Association of Biblical Counselors

Association of Biblical Counselors

The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC) exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.

Encourage: ABC provides a fellowship of believers committed to life transformation through the Living Word.

Equip: ABC promotes training in biblical counseling and points to resources that deal biblically with all of the issues of life.

Empower: ABC provides excellent materials for growth in Christ and for use in effective biblical counseling.

To find out more, visit the Association of Biblical Counselors website.

When You Can’t Forgive Yourself

by Leslie Vernick

When our Christian counselee says something like, “I just can’t forgive myself,” as biblical counselors how do we respond? Perhaps it’s a client who has committed adultery or had an abortion or done something contrary to Scripture, and despite asking for and receiving God’s forgiveness, she refuses to forgive herself.   

We listen to her internal dialogue. She beats herself up saying things like, “I should have known better.” Or, “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” or “I can’t believe I did that.” Or, “What’s wrong with me?” And for some counselee’s, this internal dialogue is running day and night, tormenting them with each and every mistake, sin, and failure. 

As biblical counselors we earnestly try to insert the gospel into this person’s thinking, challenging them with the truth.  We may say something like, “If the God of the Universe was willing to come to earth, become human, and sacrifice himself to forgive our sins, who are we not to forgive—either others or our own self?”

Yet that theological truth can be difficult if not impossible for our counselee’s to put into practice when she’s in the middle of ruminating over her stupid mistakes, missed opportunities, or sin. God’s grace although mentally acknowledged, is not her internal reality. It’s theological truth but not transformational truth. 

When someone isn’t able move beyond her failures, mistakes, and even sins, she can get stuck in a spiral of debilitating regret, depression, and even self-hatred. 

It’s important as biblical counselors that we understand the way out of this internal bondage. It’s not self-forgiveness, but rather self-acceptance. Although she’d be hard pressed to acknowledge it, she wants to be like God—perfect and in control of all things.

She believes she should know how to do it right, to say it right, to know ahead of time what the right answer should be or what right solution will best solve a problem. If she could always live that way, then she’d feel better about herself. But when she fails (and as a sinner, she inevitably will), she feels profound disappointment and shame. She can’t believe how stupid, sinful, foolish, incompetent, scared, irresponsible, selfish she is. In beating herself up, she’s reinforcing her internal lie that she should have been better than that.

Before someone can experientially accept God’s grace, she must emotionally (not merely intellectually) accept who she is. There is only one God, and she is not him. She is a creature: one who is called both saint and sinner, beautiful and broken. Humility is the only path that will give her the internal freedom she craves because once she is humble—Jesus called it “poor in spirit”—she’ll be in a position to emotionally accept who she is—a fallible, imperfect, sinful creature who doesn’t know it all. Then, she will no longer be so shocked, shamed, or disappointed when she sees her darker, sinful, weaker side. 

It’s not her sins and failures that cause her greatest emotional pain. Rather, it is her unrealistic expectations of herself and her lack of acceptance when she messes up. In a backwards way, her pride has been wounded. She is disappointed that she isn’t better than she is. But the truth is, she’s not. In embracing that truth, she is also set free to embrace and experience the beauty of grace.

Now the grip of self-hatred for being imperfect no longer has the same power over her. Now that same emotional energy can be used to humbly ask for forgiveness from others where necessary. Instead of hating herself for her sins and failures, now she can learn from them so she doesn’t continually repeat them. Now she can fully experience what she so desperately craves: God’s love and forgiveness for her sinful, imperfect self.

One of my old-fashioned mentors, François Fénelon, wisely wrote, “Go forward always with confidence, without letting yourself be touched by the grief of a sensitive pride, which cannot bear to see itself imperfect.”

Go forward, friend, and help your client emotionally accept his or her imperfections. It is in that place of humility coupled with Christ’s unconditional forgiveness will they will find the freedom they long for. 

How to Escape Depression’s Pull

by Margaret Ashmore

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.” – Exodus 14:15

All God’s revelations are sealed to us until they are opened to us by obedience. Immediately you obey – a flash of light comes. Obey God in the thing He is at present showing you, and instantly the next thing is opened up. The tiniest fragment of obedience, and heaven opens up and the profoundest truths of God are yours straight away. God will never reveal more truth about Himself till you obey what you know already.” – Oswald Chambers

Depression can be so weighty that it has its own gravitational pull, and one that has found me more than once dead center on the couch watching some mind-numbing television show. (Interesting isn’t it that the word a-muse means to “not think”?)

The choice of just getting up and sweeping the floor or writing a note to someone has always propelled me from its grip with escape velocity born from the spark of sheer obedience. The maximum weight of a Boeing 747 is approximately 900,000 pounds, yet “thrust and lift” can take it above the very clouds that had shrouded the sun.

Elisabeth Elliot’s signature quote regarding the soul’s malaise, which she says and very crisply, “Do the next thing.” She goes on to say with the same forthrightness, “Maybe you will have to get out of bed, get up from your chair, go outdoors and walk, sing a song out loud, bake a pie for somebody, or mow the lawn as an offering of praise.” I remember talking to a woman who when she was a little girl lost her father in a sudden accident with looming foreclosure of her family home. She said the most comforting sound she has ever heard was that of her mother washing dishes. She was doing the “next thing,” the practical thing and that which dispelled the depressing notion that “life is always going to be this way.”

But it is not always moving forward. Sometimes there is need to move backward in uncovering secret or long cherished sins in our lives. In the Joshua 7, we read of Israel’s defeat at Ai, which fell hard on the heels of over confidence and pride. Joshua fell on his face with a litany of questions and complaints. What was God’s response? Was it, “Joshua, let’s talk about this” or “how does that make you feel”? No, it was a resolute, no non-nonsense “Get up!” There was sin in the camp that had to be dealt with before there could be deliverance.

So “doing the next thing” might mean getting right with someone you’ve wronged, making restitution on outstanding payments, putting away once for all that website or magazine which feeds a monstrous, lustful appetite, taking back a purchase of self indulgence whose only outcome was more debt – you will have your own list. I certainly have mine. But be assured, this principle alone can take you from a shrugging Atlas with the weight of the world on your shoulders to that of renewed vigor and reviving refreshment. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Acts 3:19-20

The choices we make to obey despite our feelings or to give in to the downward pull of a fallen world filled with fallen people – mean everything.

Here is a list of a few other practical things that will help get traction in your life if you are stuck in depression:

Start with your devotional life. God’s Word is the means of grace whereby He imparts His peace and contentment to the depths of your soul. And prayer. After Hannah poured her heart out before God we read, “And her face was no longer sad.” John Piper says, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not for a lack of time.” Yes, you have time!

Join a gospel-centered church and get involved in the fellowship. (For the believer, there is no growth, or life, or possibility of change apart from the body of Christ.) Don’t wait for someone to ask you out for a visit. Ask them. Statistics show that people who have a friend to talk to over coffee often do much better than going to protracted and secular counseling.

Begin an exercise regime. (Make sure you start with a doctor’s approval.)

Write a note to a friend or someone who seems forgotten and alone. (Isaiah 58:7-8)

Listen to music that elevates the soul. (1 Samuel 16:23)

Get on a budget. Prayerfully save for a purchase instead of putting it on credit. Tithe. (Malachi 3:10)

Finish projects long put off. Simple but profoundly effective, like a woman with whom I was counseling for severe depression. One of her assignments was to tackle the mountains of ironing and to clean her house, both neglected for months. The decision to complete very elementary tasks uncloaked the fabrication that her life was “overwhelming.” She did “the next thing” and that momentum was her exodus to freedom.

Start a garden, make a gourmet meal, watch some re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show, go out with family or friends for some Rocky Road ice cream. And laugh. It’s good medicine.

Now, clear the runway!

How to Make Things Right When You Hurt Someone

by Margaret Ashmore

So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” – Colossians 3:12–15

It is impossible to live in a fallen world populated with fallen people in yet unconverted flesh and not hurt others or be hurt by them, and as believers we can do one of two things in response–either isolate in our own self protective, “fantasy” kingdoms (withdrawing, avoiding honesty and vulnerability, being paralyzed with a fear of rejection, controlling with anger) or live in the reality of God’s kingdom (loving others with a prodigal, “expect nothing in return” love) and experience His protection. We choose the latter by submitting to the following mandates of our King.

When we hurt others. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23, 24). We don’t read, “If you have something against your brother,” but instead, “If your brother has been hurt or offended by you.” In which case we are, in effect, to drop everything and first humble ourselves in that relationship by clearing our conscience, asking forgiveness or making restitution. Then, and only then, can we return to the altar to experience unimpeded worship, thus “seeing the Lord’ and being transformed into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Christ-likeness is inextricably bound to the health of our relationships.

When others hurt us. I tend more easily toward the desire of enlightening others as to how they have offended me or engaging in the lust of vindication when I think I have been ill perceived. But the King’s mandate is to bear it patiently as did our Lord. “When He was reviled, He reviled not. When He was threatened, He uttered no threats” (I Peter 2:21-23). Instead of retaliation toward those who were threatening and maligning Him, He “commended to the One Who judges righteously.” And that’s what we do. Give it to God. Give thoughtless comments, unkind remarks, harsh words and injustices to the One Who in His perfect time (in other words, we don’t go ahead of Him) will make things right and in so doing bring about transformation in us. 

When a friend’s words hurt me deeply, it seemed most unjust. (Doesn’t it always?) I stewed. I lost sleep. I rehearsed over and over in my mind an oration worthy of the Pulitzer Prize in telling her just how right I was and how dreadfully wrong she was. I had just spoken at a conference on commending our rights to God and was overwhelmed with a deep sense of conviction that I was holding on to resentment compounded by claiming the right to be understood. By God’s grace, I chose not to confront but to commend, holding close to my heart Psalm 62:1: “My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him alone is my salvation.”

An amazing thing happened. In that time of prayerful waiting, God revealed some truth in my friend’s criticism by using her to point out an area of pride that had been veiled by my reactive resentment. It also allowed God to work in her heart (a good reminder–I am NOT the Holy Spirit) who recognized a rather harsh delivery. To that end, full restoration was made, and I never had to fire a shot! As my pastor Tom Nelson says, “Hold the moral high ground. God will bring about His will and your vindication.”

And from that high ground, we can now extend a hand to those who are living in the deep pits and hollows of error and sin.

When it is right to confront. Once the log is out of our own eye, we can see clearly how to take the speck out of our brother’s eyes (Matthew 7:5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.”If the goal is restoration, and it should always be, here is further light from James 5:19-20: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

But how we go about confrontation is everything! When I had a mastectomy and a subsequent follow up with my oncologist, he looked at the surgery site and exclaimed, “Dr. Sally Knox must have been your surgeon!” I was wondering at that point if she had signed her work when he said, “No one leaves a more beautiful scar.” There is sometimes the need to do intervening “surgery” in the lives of our brethren, but to do so with a actions not tempered in prayer, a critical spirit or with any malice can leave a jagged, ugly wound and its recipient with a greater desire to close off their hearts in relationships. Knowing this, God gives very careful instructions in Galatians 6:1 for making accurate incisions.

Brethren, if anyone is caught in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” 

“You who are spiritual” means one who is mature in their walk with God. Only a believer whose words are seasoned with grace, understanding and tenderness should do surgery on a fragile heart, leaving a beautiful scar which only serves as a reminder of the love that saved their souls from destruction. Further, the word for “restore” is a Greek word (katartidso) meaning, “the mending of a net.” If we are going to confront someone, we should not only do so with clear eyed, meticulous maturity, but we had also better be prepared to walk alongside that person, helping them to sew up the torn places in their lives through counsel, discipleship, or mentoring.

In the Old Testament, snuffers of pure gold were the only instruments allowed to trim the candlewicks of the tabernacle (Exodus 25:38). Sometimes we need to be “trimmed back,” but that job is exclusive to those who have not the alloy of unconfessed sin or embittered hearts, but speak as one forgiven person to another–and always with the aim of a warmer, brighter fervor for the gospel.

In a fallen world, Christians have a risen Savior, an enthroned King Who bids us through obedience to live in His unshakeable Kingdom by loving with His love, forgiving because He has forgiven us, then treating our brethren in such a way that others want to live there, too.

10 Biblical Truths to Overcome Sinful Anger

by Biblical Soul Care Harvest Bible Chapel

It doesn’t take long to figure out that we live in an angry world. Read the headlines on any given day and you see anger on display in politics, movies, TV shows, and sports. Spend any amount of time in any family and you’ll see anger expressed almost daily. When a day goes by without conflict, it’s a miracle of God. 

Sadly, the church hasn’t exactly been the poster child for pursuing peace and reconciling conflict in a God-glorifying way over the course of church history. Even though Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of hostility… so that we could have peace” (Ephesians 2:14–16), we still quarrel and fight 

It’s inevitable—wherever there are relationships, sinful anger will be expressed. By nature, we’re all selfish. I’m no exception. Cut me off in traffic, I might have some words for you (with my window up, of course). Do something I perceive as disrespectful, watch out! I may get a little passive aggressive and withdraw from interacting with you because I have a heart of fear. If you “reject me,” I get insecure, defensive, and may punish you by holding back.  

See, that’s how deceptive sin can be. It affects our ability to think reasonably and rationally. While I am not immune, I am also certain I’m not alone in my struggle (1 Corinthians 10:13). BUT GOD, in his grace, mercy, kindness, patience, and love has made us alive through the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:4–9). It’s only because of Him that I’m pursuing humility and meekness as a way of life. Know this though, humility and meekness are not weakness! They are strength under control, like a well trained war horse (Matthew 5:5). 

As God’s children, we can all make this journey of change together. Here are some things I have learned over the years in my fight against sinful anger. Understanding and applying these truths to your own life will help you overcome sinful anger and see sustained fruit.

1. Anger Has Three Faces: It is expressed primarily in three different ways: 1) explosive and blowing up; 2) stewing, brewing, or silent indignation; and 3) irritability, exasperation or embitterment. Silent anger is just as offensive to God as explosive anger. How are you prone to express your anger? 

2. Anger Hurts Relationships: You choose who is on the receiving end of your anger because anger is a perceived threat to something you hold valuable. The problem is we can go a whole day at work being “nice” to our co-workers only to lose it at home with those closest to us! We tend to take it out on those we are called to love the most. Who has been on the receiving end of your anger the most?  

3. Anger is in the Bible: The Bible has a lot to say about anger. From the beginning in the garden all the way to the end; man’s anger is expressed by rejecting God and pursuing his own way (Romans 3:10–18). Yet man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteous purposes (James 1:19–20). While God too can be angry, it is never sinful (Psalm 7:11; John 3:36; Romans 1:18). Actually, compared to the offenses He must suffer, He is very “slow to anger” (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8). Does your anger accomplish God’s purposes? 

4. Anger Put Jesus on the Cross: Did you know that the anger of man and God’s wrath for all our sins culminated onto Jesus when he went to the cross to pay the penalty for sin (Acts 2:22–24)? He satisfied God’s wrath and allowed man to express their anger towards him at the same time—man rejecting God and God loving man in the very same event in history. How often do you reject God in your anger by not doing what He calls you to do? 

5. Anger Is Covered by Christ’s Blood: The blood of Christ is sufficient to cover your sinful anger. No matter what wrath has protruded from your mouth or what you’ve done physically to harm others or yourself, you can be forgiven and walk in newness of life. Anger is a sin, but the death of Christ is payment enough to cover it. If you have died with Christ, you can become a different person (Romans 6:5–11). Do you believe and live as if your anger is covered by the blood of Christ or do you act like His blood isn’t sufficient? Why or why not? 

6. Anger is a Life-dominating Sin: Just like any other “addiction,” we become enslaved to anger. It temporarily satisfies our sinful desire and flesh, yet we feel guilty and ashamed when we give full vent to it. It’s a vicious cycle of self-destruction. Are you stuck in a vicious cycle of anger? If so, you can be set free (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).  

7. Anger is an Expression of False Worship: Like all other “addictions,” anger has false worship at its core. When you express your anger sinfully, ask yourself, “What am I not getting that I really want or that I’m willing to sin to get?” Your answer will reveal what you’re living for in that moment. Something else has captured your heart more than God, and you’re seeking a false refuge; that is idolatry. What’s captured your heart more than God?

8. Anger is Often Just a Fruit: It usually has fear at the root and more specifically, it is the fear of man. While anger may be all we can see at times, at the heart of it is a fearful, insecure, unsafe, untrusting heart looking for something from man that only God can satisfy. Learn to love God more with reverent awe and fear because then you’ll learn to need people less. Remember that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and that you are perfectly loved by your heavenly Father. What are you really afraid of deep down in the innermost being of your heart?

9. Anger Can Be Righteous: Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin.” You express righteous anger by becoming angry about what angers God. Jesus died not only to free you from sinful anger but to enable you to be angry with God not at God. Is your anger expressed righteously or sinfully? How can you tell? Would others say the same?  

10. Anger Must Be Surrendered: The only way out is to surrender your anger to God. Do not control or manage it in your flesh. Let the Spirit move you to action or bring you to brokenness. God is the judge, not you or me (James 4:11–12). Are you ready to step down from the throne of your mini judgment seat and allow God to be God? Remember, “vengeance is mine,” says the Lord (Romans 12:18–21).   

Are you ready to humble yourself in your broken state and surrender your sinful anger to God? Know that He will give you grace in your time of need (Isaiah 66:2b; 2 Chronicles 16:9; James 4:6). So, if you are ready, repent, ask God and those you have offended to forgive you, and walk in victory over the sinful anger that’s held you captive for so long.

3 Signs of Sexual Abuse in Marriage

by Leslie Vernick

Christy was startled awake when she felt her husband yank her nightgown up and pull her legs apart. She tried to push him off her but he was too strong as he pinned her down to their bed with his body weight.  This wasn’t the first time he forced himself on her but this time was the worst. This night Greg was rougher than usual and Christy felt it would never end. She bit her lips together so she wouldn’t scream. Their little boy was asleep next to her in their bed and all she could think of was “Please God, don’t let him wake up and see this.”

The next day Christy had a fat lip, her back ached, and her insides felt raw and bruised. Later that evening she tried to talk to Greg about what happened but he blamed her. He told her if she wasn’t such a prude, then maybe they would have a spicier sex life. Christy didn’t see herself as a sexual prude, but she did think she ought to have a choice. She didn’t think she should feel afraid of her husband or of sleeping in her own bed with him. She didn’t think she should have bruises or injuries after sexual intercourse. Christy was right.

Sexual abuse in marriage is not something that is readily disclosed or discussed. It feels shameful to admit even to one’s self that your own husband treats you as if your sole purpose is to provide him your body whenever and however he wants sex. But that is not God’s intent for her as a woman or as a wife. 

As Biblical counselors we must begin to understand the reality of sexual abuse in marriage and address it properly. Many women have written to me describing the foolish and unbiblical counsel they have received when disclosing marital sexual abuse. Their counselors often cite 1 Corinthians 7, “your body is not your own,” seemingly implying that God gives their husbands a free pass to do what he wants with her body. That is a lie.

Friends, God designed the sexual relationship in marriage to reflect a sacred oneness of unselfishness, safety, and mutual love. Sadly, some marriages never get close to reflecting this picture. Instead there is selfish demandingness, a total disregard for a wife’s feelings, leading to abuse, shame, and fear.

Below are three indicators a wife is being sexually abused in her marriage.    

1. She is forced to do sexual things she does not want to do.

Like Christy, she might be forced into sexual intercourse but she might also be forced to do anal sex, oral sex, watch pornography, participate in degrading practices such as sadistic bondage rituals, or have sex with other partners (male or female) while her husband watches or photographs her. 

2. She complies with his sexual demands but only because she is threatened or is afraid of dire consequences if she refuses.

Even if she isn’t physically forced to do these things, she may be threatened with divorce, told he will find someone else or visit prostitutes; she’s threatened with harm or harm to her children or pressured spiritually by telling her that the Bible says God says her body is not her own—therefore, she has no rights to say no.

3. Her feelings don’t matter.

For example, she’s clearly told him that she doesn’t like him grabbing her inappropriately in public, but he does it anyway. She feels uncomfortable wearing low-cut tops, short skirts, and/or push up bras, but he insists that she wear them or pouts when she won’t.

He wants sex in the laundry room, but the kids are playing in the next room. She says no, but he always wins. Or he insists he needs to have sex three times a day, seven days a week, and she is worn out, but that doesn’t matter.   

Each of these indicators reveal that her husband believes he’s entitled to get what he wants with little or no regard for his wife’s personal feelings, values, or desires. If it’s good for him, it doesn’t matter if it hurts or humiliates her. It’s all about him and his needs. Her role is to serve and service him. Her feelings and needs are secondary or irrelevant. To him a wife is a body to use, a possession to own, not a person to love.

This is not God’s desire for her, for him, or for their marriage. God doesn’t care more about men than women or a husband’s sexual needs more than a wife’s feelings.

The Bible is clear. The picture of proper marital sexual relationship is described in the Song of Solomon. It is mutual, it is reciprocal, and it is freely entered into by both partners.

The Bible also has a lot to say about the misuse of sex. For example, Paul says, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people” (Ephesians 5:3,4). He goes on and warns, “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do.” 

Sexual abuse in marriage is sexual greed and lust. The immoral person wants more and more, regardless of whether or not it hurts or damages the other person. As biblical counselors we must never minimize this or excuse this behavior. Nor are we to encourage wives to put up with this or go along with it. Instead, Paul says we are to expose it for what it is (Ephesians 5:11–14).

It breaks my heart that women are not only assaulted by their own husbands, but when they seek help from God’s shepherds, they are reinjured by the very people God has put in place to protect them. (Please read a woman’s first-hand account of the sexual abuse in her marriage and how her church leaders failed her.)

 The comments from other women who also were sexually assaulted by their husband and then shamed, scorned, scolded, or ignored by their church must be heard. 

Friends, as Christian leaders, as Biblical counselors, we must do better here. God will not hold us guiltless.

Using a Personal Journal for Spiritual Growth

by Brad Hambrick

Too often the use of a journal has been dismissed as feminine, “something you do when you need counseling,” or too time consuming. But with a bit of reflection (which is all journaling is) we might come to a different conclusion. Many of the great figures in church history have kept a journal, and the church has benefited greatly from this window into their daily life (not as a voyeur, but to understand what spiritual greatness looks like in the mundane-ness of daily life). And while not a theologian, the great Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

If you are interested in starting the exercise of journaling let me offer the following suggestions. Journal during the time when you do your daily Bible study. Do not feel compelled to write something every day. Do not write for an audience; write for your benefit and as it comes naturally for you.

When you begin with your journal consider the following subjects and review them annually in your journal.

  • What are the top 5 values by which I want to operate my life?
  • What do I believe are my spiritual gifts and talents? What are my characteristic weaknesses?
  • What are the key relationships in my life? What are my goals for each of these relationships?
  • How would I ideally spend the 168 hours I get each week (7/24 hour days)?

As for the journal entries that you write after these core reflections are in place, consider the following subjects.

  • Self-examination based upon one of your top 5 values.
  • A point of conviction regarding sin or a spiritual practice.
  • Reflection on a day’s event in light of your “life story.” These are great for sharing later with spouse, children, or grandchildren as a discipling moment or family heirloom.
  • A personal goal for change and steps of implementation. This is a particularly good subject to record after an insightful Bible study or sermon.
  • A prayer in the form of a letter regarding a key life concern.
  • An answer to prayer.
  • A narrative of a key life event from younger days and the impact you see that it has had upon you.
  • Insight from your daily Bible study.
  • A humorous event.
  • Sermon notes with your reflections.

I encourage you to consider this practice. Many have found it as an immensely profitable way to (1) maintain a focus on your purpose in life, (2) increase the level of intentionality with which they live; (3) enhance the depth of their relationships, especially marriage and family; (4) measure progress and gain encouragement in their walk with God; and (5) remember God’s faithfulness during times that are difficult.

How to Find God’s Perspective on Cancer

by Jay Younts

News of having cancer is a life-changing event. Sorrow, sadness, and sympathy are appropriate responses. But for a counselor, more is needed. Cancer also brings fear and for many who are diagnosed, finality. Once the initial emotional impact passes, uncertainty and helplessness may dominate. Some may just give up in resignation. Other folks may assume an aggressive posture towards cancer and determine to “beat it” no matter how great the odds.

All of these people need one additional perspective, which a biblical counselor is well-suited to provide. This perspective is God’s perspective. God’s purpose is not rooted in whether we will live or die. His purpose is that we bring honor to his name in our response. The days that the cancer patient will live have been already set by God. 

All the days ordained for me

    were written in your book

    before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:16)

In this way, the biblical counselor is just like the cancer patient. The days for your life on earth are set by God. The counselor really has no promise or reasonable guarantee that  he or she will live longer than the person diagnosed with cancer! You are both equally dependent upon God for your next breath. This is reality from God’s perspective!

So the counselor has a point of contact with the cancer patient. They both will live just as long as God wants them to and not a second longer. The point of contact is really about faith. Hebrews says that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

Faith, to have meaning for the cancer patient, must be personal. Two and 1/2 years ago my wife was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The life expectancy of this sort of cancer (glioblastoma multiform or GBM) is 12-14 months. Faith has to do with what is not seen and confidence. Cancer diagnosis has to do with what is seen - cancer cells as seen in MRIs. The other thing about cancer is uncertainty. Neither has to with faith. 

My wife continues to live her life in faith. True faith cannot be measured by things that can be seen or touched or counted. This is what your cancer patient needs - faith. Our time on earth is God’s time. This time can be lived in fear, uncertainty, and the measurement of things that can be seen. Or life can be lived in the certain reality of faith and confidence that God’s care for us is constant and sure. What matters most is that he is honored. From this perspective cancer is not a barrier to living for God.

Have the courage to help your cancer patient live for God, nothing else is certain, nothing else matters.

10 Simple (But Critical) Questions to Consider in Marriage Counseling

by Jeremy Lelek

I.  Does the couple read the Bible together on a regular basis?

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).

II.  Does the couple place their marriage as a priority?

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Ephesians 5:22, 25, ESV).

III.  Does each seek to put the interests of their spouse above their own?

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3–4, ESV).

IV.  Do they use their speech to build up one another?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6, ESV).

V.  Are they honest in their communication?

“Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19, ESV).

VI.  Do they have a mutually satisfying sexual relationship?

“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited tie, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (I Cor. 7:4–5, ESV).

VII.   Is the couple sexually faithful to one another?

“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14, ESV).

VIII.   Do either of them use or view pornography?

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, ESV).

IX. Does either the husband or the wife abuse alcohol or drugs (illegal or prescription)?

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads righteousness” (Romans 6:16, ESV).

X. Is the couple dealing with any significant financial debt?

“One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless” (Proverbs 14:16, ESV).

Self-Injury and Psalm 23

One day two parents bring a fragile soul to your office and tell you she has been caught cutting. They want you to help their daughter stop. But as you look at the daughter all you see is painful detachment. She has no real desire to stop cutting as long as the pain within haunts her soul and entices her to seek relief from a razor blade.

She knows the cutting is wrong, but she is beyond caring about right and wrong. She will take whatever relief she can get, even if it is only for a few moments, as she is distracted by the pain of the razor and the resulting rush of endorphins. For her, the bottom line is that, for a moment, she is distracted, free from her relational pain. 

Self-injury, in its various forms—such as cutting—is an attempt at self-healing. Does that sound like an oxymoron? It should, because it is. But the cutter has a rationale for cutting. Deep within the soul of the cutter, pain and emptiness reign. She feels alone and embittered by the unfairness of life and her own hurt. The cutter is persuaded that no one understands. If God is acknowledged at all, he is viewed as distant and unable to stop the gnawing pain within.

Self-injury knows no social or economic bounds. From the lonely, hurting teenager to the empty world of Princess Diana, self-injury offers a momentary escape from relational agony. Here is one way to define the sin of self-injury:

Self-injury is a form of self-inflicted physical injury performed in order to assuage the relational hurt resulting from broken relationships with God and others. Thus, self-injury is not primarily a cry for help, but a desperate attempt at self-healing when relationships with others have seemingly failed.

The underlying sin of self-injury is turning to self for relief rather than to God. The cutter tries to accomplish for herself something that only God can do. Sin’s deceitfulness lures the self-injurer on. The razor continues to promise what it cannot deliver. The song “Numb,” by Linkin Park, describes the pain of a cutter, a teenage daughter alienated from her mother, this way:

I've become so numb, I can't feel you there,
Become so tired, so much more aware I'm becoming this, all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you.
And I know I may end up failing too.
But I know
You were just like me with someone disappointed in you.

So what can you do to help self-injurers that God brings to you? Both Mark Shaw and Ed Welch have written helpful booklets that anyone counseling self-injurers should read. You, of course, will do a thorough job of data-gathering, looking for the underlying issues that brought things to this point. In addition, allow me to suggest adding Psalms 23 to your resources in dealing with self-injurers. This psalm describes with amazing insight the world of the self-injurer. Let’s take a brief look at each verse and how it applies. I will make the comments specific to cutting, but the principles apply to all forms of self-injury.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

This strikes right at the center of the pain of the cutter. From a relational perspective, the cutter believes that she lacks everything. She believes that if God is indeed her shepherd, then he must be doing a terrible job. Functionally, she knows little of the care of God. He is not a loving shepherd, but a tyrant. She may not voice these words directly to you or to her parents, but that is where she is functionally. Your task, counselor, is to bring her back to God’s reality. This verse connects to reality from God’s perspective.

“How do I begin to explain God’s reality?” you may ask. That is an excellent and fundamental question. The answer to that question is often referred to as one’s worldview, although we are looking only at the “short version” here.

We are here on the planet to do what he has called us to do. Thus, through the promises and work of Christ we do, in fact, have all that we need. We lack nothing. Our cutter is viewing life from her own perspective, from her perception of her needs. This way of thinking is always a recipe for disaster. Some people embark on a lifelong quest to meet their own needs. They chase the illusive dream; to achieve it they may become workaholics or engage in some other vain pursuit. Cutters don’t wait that long. Their pain drives them to seek relief NOW. The goal of your counseling should be to bring the self-injurer to embrace the reality of this first verse of Psalms 1.

 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
 3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
  for his name’s sake.

These two verses speak of the blessed reality that verse one proclaims. If God is our shepherd, then he does indeed refresh our souls. He does guide well. In his care we indeed are surrounded by green pastures. But the cutter denies this reality and sees life only from her own lonely perspective. She is living by sight and not be faith. So, as you work through the pain of her life, you have this blessed hope to set before her: salvation, true rest, is found in coming to Christ (Matthew 11). Christ alone, through his word alone, can make sense of this young girl’s life. To be healed, she needs to see with eyes of faith. Inner healing must begin for the physical wounds to heal fully; otherwise the wounds will beckon to be opened again.

4 Even though I walk
  through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
  for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
  they comfort me.

This is where you can begin; this is where your cutter can identify deeply with the written word. She knows all about the dark valley of her life. The psalmist does not gloss over this dark reality. The self-injurer lives in this valley. The only light she sees is the brief reprieve of the razor blade. Start here, and help her see that her view of reality is at odds with God’s reality. Christ was tempted at every point that she was tempted, but he never reached for the sharp edge of the blade. Instead, he turned to the joy of submitting to his heavenly Father. Because of his death, your cutter can do this as well. She no longer has to fear the dark evils of her life. God can bring comfort to her darkest fears.

5 You prepare a table before me
  in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
  my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
  all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

This is the reality that awaits your counselee as she turns away from her fears—fears driven by a flawed, sinful perspective that says she is alone and there is no one to help with her hurt, pain and fear. As she is able to embrace the truth of these last two verses, she will be able to rest in the truth that God is her Shepherd, and she has all that she needs in him.

As many commentators have said, Psalms 23 is for the living, not the dead. Using compassion, skillful listening, insightful questions, diligent prayer, and courageously proclamation of God’s sufficient Word, you can bring hope and healing to the cutter.

Your Marriage Comes Second

by Leslie Vernick

Debbie burst into tears when I asked her, “How can I help you?” She sobbed, “I feel like such a failure. My marriage is falling apart. I’ve tried everything I know how to do and he still won’t connect with me. When I try to talk with him, he tells me my expectations are too high. He puts me down, even in front of our children. As long as I keep the house, cook our meals, and have sex with him whenever he wants, he thinks everything is fine. But it’s not fine for me. What do I do?” 

Our first response to these clients is usually the wrong one. We search for ways to see what else she could do to make her marriage work. We tell her to try harder to make her marriage her number one priority. We encourage her to be more respectful, more loving, more forgiving, more patient, and more sexually available. Our aim is to help her win her husband’s love without a word through her godly and loving actions. And in certain situations, where a wife admits to being neglectful, this might be good counsel. But where there has been chronic and serious marital indifference and sin towards her, this approach will only make the underlying problem worse.

Any wife in this kind of marriage would feel disappointed, hurt, and angry; rightly so. But when she becomes increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling, or resentful, it’s time to help her pay attention. These negative emotions are a good indicator that her desire for a good marriage has become too important. It’s become an idol. Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God to fill us, it always hurt us.

Many women have been groomed from childhood to put marriage first, to have a great marriage their deepest desire. But that’s not biblical. God wants to be our first love, and he wants our primary purpose to be to know and glorify him. Jesus commands us to love God with everything we have, not only because God deserves our love and is worthy of it, but because he knows how crucial it is to our long term well-being. God knows that whatever we love the most will rule our lives.

That’s why the Bible counsels us to let the love of Christ control us (2 Corinthians 5:14), not the love of lesser things. Desiring a good marriage is not wrong it’s fine. The problem comes when we place having a great marriage above all else.

As Biblical counselors this woman’s dilemma provides a wonderful opportunity to help her put her marriage in its proper place. As we help her to center herself in God’s love and not her husband, she is no longer debilitated when her spouse fails her or disappoints her. Yes, she still hurts, but now she is centered and controlled by something Other than her marriage or her man. She now has the inner strength and courage to both forgive her spouse for his sinful failings, as well as set appropriate boundaries and consequences when he continues to be selfish, unrepentant, and destructive to their marriage and to her.

With God as her first love, she can love and be compassionate towards her spouse without being foolish and enabling because God shows her how to love him in a way that is in his best interests. In doing so, she learns to trust God with the outcome of her marriage.

Instead of asking her to try harder to cater more to her husband’s felt needs, which only reinforces his own entitlement and selfish orientation towards life, let’s help her do something radically different. Let’s help her become a God-centered woman rather than a husband-centered woman. Let’s help build her CORE strength so that she can speak the truth in love to her husband, as well as implement consequences for his destructive behaviors. She will be too afraid to make that change unless she come to a place where she can trust God to be enough for her.

We must help her settle this question deep in her heart because until she does, she will be unable to make the changes she needs to make. As she starts to do things differently, the destructive marital boat she’s on will start to rock, and there are no guarantees that it will right itself. But I do know one thing for sure. When a marriage has been in a downward spiral of indifference, sin, and destruction and everything she’s tried up to now has not resulted in any lasting positive change, it’s time for her to change her strategy.

There are times she must risk unraveling the life she has to find life God wants for her.

Envy is a Window

by Paul Tripp

"For I was envious of the arrogant." (Psalm 73:3)

This side of heaven all of us do it and most of the time we do it without knowing that we are. It is such a natural thing for sinners to do. Perhaps every day, someplace, at some moment we want what someone else has. Everyday we are jealous for the possessions, position, or prominence of another person. There is probably never a day when we are free of envy.

Maybe you're standing on the corner and someone drives by in a BMW and you say to yourself. "It must be nice!" Or maybe you see someone coming out of an upscale restaurant and just for a moment you want their life. Or maybe you've just heard about you neighbor's vacation and you wonder how they pulled that off. Or perhaps it's dreaming of being your boss's boss. Or maybe its a dark moment when your mind thinks about being with another man's wife. Or it could be as mundane as wishing that you were as slim as Sally or as athletic as Josh. Or perhaps you spend too much time being a YouTube voyeur on the lives of the rich and famous. Or maybe your struggle with envy is not so well defined. Maybe it shows itself by making complaint the default language of your daily talk. Perhaps it shows itself in constant feelings of dissatisfaction. Or maybe it's revealed by irritation that bubbles below the surface all the time. It is safe to say; if you're a sinner, envy lurks around the corner all the time.

You see, envy gets right to the heart of what sin is about. 2 Corinthians 5:15 says that Jesus came so that "those who live should no longer live for themselves." The inertia of sin is inward. It causes me to shrink my world down to the size of my life. It causes me to daily worship at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. Sin puts me at the center of my existence; the one place that neither I nor any other human being should be. Sin causes me to be obsessed with what I have and don't have, with what I have in comparison to what others have, and with what I've determined I need to have in order to be happy. Sin causes love of others to be replaced with entitlement, and service of others to be replaced with demand. Sin makes me quickly impatient and easily irritated. Sin makes it easier for me to complain than it is to praise. Sin makes complaining more natural than thankfulness. Sin causes my eyes to be bigger than my stomach and my "I wants" to constantly outsize my "I haves."

Why does sin do all of this? Because the DNA of sin is selfishness. Sin is about the higher law of self. Sin puts you and me in God's position. Sin is self-focused and self-possessed. That dark day in the Garden, Adam and Eve didn't eat that forbidden fruit out of love for God and one another. No, these people, created to live for God and with others, stepped over created boundaries in an act of outrageous selfishness. We are still paying for their selfishness today! Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship. Sin causes me to quest for lordship and imprisons me in bondage to me. I have written again and again about the redemptive implications of this, but here is one thing that you and I need to recognize and humbly accept everyday; the thing that Jesus came to rescue us from is us!

So, it is no wonder that envy is such a problem for us. But your Lord has the power to redeem your envy as well. By his grace he can help you to see what your envy reveals about your heart and your continued need of his rescuing, restoring, empowering, forgiving, and transforming grace. Here's what you need to understand. Your particular struggle with envy is a window into the real struggles of your heart. Let me explain.

1. Envy is a window on the true treasures of our heart. Oh sure, we would all like to think that we love God above all else. We all want to believe that his plan is more important to us than anything we would plan for ourselves. We would like to assume that what God promises us is more precious to us than anything we could ever set our eyes on. But envy reveals that these things are not yet completely true to us. Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts. Envy exposes the fact that the treasures of this physical, created world still have a powerful ability to seduce, tempt and side-track us. Envy tells us that we still look for satisfaction to things that do not have the organic capacity to satisfy the craving of our hearts. Who or what you envy tells you what you treasure.

2. Envy is a window on how easily and consistently we forget. We do have the amazing ability to stand in front of a closet that is bulging with clothes and say that we don't have a thing to wear. We do have the capacity to stand in front of a refrigerator filled with food and say there is nothing to eat. And we do have the ability to stand in the middle of lavish blessing and feel as if we are poor and needy. The sin of forgetfulness is one of the root sins of envy. We forget that, in God's grace, we have been given what we could not earn, achieve, or deserve. We forget that the Creator of all things and the Controller of all that is, is our Father and he is not only able to meet all our needs, he is willing to do so. Envy forgets blessing and in forgetting blessing assumes poverty and in assuming poverty gives way to hunger and this feeling of hunger tempts us to look to and long for what simply will not satisfy.

3. Envy is a window on the war within. Envy is a reminder. Envy is a warning. Envy is the sounding of an internal alarm. Envy tells you that you must not live with a peace-time mentality. Envy tells you that this is not the time to chill and relax. Envy reminds you that there really is a war that is still raging for the rulership of your heart. Envy calls you to be a humble and disciplined soldier. Envy calls you to examine your heart and interrogate your desires. Envy calls you to live watchfully and prayerfully. Envy warns you to reject assessments of arrival. To the degree that you crave what you Father has not chosen to give you, to that degree you heart is still out of step with him. The fight still goes on.

Now, maybe after reading this you're thinking, "Wow, Paul, that was really discouraging!" Here's what you and I need to remember. Our Savior walked on this earth where the war of envy rages, but he was envy free. Why? Not because he had it all, but because he was willing to forsake it all for you and for me. Think about this; rather than wanting all that was his right as God, Jesus was willing to forsake it all so that the battle for our hearts could and would be finally won. He walked away from glories our minds are to small to conceive in order to deliver to us these glories that our minds are to small to conceive. He was not propelled by envy. No, he was propelled by love and that love is the most powerful reason for hope in the universe. So, we can affirm the struggle. We can confess when envy yanks us off his pathway. And we can know for sure that there will be a day when envy is no more and we will live forever in the kingdom of his love, fully and completely satisfied.

5 Ways to Stop Discouragement from Getting the Best of You

Discouragement and disappointment are normal emotions we all experience even as Christians, but it’s important to know how to make sure those debilitating emotions don’t get the best of us.

First, let’s look at four reasons why we get discouraged and disappointed.

Job felt discouraged with his wife and friends. They didn’t get it. In the midst of his suffering and questioning God, they tried to be helpful, but they ended up heaping more shame and blame on Job for his afflictions. We, too, can feel let down by our friends and family. They don’t understand what we’re going through or don’t offer to help as we wish they would. Our disappointment can turn to discouragement.

Elijah became discouraged with life’s circumstances. Despite our persistent and fervent prayers, things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. Elijah hoped that after all the miracles the Israelites saw performed on Mount Carmel, Ahab and Jezebel would repent and put God first, but they did not. King Ahab and Jezebel were as stubborn and hard hearted as always, and Elijah felt discouraged, exhausted, and told himself that his entire ministry was a waste (1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah felt angry and discouraged with God when he believed God was against him, and because of that perspective, he temporarily lost hope in God (Lamentations 3). The disciples too felt discouraged after Jesus was crucified, before he rose from the dead. They said, “We were hoping that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They couldn’t see the bigger picture and felt disappointed that Jesus did not fight for his kingdom.

Peter felt discouraged with himself when he realized that he wasn’t as courageous as he thought he was. Jesus had warned him that he would deny him, but Peter’s pride kept him from seeing himself clearly (Matthew 26:31 and 74, 75). We too can feel discouraged and even depressed when we fail to live up to our own or someone else’s  expectations.

Discouragement happens, even to the strongest and best of people. Below are five (5) steps you can take when you start to feel the black cloud of discouragement swallow you up.

1. Be honest. It does you no good to pretend you don’t feel what you feel. You can’t take action against a negative feeling until you first admit you have it. A strong Christian is not someone who never experiences negative feelings. It’s someone who has learned what to do with them when he or she has them and how to process them biblically.

2. Take care of your body. If your body isn’t working, your mind, emotions and will are also weakened. I love how God tended to Elijah’s body first—before addressing anything else and provided ravens to feed him. Sometimes the circumstances of life drain us dry, and we need to press pause, stop doing, and simply rest and refresh.  

3. Pay attention to your thought life. Maturing as believers means we learn to think truthfully (Philippians 4:8) and to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

All of us attempt to make sense of the things that happen in our lives. We try to figure out why they happen and what it all means. It’s crucial that we pay attention to what stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, about others, about God or a particular situation, and whether or not those stories are actually true. For example, if you look at what Elijah was telling himself after he became discouraged, much of it was not true, yet because he thought it, it added to his misery (read 1 Kings 19).

Jeremiah was also telling himself things about God that were not true but because his mind believed his version of reality instead of God’s, he lost his hope. Read through Lamentations 3. Notice in verse 21 Jeremiah begins to have a change of mind and heart. He says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.” When his thoughts changed his negative emotions also lifted even though his circumstances stayed the same.

4. Train yourself to “see” life out of two lenses at the same time

When the apostle Paul counsels us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), he is telling us that our mind needs to be trained to think differently than we have in the past. Part of this training is to learn to see both the temporal (life is hard) and the eternal (God has a purpose here) at the same time. 

Paul speaks honestly of his temporal pain when he says he is hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Yet he did not become crushed, despairing, abandoned, or destroyed. Why not? Because he learned to firmly fix the eternal perspective on his spiritual eyes. He says, “Therefore we do not lose heart.… 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” (2 Corinthians 4:8–18).

Paul never minimized the pain of the temporal, yet discouragement didn’t win because he knew that God’s purposes were at work. (See Philippians 1:12–14 for another example).

5.    Press close into God

The truth is life is hard, people do disappoint and hurt us, and we don’t always understand God or his ways. The prophet Nahum talks about a day of trouble and reminds us “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knows those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). If we’re not in close trusting relationship with God, life’s troubles can become unbearable. The psalmist cried out, “I would have despaired unless I had believed I would see God in the land of the living” (Psalm 27). 

One final tip. The best way to chase out a negative feeling is with another feeling. The Bible teaches us “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Gratitude is a powerful anecdote for discouragement. We may not be able to give God thanks for the difficult situation that we find ourselves in, but we can learn to look for things we can be thankful for in the midst of it.

Leslie Vernick is a writer for The Association of Biblical Counselors (ABC). ABC exists to encourage, equip, and empower people everywhere to live and counsel the Word, applying the Gospel to the whole experience of life.