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.
In my office, I am daily bombarded with the painful reality of living in a fallen world. The topics that are discussed range from singleness to marital infidelity to miscarriage to rebellious teens. The statement that is often made is how "this" (whatever this is) does not feel good, or the question that is asked is how is "this" good? I think as Christians, especially American Christians, we have often let our "comfort culture" shape our view of the word good versus allowing the Lord to define good.
"You are good and what you do is good; teach me your statutes" (Psalm 119:68). The Lord can only do or give what he is. It would be contrary to his nature to do harm, and since he is unchanging he cannot do what he is not. Suffering is gifted (Phillipians 1:29), yet we do not see the good. This last year, I have personally wrestled with this. Several weeks ago, my older sister gave birth to a healthy baby girl, her fourth, named Emma. That same day I found out a sweet friend had received the final act of her salvation—glorification through death.
I thought of how so many well meaning Christians in the days after congratulated my sister and told her how blessed she was to have four healthy children. Simultaneously, other Christians expressed their gratefulness that God took my friend home so she did not have to continue to suffer. So, in my mind I wrestled with why my sister was so “blessed,” yet my friend daily suffered... was she cursed? Is that what people were implying? Or were they so focused on external circumstances they could not see the eternal gift by internal change that was taking place.
Both of these women were 35 and Christians. That is where their similarities stop. My friend's life was marked by fleeing a communist country as a small child, losing her father shortly after coming to America, getting sick and losing the function of both her kidneys, a kidney transplant, cancer, donated kidney failure, frequent dialysis, problematic eye sight, frequent pain, and the inability to walk without assistance. Some looked on her with pain and pity, some just didn't see her at all, but I know she was least to be pitied, for she was far more blessed than any physical eye could see.
In her pain, she chose to depend on the Lord. She daily humbled herself even to ask for help from others to walk across a room. She received so much of Jesus through her dependence on him. Through that process, the Lord continued to shape her heart to reflect his son's. That was evident by the large smile she wore on her face while she still wrestled to submit her feelings, thoughts, and desires to him. At her funeral, various people spoke on how she encouraged them, comforted them, was honest with them about hard questions. She bore much fruit through her pain. Recently, she had discussed with a friend that she was thinking of not praying for healing (knowing He was able) because she received so much of the Lord where she was that she may not be as dependent if she were healed. The Lord actually answered both prayers (healing and more of him) shortly after by taking her home.
Now, I am not saying that suffering in itself is good. I am not rejoicing about cancer, miscarriages, and divorce. I am rejoicing in what it is producing in the moment. Many people fix their eyes on a change in a future circumstance to enable them to endure the struggle. They state that when that next baby is born, then this miscarriage makes sense. Or I have seen where in retrospect they justify their suffering by their now more favorable circumstances. With that view they are still missing out on what God is doing in them and through them now, and how in these moments he is preparing them for eternity.
The beatitudes describe blessings that are contrary to what are culture esteems. James 1:12 states,"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." Our definition of good/blessed must be impacted by the eternal vs. the external. I pray we would not be so quick to make judgments and grumble about circumstances before shifting our gaze upward. Lord, may you give us eyes to see that which you say is good.
"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
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. 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’?”
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. ” 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. ”
When it comes to conflict in relationships, Ken Sande says there are really only three kinds of people: peace-fakers, peace-breakers, and peace-makers.
Peace-breakers are prideful and power up. If they don’t get their way, they blow up, escalating conflict like gas on a flickering flame.
Peace-fakers avoid conflict or clam up trying to shove conflict under the rug out of fear.
Neither way is glorifying or healthy.
Peace-makers see conflict as an assignment, not an accident. They approach the problem with humility, reasonableness, and seeking wisdom from God (James 3:17-18). They do not intimidate, but they also do not hide. They expect conflict, embrace the opportunity to resolve things biblically, and have an urgency to keep unity in the midst of hard times.
Recently, I considered the relational landscape of my life. I have not ignored the conflict in my life, but am I doing everything, as far as it has to do with me, to keep the peace with others (Romans 12:9-21)? What would it look like to be a peace-maker in those situations and relationships?
Is there anyone in your life you are bitter toward or someone you have offended deeply? I want to challenge you to get your eyes off another’s sin and turn your focus inward with a vertical orientation (Psalm 139:23-24).
But the Bible never treats the symptoms alone… we have all tried to control our anger or appease someone else’s with a moment of kindness—but it goes deeper. Sometimes the only way to heal what is sick or broken is to get to the source, to seek true healing, to go vertical.
The Source of Conflict
Don’t you love it when God answers our most profound questions?! Hey, why do we fight anyway? Why can’t we just get along? Consider this passage from James 4:1-12, which gets to the heart of the problem.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?…
What Can We Learn about Conflict from This Passage?
The Word of God presents some very clear reasons why we can’t seem to lay down our agendas or get along well with others who differ from us.
Fill in the blank: "If I only had ___________, I would be happy?" That is the beginning of constructing an idol. So, think about these four escalating steps of selfish desires:
I. I want it too much – it could be a good desire or an evil desire (not always sinful… God may still be in the picture, but kingdoms begin to collide).
II. I need it now – it now owns you (leads to sin because looking to someone or something to fulfill only what Christ can… God can’t meet this need or won’t… so I will).
III. I deserve it – it now controls you (sinful entitlement creates murderous thoughts and feelings if desire is blocked… God wants me to be happy or is an afterthought at best).
IV. You will give it to me or I will punish you – it now betrays you (even hurt those you love if your demands are not met… is God even in the picture at this point?).
Here are three more truths from this passage:
That sets up the problem well, but there is more grace! The second half of the chapter teaches us to truly repent and turn to the Lord so we can be a peace-maker in the situation. Consider verses 7-10 as the way out of your side of the conflict and into the graces of God.
Seven Steps out of this selfish cycle of personal conflict:
1. Submit to God – what are you holding away from Him?
2. Resist the devil – what are you giving over to Him?
3. Draw near to God – where are you hiding or running from Him?
4. Cleanse your hands – what outward behavior needs to stop?
5. Purify your heart – what inward attitude needs to change?
6. Be wretched mourn and weep – where do people need to see godly sorrow?
7. Humble yourself – where do you need to admit you’re wrong and ask forgiveness?
Remember, those who are in Christ are called to be peace-makers. That requires for us to be intentional with how we deal with conflict.
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.