A Fresh Perspective On Problems . . . .

When I began counseling, I saw myself as a sort of professional problem-solver.  In my naivety, I did not appreciate how broadly biblical counseling could impact the lives of others (as well as my own).  Reflecting back I can now see that for twenty-five years, God has directed the path of every conversation that has taken place in my office.  In those years, He has faithfully shepherded the heart of every Client (often despite my blunders) as He ministered to them through the Scriptures.  It has been a privilege (though humbling) to witness the courage of those who entrusted their lives to Him as they endured severe hardship and grew in their faith.  Many times I have felt like the proverbial “fly-on-the-wall” as I have watched God’s Spirit work out the impossible.  These are a few of the insights I have gained along the way:

Let light shine out of darkness . . . .
Let light shine out of darkness . . . .
  1. Problems are a constant–this is NOT heaven and we ALL have a history.
  2. Tough times provide powerful opportunities for personal growth and character development.
  3. In helping others, a personal commitment to applying the Scriptures in our own lives (along with a good measure of humility) impacts the receptiveness of the receiver.
  4. To go deeper with God, our focus should not be on the problem but on God and the wisdom of the Scriptures:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts . . . .
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.”
II Corinthians 4:6,18

Whatever challenge you face (or are trying to help someone else with), I pray that you will be strengthened by this truth:

It is in the challenging times that God invites us
into a deeper conversation with Him

~~~~~~~~~~

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
for the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
And perseverance must finish it’s work,
so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault.”

James 1:2-5

This may be your ultimate opportunity . . . so go for it!

All to His Glory!

Taking Ownership of OUR PROBLEM . . . .

It is such a little thing, I am not sure how many people even notice it when they walk into my office: “Tears Welcome Here.” Three simple words, cross-stitched and framed on my desk, greet every Client who walks into the Counseling Room.  TEARS . . . when you get right down to it, tears are at the heart the business of Counseling–tears of regret, tears in suffering, but also (and perhaps especially) tears of frustration–when God is silent and we ask, “Where is He . . . why doesn’t He answer my prayers?”

In this post, I will introduce a simple tool I refer to as, the Heartstring Illustration.*  It is a model that helps identify a problem we all have: that tendency to doubt God’s faithfulness rather than examining our own hearts.   There are times when God is silent because He chooses to be silent (after all, He is God!) and there is nothing to do except wait for further direction.  However, all too easily, we tend to blame God when there is a “disconnect” between us, rather than looking within ourselves. It is for that reason that we go to the Scriptures early and often in the Counseling Room, to gain insight into God’s perspective on OUR PROBLEM.  James 4:1-4 is especially helpful:

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?
Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
You desire but do not have, so you kill.
You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.
You do not have because you do not ask God.
When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives,
that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world
means enmity against God?
Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world
becomes an enemy of God.”  

Heart Strings-2

Like it or not, there is something refreshing about God’s ability to cut to the heart of OUR PROBLEM: a willingness to believe the worst of God rather than taking an honest look at ourselves.  Knowing full well our situation, Jesus clues us in on a more appropriate response to OUR PROBLEM as described in the parable of the prodigal son:

“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 . . . . ”
Luke 15:17-20

Little did the son know that, from the time he left to squander his inheritance, his father had watched and prayed for his safe return.  God does the same for you and me.  He watches and waits for us to “come to our senses” in repentance and faith.  The Heartstring Illustration is a useful tool that helps us turn to God for the help we need to identify OUR PROBLEM.  It is a simple means of gaining clarity when life appears chaotic.

I was first introduced to the Heartstring Illustration when working in a counseling office located above our local Pregnancy Help Center.  (I share this story because it is the simplest way to illustrate the value of the model.)  When a woman who was abortion-minded came to the Center, one of the Counselors would sit down with her to talk about her situation.  Looking at the triangle, on the bottom right they put the Client’s name; to the left of the triangle they wrote, Unwanted Pregnancy.  Then they asked the question: “Who or what is influencing your decision about your baby?”  Whatever answer that was given–pressure from boyfriend or parents, fear, money, etc–was written at the top of the triangle.  The Counselor then talked about how we will all be held accountable by God for our decisions; that we cannot shift the blame to others or to our circumstances,  Also, the Counselor explained that anything listed at the top of the triangle other than God–is an idol.  The Counselor then asked, “Who or what do you think should be at the top as you make this decision?”  To the best of my knowledge, every woman knew the answer: GOD.

The format is the same when we use it in the Counseling Room–only I draw it out on a white board. We talk about how dangerous it is to put our family and other concerns as our primary motivation (making them idols) rather than God.  Many times we refer to Psalm 139:24,25  as we seek God’s help in restoring Him to His rightful place in their hearts:

“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.”

I have also been helped personally using the model, when I have been tempted to blame Him for my troubles or sense a distance in our relationship.

“Search my heart God . . . clean house as You see fit . . .
so I can serve You with a glad heart.”  

The good news is that when we pray such honest prayers, owning OUR PROBLEM,
He proves Himself faithful every single time.
It is then, that we gladly welcome tears . . . TEARS OF JOY in the Lord
who speaks and works in the hearts and minds of all who seek Him.
Struggling? Confused?
Go to Him NOW–He is worthy of your trust!

All to His Glory!

* For twenty-plus years I referred to this model as, The Triangle Illustration–doesn’t exactly stir the heart, does it?!  As my son Luke was helping me put together the illustration for this post, I mentioned my frustration at not having a better title.  Luke (a puppeteer) suggested, heartstrings.  I thought about it and BAM!  It was a great fit, communicating the idea that, indeed, we need to be more aware of who or what is tugging at our hearts.  Thanks, Luke!