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.

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.

Remembering Our Place When Wronged

by John Henderson

Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place?” (Genesis 50:18-19)

We find in Joseph a kind of humble grace that deserves our thought and appreciation. His brothers had wronged him severely. They had sold him into slavery and death. Years later, as second in power to Pharaoh in Egypt, Joseph is given an opportunity for retribution. It would be easy to assume that God was providing a chance for him to even the score. What would you do if you were in Joseph’s place?

I am amazed by how he responded. The posture Joseph takes is contrary to our sinful nature and wholly divine. Clearly the Spirit of God abides in him. Mankind tends not to act in this way. None of us tend to act this way. When hurt and abused, we tend to be quicker to punish and revile. We need help. We need God abiding in us. We need to believe and practice what Joseph believed and practiced.

Remember the place of God – to assume the seat of judge upon the souls of others is to forget the Lord has already filled the seat. It is like a pardoned convict demanding the judge step aside so that he may evaluate and sentence a fellow criminal. The Father has given the position of Judge to His Son.[1] Not one of us can bear the burden, nor would we exercise the chair with wisdom that is fitting. We can take comfort, however, that God is Judge enough. He dispenses mercy and wrath in perfect seasons and proportions.

Remember the place of Self – a recipient of grace. Perhaps we are offended in the present situation, but we have often assumed the other spot. Whether we recall the incidents or not, the Lord remembers countless moments when His grace was extended to us, undeserved. Our grit and savvy did not secure our pardon, but God’s grace in Jesus Christ. “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?”[2]

Remember the ways of God – they are righteous and pure. They have always been righteous and pure. “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He. ”[3] We can trust our God. We can trust His works. Since the foundation of the world, He has proved Himself holy beyond measure. His law is perfect. His wrath upon sinners is perfect. His wrath was so perfect that the sacrifice of His Son was necessary to satisfy it. Indeed, His grace is perfect too.

Remember the ways of Self – they are prideful and distorted. Whatever true justice we perceive and dispense is a gift from God anyway. It is not of us or from us. If we had our way, then true grace and mercy wouldn’t happen. Justice wouldn’t either. We cannot trust ourselves. We cannot trust our works. It is not our instinct to redeem, or absorb transgression, or overlook a fault in love. The Spirit must train our hearts to believe and apply the gospel in these forms.

Next time we are offended, as those who counsel the word of God to life, let us pray for the Lord to bring these verses and truths to our minds. Let us pray to give the same mercy we have received. Then we will better understand what it means to be children of God. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. ”[4]

[1]John 5:22

[2]Proverbs 20:9

[3]Deuteronomy 32:3-4

[4]Matthew 5:44-45

What is the Key to Contentment?

by Paul Tripp

Why do we all seem to want more?
Why is it so hard for us to accept less?
Why do we get haunted by bigger and better?
Why is it so difficult to be satisfied?
Why it is so hard to be content?

Maybe it's a better job, maybe it's a more succulent steak, maybe it's a nicer boss, maybe it's a prettier girlfriend, maybe it's a nicer car, maybe it's a more luxurious condo, maybe it's a better vacation than last year, or maybe it is as little as a better cup of coffee than yesterday's, but the spiritual energies of your life can be consumed by working your way up. What do I mean by working your way up? I mean that, in reality, you are living in a state of constant discontent. Yes, you are thankful for the joy of the moment, but you do not have your head down in prayerful thanks. No, your head is up and you eyes are scanning for the next bigger, better, more satisfying thing. When you are discontent, you are always in some way working your way up the ladder of personally satisfying delights. You're not really thankful for or committed to what you have because in your heart you think that there must be something better out there and so you are on the hunt.

What is the hunt all about? It is about IDENTITY and WORSHIP. When I begin to humbly accept who I am as a sinner, when I honestly face the fact the my deepest problem in life exists inside of me and not outside of me, and when I begin to grasp the reality that God sent his Son to free me from my biggest problem - me, then I will quit working my way up. Why? Because I will be so filled with gratitude that the one thing I desperately needed, God freely gave me in his Son, Christ Jesus. What is this one thing? It is the thing in life that I could not do for myself, yet I cannot live without. By an act of his grace, God has freed me from my bondage to me. He has freed me from my addiction to having me at the center of my universe. He has freed me from the ravenous and unsatisfiable appetite of sin, so that I may begin to experience true personal satifaction where it can only be found - in worship of him. He has broken the power of this addiction over me so that I can be increasingly free where I live everyday.

The key to getting off the ladder and experiencing true contentment is not having more or learning to live with less. The key to contentment is worship. It is only when my heart is satified because of what I have been given in Christ and so much more delighted with God's glory than in the possibilty of possessing the next glorious physical thing, that I will leave the hunt.

Where do you struggle with discontent? Where do you tend to reach for the next best thing? What are you telling yourself that you need? Do you daily remind yourself of who you really are? Do you constantly remember your deepest need? Are you increasing satisfied because you have begun to grasp that you have been given everything you need? And have you realized that that "everything" is HIM?

Depression: Do You Wish to Get Well?

by Margaret Ashmore

"Lord, help me to honor Thee by believing before I feel,

for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith." Jonathon Edwards

Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaiccalled Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?’”

“The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” John 5:2-8

Sometimes, and please note, sometimes depression is born from the various protestations of God’s providential pruning in our lives – from disappointments to disablement, from loneliness to loss, from “having what you don’t want to wanting what you don’t have” but nonetheless bids us answer the question our Lord put forth to a man languishing on a threadbare, squalid mat for 38 years, “Do you wish to get well?” At first glance we might be tempted to assign some insensitivity to such an inquiry in light of this man’s pitiable state, until we remember that our sympathetic High Priest asks no question amiss but always out of redemptive love. And what was the man’s answer? “I have no one.” He confessed his utter need of help beyond himself and others. No self-help here, no man-centered, humanistic nostrum or prescriptive potions. He needed a Savior.

Our Lord’s question reaches into the depths of what Ed Welch calls “a stubborn darkness” that can find us in the same place year after year, in our small and ever shrinking worlds no bigger than the breadth of a small pallet and though a desolate place; it is one familiar and useable. After all, didn’t that poor fellow exist for almost four decades by using his illness to elicit handouts and perhaps some passing pity? For a very long time, I would not countenance being delivered from my “comfortable melancholy”, my moodiness – because for a very long time it allowed for justifying my self-centeredness and control, met a need, albeit temporary, for attention and gave me what I believed to be a special dispensation to flee from personal responsibility. Jesus asks the question because there is a cost to “getting well”.

For me, it meant that I could no longer use the deprivations of my past or the difficulties of the present to excuse a short temper, unkind treatment of others, laziness, self-pity or self-indulgence. My “tossed and driven” feelings could no longer be the arbiter of my choices rather than the fixed point of God’s Word which commands me to “get up” (cease my threadbare excuses), take up my pallet, as G. Campbell Morgan put it, "in order to make no provision for a relapse.” That catalytic moment can lift us from years of debilitating hopelessness to “mounting up on wings of eagles” seeing from God’s perspective His purpose for your pain and the love that will heal it.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the same power that raises the dead to life, that spoke the world into existence, that quiets the boisterous storm, that directs lightning bolts and “choreographs the molecular dance” – and that is the same power available to impotent limbs unable to rise from depression’s depths. But, we will remain languishing with a host of others until we recognize our utter need of none but Christ, obey His Word, repent from self and sin then walk with Him, finding that in His presence depression gives way to joy like the fog when the sun comes up in the morning.

Be encouraged, dear saint. His strength is perfected in your weakness and can be yours with one look upward. You can get well if you choose to.

Let not conscience make you linger,

Nor of fitness fondly dream.

All the fitness He requireth

Is to feel your need of Him.

This He gives you,

'Tis the Spirit's rising beam.

I will arise and go to Jesus,

He will embrace me in His arms;

In the arms of my dear Savior

oh there are ten thousand charms.”

10 Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling after Serious Sin

by Leslie Vernick

When a couple comes to a counselor or pastor for help after serious and repetitive sin, how do we measure progress? Often we see a couple for months without ever defining clear goals or defining what needs to change. Below are ten indicators that I use that help me know that a couple is healing.  

1. The past is now the past. Sometimes the couple comes to counseling not wanting to talk about the past because they are anxious to move toward healing and restoration. But true healing can’t take place if you don’t face it, own it, repent from it, grieve it and forgive it.

The past must be explored in depth because otherwise it’s likely to repeat itself in the present and future, despite someone’s promises that it won’t. So the counseling must explore why did it happen?  What needs to change so it won’t happen in again?  The past is only the past when enough time has passed that we see it is not repeating itself in any way in  the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can now freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. There is no shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.  

3. Both people are open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They feel free to disagree with one another and there is a teachable attitude on both of their parts. 

4. Time-outs as well as other boundaries are honored and respected outside the counseling hour. If one or the other had a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they would reach out for further help from their counselor.

5. Both partners now take mutual responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities. 

6. Power and responsibility are shared. There is a double standard where the rules that apply to one person in the marriage don’t apply to the other. 

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8.  If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means to apologize and make amends or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control, and self-correction are part of their daily habits. 

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.

3 Powerful Gospel Truths for Addressing Homosexuality

by Jeremy Lelek

Imagine struggling with an incessant issue wherein its history is filled with harsh stigmatism and bigotry. Imagine suffering under this daily condition feeling as though you were a shameful, less-than-human, unlovable outcast. To make things worse, the place where you go to worship God regularly spouts condemning slogans against the very struggle with which you are wrestling. Words such as evil and abomination become a part of your psychological identity because anyone who suffers from your issue is given these labels. Your daily emotional companions are shame, self-condemnation, depression, and confusion. 

Then imagine you stumble upon a respected ministry that touts they have the answer for what ails you. Simply go through their program, they claim, and your shameful tendencies will be eliminated. You hear testimonies of others who once identified as gay that now live “straight” lives—some even marrying a person of the opposite sex and developing a seemingly fulfilling relationship.

Hundreds of men and women have traveled down a very similar path as the above vignette. Unfortunately, the destination of their journey fell far short of their expectations. Upon completion of the program they maintained an emotional high that continued to motivate them for a time, but eventually, the relentless nature of their hearts seeped through their religious fantasy and ultimately they had to come to grips with the fact that their same-sex attractions were still alive and well. Back to the closet of secrecy they were confined. They struggle with a strong sense of failure because their same-sex attractions are still present. Now married with no physical attraction to their spouse, what seemed a promising dream is now a dismal nightmare.

I know very respected and godly researchers who are far more expert than I as it regards Reparative Therapy (a model that is supposed to reorient a person’s sexual attractions), and in no way am I slandering their work or their names. If there is an intervention that could resolve, for many, what is a tormenting issue, then thanks be to God if such a discovery is ever made. Yet I think the Bible offers something far more hopeful to people wrestling with homosexuality than the eradication of symptoms (i.e., same-sex attraction), and I believe we place homosexuality in a special category of sin when we treat it so differently than other struggles we face as a fallen people.  

For example, would we ever tell a married man who struggles with lust that we are going to take him through a therapeutic intervention where he will become solely attracted to his wife? Would we raise his hopes that upon completing therapy he will not wrestle with attraction towards other women ever again—that his lust for others will be eradicated from his heart? I certainly would make no such promises, and the Bible doesn’t either. This line of reasoning would be akin to telling a depressed or anxious counselee that because he has counseled with me he will never experience depression, sadness, anxiety or fear again. This logic completely denies the brokenness in our hearts caused by depravity, and sets a dangerous foundation for condemnation and despair.

When our efforts are primarily aimed at symptom alleviation or behavioral modification, then I believe we are completely missing the mark and likely hurting those we serve. We may inadvertently create a system of redemption that is centered more in experiential management of sin rather than teaching people to rest in the full and complete work of Jesus Christ. Instead of helping others experience Jesus’ words when he urged sinners, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30), we unintentionally place upon their shoulders a “yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1) with our therapeutic interventions.

Once hope is placed in our systems, they no longer find peace in the gentle and safe refuge of Jesus, but instead experience a life “severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:4)—a life where the Gospel becomes tragically silent and the noise of legalism becomes deafening. It is here I believe the promises offered by models such as Reparative Therapy stray from the redeeming work of God who is accomplishing His transformation of the saint “in all things” (Rom. 8:28–29). 

The Redeeming Hope of the Gospel

1. The Gospel and Christian Life are about God

When I counsel those struggling with homosexual attraction, one of the first things I want them to do is trust God. Now, when I use the word struggle, I am referring to a person who has not accepted homosexuality as being morally right, but who daily fights against these desires wishing they didn’t exist in the first place. By the time such individuals reach my office, they have promised themselves 100s of times that they will never lust after the same sex again or look at homosexual pornography again or engage in other homosexual activities again. Such promises are always broken, leaving them in a cycle of shame and condemnation. Since they are unable to completely eliminate their sin, they often turn from God.

It is not unusual for me to tell such a person, “It is time to gaze upon God’s faithfulness not your own.” Jesus knows the burden of sexual temptation, and He has profound sympathy for anyone whose hearts are captured by this issue (Heb. 2:17–18; 4:14–15). He is also committed to saving and transforming His own so that they reflect children of glory (Rom. 8:28-29; 1 Thess. 4:3).

Does this mean that He has promised to remove all sexual affections or any sexual affection completely? No. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us that there is a war raging in our hearts that will not rest until we see Him face to face (Gal. 5:16–17). What God promises is His presence and faithfulness (Heb. 13:5). His presence to hold His children through any storm in life until the day of resurrection (John 6:37–40). He promises His presence as our Helper to empower us to walk wisely and resist sin (John 14:16–17). He promises His faithfulness to not allow anything to separate us from His love (Rom. 8:37–39). He assures us of His faithfulness to complete His work of redemption in our lives (Phil. 1:6). Very often it is in the presence, not the absence, of our sinful struggles that God magnifies the beauty and value of His faithfulness. The struggle is often an occasion for rich abiding worship.

2. The Redeeming Work of the Gospel Enables Us to Hear and Obey God

When Paul is addressing the Corinthians regarding sexual sin, he doesn’t tell them that if they just believe, God will remove all their ungodly sexual temptation. Instead, he assumes the possible presence of such temptations and writes things like, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a) and “… for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

When the author of Proverbs is counseling his son, he doesn’t treat him as though he will not wrestle with sexual temptation, but offers wisdom when such imminent temptation arises. Concerning the adulteress, he warns, “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8), “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes” (Prov. 6:25), “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray onto her paths” (Prov. 7:25).

The inference of both Paul and the author of Proverbs is that sexual temptation is a possibility, and the way to combat such longings are fleeing, resisting, and living to the glory of God. The ability to walk by faith comes through the hearing of the Gospel (Rom. 10:17) and the supernatural awaking of our hearts to want God and His ways (Eph. 2:4–8). Upon such awakening, Jesus works in us (over a lifetime, moment by moment) to create in us hearts that are zealous to do what is good and holy (Titus 2:11–14). He saves us then progressively enables us to glorify him in our lives and bodies through obedience. Healing may not be universally characterized as the complete elimination of sexual temptation from the human heart, but by hearts that are transformed and empowered by His grace to obey (from the New Self) when sexual temptation seeks to grip us (from remnants of the Old Self) (Eph. 4:22–24). 

3. Hope in Symptom Eradication Minimizes the Pervasive Reality of Sin and our Desperate Need for Jesus, Our Redeemer

Some people hold to the idea that homosexual or heterosexual temptations are only sins if they are acted upon. If the attraction is there, but you resist acting upon it, then you’re good to go. I think this conceptualization minimizes our Gospel need and refutes the teachings of Jesus who said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28).

Jesus was speaking to people who had developed elaborate systems of “holiness” that gauged their sense of goodness and righteousness before God. Many of them likely exuded a great deal of pride, considering themselves good men because they had never given their bodies over to the act of adultery. Jesus obliterated their paradigm, however. He knew that every man standing in front of Him was guilty of this sin. In some ways, it seems as though he was setting up the despair of their situation, thereby ushering in the only hope for their dilemma—Himself. If sin was more than a behavioral issue, but was ultimately an inner issue of the heart, then they were all doomed (Matt. 15:17–20). That is, unless their righteousness could be found elsewhere.

As Christians who wrestle with either heterosexual or homosexual lusts, we must hate such sins, but not be threatened by their presence. If my hope resides in the absence of sinful thoughts and desires, then I am going to have to resign myself to a life of hopelessness. But if my hope resides in the righteousness of Another when such lusts present themselves in my heart, then there is reason for genuine hope. I can rest in the wonderful words of the author of Hebrews as the basis to fight my sins: 

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (Heb. 10:12–18).

In the end, our situation is far worse than we realize.  Even if therapy helps remove sexual temptation, we are still condemned—that is, unless we place our faith in the One who made this single sacrifice for all our sins. At that point, upon placing faith in Jesus, our situation becomes far better than we could ever imagine. Our sins remind us of our desperation and propels us towards a God of infinite love, faithfulness, and mercy. It thrusts us into the magnificent glories of the Gospel.

May we not shrink our hopes to the small goals of the temporal removal of sin, but may our hopes rejoice in the eternal removal of all our sins (past, present, and future) because of a God who loves us more than our feeble minds can fathom.