by Susan Thomas
With six people in our family, we’ve had lots of opportunities to visit the doctor. We have experienced everything from colds, flus, and ear infections all the way to viral meningitis, serum sickness-like reaction, and life-threatening allergies. And I’m not even talking about the injuries! We have had our share of doctor visits.
When I go to the doctor, I have a pretty simple agenda. I want to know the answer to two questions: “What is wrong and how can I get healthy?” I’m not feeling well, and I need help. In order to accurately treat a sick patient, the doctor’s first goal is to determine what is causing the unhealthy symptoms. Sometimes it’s an easy diagnosis, and sometimes tests, x-rays and scans are required. But, no matter what, the root of the symptoms must be revealed. This is true for our physical bodies and it’s true for our spiritual lives.
We have to get to the root.
When we are sick, the symptoms of our illness tend to show up way before the root is exposed. We may face symptoms such as paralyzing anxiety, anger out of control, marriage in distress, financial chaos, and much more. We lack peace and long for relief. Where does this pain originate? Our Great Physician offers us great clarity and help.
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)
Your heart determines the course of your life. God reveals that the condition of our hearts will determine the course of our lives. What is inside your heart is taking you somewhere!
Sick heart = sick life. Healthy heart = healthy life.
Your heart is highly valuable. We don’t guard something that’s worth nothing. When I take out my trash, I’m fine with walking away. As long as it’s gone, I’m not too concerned with who comes and gets it.
However, I would never intentionally leave my wedding ring sitting on the street corner or cash my paycheck and give it all to my five-year-old to play “store.” When something is valuable, we guard it. We protect it. Your heart is of HUGE VALUE. And God says guard it! But why would we need to guard our hearts?
Your heart is under attack. Just like a bacteria can attack our physical bodies, there is a real assault on your heart and my heart. The very nature of the words “guard your heart” indicate that there is something we have to guard against. The Bible is clear that we have enemies.
Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (NLT)
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (NLT)
Your heart is sick. Not only do we face the enemies around us, God reveals perhaps the greatest battle lies within us.
The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9 (NLT)
We have a HEART PROBLEM.
14 Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “All of you listen,” he said, “and try to understand. 15 It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart… 21 For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. 23 All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” Mark 7:14-15, 21-23 (NLT)
I believe if we misunderstand the root of our problem, we will miss TRUE and COMPLETE healing! It’s like trying to treat cancer with a Band-Aid. In many well-meaning Christians, our first line of attack is to address our thoughts. Yet Jesus just told us that our sinful, unhealthy thoughts originate from our sick hearts! Our hearts are ground zero.
If not careful, we can make the common mistake of tackling the thoughts but missing the heart. We become aware of our messed up thinking, but we never stop to examine what’s behind the messed up thinking! We set out on a mission to deal with our thoughts and if not careful we may fall into two common traps.
The “More Knowledge” Trap
We set out on a knowledge quest. We read every book we can get our hands on. We are seeking content, content, content. Just give me the information so I can follow it. We may even turn to the Bible and attend multiple Bible studies, but we see no results. Now hear me, knowledge of God’s word is CRUCIAL. We must be people who discover the truths God has for us so we can learn to identify the false beliefs that lead us to pain and heartache. But more knowledge is not the ultimate answer.
The “More Willpower” Trap
When it comes to our thought life, we determine that we must have more self-control. We begin the quest to obey God and “take captive every thought” as it comes into our head. We fight to replace the false with the truth. We determine we will not give in to the destructive patterns and behaviors of our past. Yet we continue to fail.
We cry out in desperation wondering why am I still failing? Why do I keep repeating the same behaviors? Until we deal with the root of our problems, we fill find ourselves exhausted, frustrated and defeated.
We have to get to the root!
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1:9 (NLT)
God is our Creator and the Great Cardiologist of the soul. He has the ability and power to forgive our sins and heal our lives. He loves us and desires that He be our first love. We must go to Him with our sick places. We must ask Him to reveal the ROOT of pride, lust, selfishness, envy, bitterness, idolatry, or any other sin making our hearts sick. Confession of sin unlocks healing in our lives. God wants our hearts. God wants our love. God wants our healing.
When it comes to living this life, I’ve come to believe that…
The healthiest people realize how sick they are.
And they run to the Savior. He is our Healer. There is no more room for wallowing in shame and condemnation. I’m sick, and that’s a fact. So, let’s allow God to shine the light on our sick places, deal with it, and move on, healed in Jesus’ Name!
Somewhere in my spiritual journey I picked up this saying: The most important thought you will ever think is what you think about when you think of God. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? No other occupation of the mind is more central to our existence than what we think of God. It affects every other thought and action that we undertake. It informs our relationships. It drives our work ethic. It colors our emotional state. It gives wings to our desires, passions, and purposes. Whether you are deeply religious or a devout atheist—what you think about when you think of God is critical to how you navigate life on this planet.
There are several common ways we like to approach God or think about him. Some people think of God as distant. He’s over there somewhere. We may grant him brand loyalty rather than devotion. We are as committed to him as we are our favorite sports logo that we wear, but he’s not really engaged in our lives. Or he might be like a service provider that we use from time to time; we only call him when we need him. If you view God this way, he is largely uninvolved in your life until you really need him. He is mostly in the far recesses of your mind.
I have to ask, though, when was the last time God really changed something inside of you? You can say all day, “I love God,” but when was the last time he really impacted your life? If you’re on God’s team, then why are you just sitting in the stands?
Other people think of God as someone who is near, but they wish he wasn’t. We think of him as over here, but we wish he was somewhere over there. Those people view God as present in their lives, but he’s a little too present. You might be one of those people. If you think of God that way, he is a biblical buzz kill or cosmic killjoy. He’s ruining your good time. You feel as though you’re being inspected all the time. He’s evaluating your every move, and it’s starting to make you feel a little uncomfortable.
If that’s your view of God, then you’re probably running from him most of the time. When you don’t want to deal with the guilt and the pressure, you just get out of town. That also colors your view of the church. You most likely think of the church as a bunch of critical, boring people who are against everything. The church is against this and against that, especially if it’s something fun.
One of the hard realities of this viewpoint is that you will go everywhere else but God for your good time. And “everywhere else but God” is a destination leading to destruction. If you don’t believe God is a blast—the source of abundant life, the source of all of your fun—you'll try all the wrong things and travel to the wrong destinations for your good time. And, eventually, you will end up taking God's good gifts and using them in God-forbidden ways. All of those good things that God means for your good pleasure—like sex, food, drink, entertainment, money, career, and even power—will end up being used in ways he never intended.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)
As we invite others to experience a life following Jesus, let us invite them to a lifestyle experiencing delights unmatched by anything the culture can offer.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. BUT that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 2 Corinthians 1:8-10
This passage has given me so much hope the last few months. I have also returned to this passage with several counselees. Paul was speaking to the church in Corinth about his past suffering which was extensive. He suffered physically with his external circumstances, and in this passage it seems to point that he also suffered internally by mental/emotional anguish.
Over the years, I have had many clients discuss wanting to die or just not wake up. Some of these statements were due to their situations being dire from going through a nasty divorce to constantly battling with depression or meditating on past sexual abuse. Many of the clients reported great suffering and just desired to stop fighting and to be finished.
I would often refer to this passage and help them remember the story of Paul, our great brother in the faith. Many took comfort that this hero could sympathize with despair. To me what stands out the most in this passage is the reason why they were suffering. They were to rely on the God of the resurrection and not on themselves.
I often ask myself what does self reliance look like? What is the result when I rely on myself? How does this glorify God? What tends to happen? Then I ask what does reliance on God look like? What does that imply? How would I respond differently? How does this glorify Him? Just recently, the Lord brought this passage to my mind as I was trying to go to sleep. I felt him reminding me that reliance on him was looking at who he was over my circumstances. The fact that this scripture points to not only the resurrected power that he has, but also the resurrected power that lives inside of me. The Lord kept telling me that he brings life from death, and that HE is the master carpenter - one who constantly is making new things from old things. So, he wanted me to keep this perspective in mind when I was ruminating on my situation. One of the Puritans stated for every one look at your sin takes ten looks to Christ. I think this statement applies even more so to affliction. Often we start to think about what is happening to us and then start to get depressed over the lack of control we have. We start to spiral inward and imagine the worst possible scenarios increasing our despair and helplessness.
This passage reminds us that while in despair we HAVE to bring to mind not only WHO CHRIST IS but WHAT HE HAS DONE and WILL DO. This passage reminds us that He is the God who saved us and justified us from our sin. Remembering your past and what he saved you from and what He did on the cross for you that brought you into right standing with him. He also is the God who will deliver us from the presence of sin to our glorified state to be eternally present with him. One day, there will be no more tears, no more suffering. The Bible says he will wipe every tear from our eyes. To me that close touch reminds me of his presence and sympathy in our pain. That He is the God who sees all and can empathize with us more than any other.
We are to hope that he will deliver us again in this situation. He wants us to continue to fix our eyes, minds, and hearts on him in the process. That he would give us peace and calm amidst the storm. That through our suffering he is sanctifying us to look more and more like his son. Through our suffering he is giving us more of himself. Through our suffering, He is reminding us that He is the Almighty deliverer who delivered Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land. He delivered us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. I am constantly reminded how fleeting this life is. Our afflictions are momentary in light of eternity. I know that my Lord will deliver me into the Promised Land with Him. It is not always in my timing, but I set my Hope in the God above who cannot lie, that not only is He redeeming me while in this affliction, but He will rescue me from this present darkness. Because I have a Father who delights in my deliverance. To Him be the Glory.
by Garrett Higbee
Have you ever been to someone’s home and from the minute you walk in you sense something is different? Our family went to visit some friends a while back and it made me rethink the meaning of fellowship and hospitality. This family was deeply interested in us and our every need as if they took hospitality as a matter of family pride. The grace and attention was almost embarrassing. They invited us beyond the dining room right into the living room for rich conversation that made the meal, coffee, and desert seem a nice touch but only a garnish to the grace we received. It was really the fellowship, the way they shared their lives and drew out ours that left a lasting impression. The central topic inevitably became Christ and what He was teaching us and the evidence of His hand in our lives. Tammy and I left commenting to each other that this was an unusually meaningful evening. We told our kids that this was a night to remember and that Christ was seen in the love of our friends.
Nights like that make me imagine living like that all the time and what a close community of friends like that might look like. We started what we call neighbor dinners once a month at our home about 10 years ago, where we bring food and pray with our neighbors living near by. Some of our neighbors were believers, but some were not. No one went away hungry, and over the years some who did not know Christ started to stay around for prayer. We have done this now in three neighborhoods. We know the neighbors, we borrow sugar and butter from each other, we shovel each other out in the snow, and we speak into the lives of the neighbor’s kids. It has been one of the clearest ways we as a family have shined a light in this world for His glory (Matthew 5:15-16).
Honestly though, that isn't enough. It is not really uncommon community. That was and is just good old fashion neighborliness. So what is it that makes community uncommonly good? It happens when a group of folks gathered knows their need for grace, forgiveness, and their desperate need for Christ. It happens when people are done playing church and are authentic, transparent, and vulnerable. A few times we have had it in a group where people felt safe and no one was judged because they too had been embarrassed by God’s long-suffering and steadfast covenant love. Because we have moved a lot we have had it and lost it a few times, we are always searching for this type of community, but it has now become our goal to create this environment wherever we live and serve.
Here are some attributes of uncommon community:
I hope you will make an effort to create that environment in your home, your friendships, your small group, and your church. It is a fortunate virus and I believe God will spread it if you persevere.
Making It Happen
A while back Pastor James MacDonald preached to a gathering of over 1000 pastors and leaders worldwide and he challenged all of us with what is quickly becoming Harvest Bible Chapel’s unofficial fifth pillar: “Uncommon Community.” It is part of bringing God’s glory down by being a Vertical Church that lives out the gospel as we do life with one another. I hope you will pray for us and join us in making this a God-glorifying reality in the local church.
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.