  No one can steal them from out of My hand.”  (Verses 27,28– from The Message, 2001)

Recognition of the Shepherd’s voice is essential to our being able to navigate through the myriad of other voices that bombard us--fear, anger, doubt, guilt, pride and self-sufficiency are but a few.   Such voices can distract and take us off course, usually speaking when we are most vulnerable.  They have a way of slipping in when we least expect it.

In the Counseling Room we often refer to Isaiah 30:15-22 to help distinguish between God’s voice and the other voices.  I love the dynamic way the passage establishes the importance of staying close to God.  It begins with what I refer to as “God’s Rx” for growing through the challenges of life:

“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 . . .” 

I will never forget the day“God’s Rx” got my attention for the first time.  I was running scared.  I was sick and unsure about what the future held for me.  I remember feeling my heart beating crazily as my mind was scrambling for anything to hold onto.  When I hit the calming wisdom of God’s voice in Isaiah it was as if everything stopped.  After a moment, the voice of my Shepherd spoke through my fear and uncertainty as I reflected on His gentle call to repentance, rest, quietness and trust.  As I followed His prescription I began to see the world around me in a whole different light.  I had discovered rest for my soul.

However, as I continued to read the passage I had to laugh at the painful truth of what follows:

    “In repentance and rest . . . in quietness and trust . . . 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.”

Feeling lonely?  Misunderstood? Running scared?  Perhaps you have done some things that you regret (or did not do that thing you were convicted about doing?)  “Life” lived in our own strength, as we listen to those other voices, often leads to that hollow, tasteless place where we find ourselves wondering, “Is this all there is?”

Looking for encouragement?  Then consider this next bit that speaks to the reality of God’s voice as the Shepherd of our hearts, offering hope and a future to all who trust in Him:

 “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!”

If you are feeling beat-up by guilt then you are very likely listening to the wrong voice.  God convicts our hearts in order to free us, not to destroy us!   Maybe you are discouraged because you started something that is not going as well as you planned; it is too late to turn back but you don’t know how to move forward?  “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength.”  Go to Him- repent, rest, be still, PRAY!

The last verses of the Isaiah passage offers hope and direction as it speaks to the realities of life:

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help!  As soon as He hears, He will answer you.  Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them.  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!”

Life can be so very hard . . . but as we listen for His voice He will keep us on the right path.  He is totally worthy of our trust!

All to His Glory! 

The Breath of God ~

What truly inspires you?  This week I learned that the way we think about and use the word “inspire” has been substantially watered down from its original meaning.  Culturally we have lost the original depth of meaning as we have come to use it in a more casual sense: “to fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”   However, the word “inspire” originally referred to “a divine or supernatural being, in the sense ‘impart a truth or idea to someone'”  Do you see the difference?  “Inspired” in its original sense was what I call a Royal Word*, it was a word that was to be used exclusively with reference to God.

It is sad that we have lost the connection of inspiration with God as a divine being.   Even so,  I was grateful to receive Romanian-born Cristian Mihai’s post on “Inspiration”  yesterday.  Mihai’s blog addresses struggles that are common to writers as well as insights into the mechanics of writing.  Although written from a secular perspective for writers I was encouraged by his insight into the mysterious power of inspiration:

 “Out of all the aspects of writing I’m most amazed by the simple power the moments of true inspiration hold.  You know, those moments when a story starts growing out of thin air — and grows and grows, and it feels as if you’re just observing, you’re just allowed a bit of insight into a new universe.”

He is right to be “amazed by the simple power the moments of true inspiration hold” and so should you and I.   I was touched by his reference to the supernatural in being “allowed a bit of insight into a new universe.”

Inspiration is a rare gift that can redirect, convict, affirm and encourage the human heart and mind.   I read recently about the practice of “harvesting” water in Peru. where rain is rare but fog or mist comes through.  People hang out cloths, not to dry but to capture the moisture in the air.  They then wring out the cloth to “harvest” the water.  Inspiration can be every bit as precious!

When I think about the mystery and power of inspiration, the words of the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 3: 16-17 fill my mind:

 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,  so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The thought of the Bible being, “the inspired word of God” explodes beyond the universe with the realization that all Scripture is out-spired, the very breath of God!  Many years ago I purchased an amazing little book titled, Words to Die For.  Written by Lawrence Kimbrough, it is a fascinating compilation of thirty verses of Scripture that inspired ordinary people such as Clara Barton, Jim Elliot, and William Wilberforce to powerfully impact the lives of others.

It can be a wonderful thing to be inspired!  However, we do need to be careful and prayerful as to the source of what inspires us, because not all inspiration from out of this world is good.  The beauty of exploring the Scripture, is that because it is the very breath of God we can discover inspiration that takes ourselves out of the center of things.  We are then freed to see the world as God sees it.

How are we to determine whether our inspiration is good or bad?  By reflecting on God’s standard:  Will what inspires us honor Him?  Will it reflect love for our neighbor?

All to His Glory!

*When our children were still at home, we called certain words Royal because we did not want to diminish their power.  “Hate” and “love” were deemed Royal Words.   The Bible tells us to “hate what is evil and to cling (love) what is good” (Romans 12:9) so we sought to use such words appropriately.  Therefore, we did not “love” or “hate” brussel sprouts in our home.  We used other words to express our thinking about them!  ( :

The Problem With “Normal”

No matter how old I get, I never cease to be amazed by how God uses the ordinary things in life to teach extraordinary truths.   Many years ago, God used a conversation with a 15-year old French teenager named Florain to challenge my thinking.  Florian lived with us for a month one summer as part of a student exchange program.   During that time, I remember struggling to keep our family afloat by avoiding confrontation with our two very “normal” teenaged daughters and preteen son.  Why I said “yes” to having one more teenager live in our home remains a mystery to me, but I’m so glad I did!

When Florian joined our family,  he was appreciative of our hospitality and set about fitting in right away.  There were a lot of activities with our church youth group Florian enthusiastically attended with our daughters.   I suppose that is why, after living with us for about two weeks, a conversation I had with him so powerfully captured my attention.  He began our conversation with a question:

“Why are American teens so rude to their parents?”

(Bear in mind, the only American teens Florian got to know that summer were our teens and their youth group friends!)   I don’t remember how I responded except that I probably made the excuse that they were just “normal” teenagers.  It was Florian’s response that rattled and challenged me to check the basis of my beliefs with the wisdom and perspective of Scripture.  This is a paraphrase of what he said as he carefully chose English words to express what was on his troubled French heart:

 “Me and my friends, we don’t treat our parents that way.  We are taught to be respectful of our parents and elders.  We would never display such rudeness to our parents the way American teens do.  I do not understand why they are allowed to do that!”

I was stunned!  Here was a young man who came from a culture that was notoriously perceived as rude and arrogant by my culture, expressing shock and amazement at the arrogance of teens in our culture!  Huh?!!  It took me a while to realize how my acceptance of the cultural view of teens as rebellious and rude actually encouraged such behavior!   This revelation took me back to the basics of what I believe to help me figure out how to love my teens better.  It was through the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit working in my heart that freed us to:

  1. Talk about sin as being rebellion against God- “sin is lawlessness.”  (1 John 3:4)
  2. We talked about our need for redemption and God’s faithful provision- “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”  (Romans 3:22b-24)
  3. From that point on we called sin what God says it is- Sin!  What we maybe tempted to excuse as “normal” does not diminish the consequences of sin before a Holy God.
  4.  We also took more seriously His commandment to love- “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.”  (I Peter 1:22)

This brings me to the problem Christians must face today:  When we blindly accept what is deemed culturally “normal,” we set aside the blessing and protection given us by God in the Bible.  Sadly, by doing this we are every bit as vulnerable to the problems that plague the rest of culture!   In addition, there is no place for faith in this secular normalcy.  As time passes and “the separation of church and state” dictate the unacceptability of prayer in the public realm, can there really be any question as to the direction secular standardization is taking us?

This morning I was struck by Jesus warning to not be lulled into the seemingly “normal” routine of life.  Jesus knew His arrest was about to occur as He challenged His disciples to watch for His second coming.   What was chilling to me was in how He tied what was “normal” in the days before Noah completed construction of the ark to what would occur at His second coming:

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”  (Matthew 24:37-39)

When we lose sight of the spiritual truths given us in the Bible (or remain ignorant of them) it becomes very easy to slide into eating, drinking and marrying with no thought of what is to come.   God gave us His Living Word to bless and keep us on His path of righteousness.   If you recognize that you too have been serving the lie of normalcy (whatever that may be) I urge you to go to God in repentance and faith in His Only Son.  Give thanks for His forgiveness as you stay close to Him through His Spirit and the Scriptures and as He blesses you with an extraordinary life!

All to His Glory!

Hope in Dark Places ~

Sometimes life gets complicated when we least expect it.   Are you struggling with disappointment or uncertainty?  Worried about a friend who is sick or in trouble?  Maybe you are concerned for your parents who obviously need help but refuse your efforts?  Me too.  It is during such times that I am always grateful to cozy up to the Scriptures for comfort, perspective and the HOPE that I have lost sight of.

Does that sound odd?  Living in a culture that seems to be all about creating diversions to avoid thinking about problems, I suppose it does.  Yet Forbes.com  reporter Melanie Lindner  suggests that much of the booming “self-help” industry is fueled by people seeking an age-old need:

“Americans spent $11 billion in 2008 on self-improvement books, CDs, seminars, coaching and stress-management programs–13.6% more than they did back in 2005.”  Lindner continues, ” Who buys into this stuff?  Mainly middle-aged, affluent females living on either of the two coasts. What are they getting for their money? In a word: HOPE.”   (Published 01.15.09)

Can money buy hope?  Not really.  Steve Salerno, author of Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless says the most likely customers of self-help products are the same people who purchased similar products within the previous 18 months.   Our problem?  In becoming our own gods, we look to contrive a self-made hope that can never satisfy.

But there is HOPE (tons of it!) if you just know where to look.  Consider this gem the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans:

 “ . . . everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”  (15: 4)

 By God’s design, the Scriptures are a gift to us that provide HOPE as they teach and encourage us to endure in our faith.  According to the Oxford dictionary to endure is “to suffer patiently.”  I appreciate the reminder not to give way to despair in my disappointment.  Instead I (we!) can choose to suffer patiently (even expectantly) as God works out His perfect plan.  The blessing that is worked out in this process is a quietness of heart we refer to as HOPE.  It is hope, centered on the singular goodness of our Creator, that brings light into dark places.

Just a few verses down in Romans is another verse that has been a source of light and, yes, HOPE in some of the darker seasons in my life.  I offer it to you and pray that you too will experience  God’s perfect peace as you endure to His Glory.

“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)