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

Voices . . . .

It is a conversation that takes place more often than you may think . . . talking in the Counseling Room about how to distinguish between God’s voice and those “other voices” we hear in our heads.  You know–those destructive voices that fan our fears and encourage us to run from God (believing the worst of Him); those lying voices (and sometimes even, “well-meaning” voices) that rob us of wisdom and hope in how we view ourselves, our circumstances as well as our relationships with God and with others.  Why is this important?  Because living in a world filled with so much “chatter” bombarding us from every direction, we are too easily taken off track.  Too often, I have had to help a Client pick up the shredded remains of their faith, because that Client listened to voices that lead them astray.

To be able to recognize the voice of the Shepherd on good days and in bad,
is critical to navigating through the challenges we face in uncertain times.

This is not new.  That is why Jesus encouraged His own to stay close to Him:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me;
and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish;
and no one will snatch them out of My hand.…”

John 10:27-28

There are many reasons people seek Counseling: ALL need clarity in discerning God’s voice, because All are vulnerable to the unrelenting accusatory voices that seek to weaken our faith.  That is why I encourage every Client to connect with God through the Journey Notes process:

"Come to me all . . . . "
“Come to me all . . . . “
  • Logging their praises and concerns to God with every entry,
  • Prayerfully investing personal time reading Scripture (becoming familiar with God’s voice),
  • Writing at the top of the page in red, the Scripture that stands out to them in their reading,
  • Responding prayerfully to what God has said as they log their thoughts and feelings in their Journey Notebook.

In the Counseling Room, we talk about the way God speaks to us–to convict and bring us to repentance in order to free us. (Galatians 5:1)  We also talk about how the voices of evil seek to distract or cause us to doubt God’s goodness.  We find James extremely helpful, as he makes a clear distinction between being tested by God (in order to strengthen our faith) and when we are tempted by our sinful desires:

“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone;
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

James 1:13, 14

James makes clear: we are not victims when it comes to sin.  We are challenged to confess our sin when we go our own way and receive God’s forgiveness in repentant faith..

We spend quite a bit of time in the Old Testament, finding that God’s voice is the same in both the Old and the New Testaments.  Two passages that are especially helpful are:

Genesis 4:1-7  When Cain got angry because God was not pleased with his offering (displaying a bad attitude), God’s response was interesting. God sought Cain out, not in anger but to offer the first Counsel to the rebellious heart recorded in Scripture,

“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?
But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door;
it desires to have you, but you must master/rule over it.”

(verses 6b & 7)

Of course, we know what Cain’s response was . . . but that same voice of a caring Shepherd speaks to you and I in our struggles.  The only way we can “know what is right” is to become familiar with His voice as we follow Him.

Isaiah 30:15-21  God offers the prescription we need when it comes to facing up to our sinful propensities:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength . . .

and follows up with a challenge to resist going our own way:

 . . . 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.”

Can you relate to that image of feeling abandoned and without hope? When you realize you have nothing left to give? The passage continues with this encouragement:

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 . . . .

Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction . . .  
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.’”

Isn’t that amazing?! As our voices are raised to Him in repentance and rest, God rises to the occasion with GRACE.  Instead of anger and wrath, He responds with compassion and justice, directing our every step. 

As we listen to the voice of the One who saves and obey Him, His Grace begins to fill in the gaps as our faith is strengthen.

Of course it does not stop there, does it?  In my next post I will write about how to reduce some of the incessant “chatter” of those other voices that rob us of the joy, hope and peace that are meant to be ours in Christ.

All to His Glory!