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Association of Biblical Counselors

  • Unlocking Your Lament

    by Brandon Thomas

    Every one of us wrestles through the realities of a very broken world. Government is sometimes dysfunctional, seemingly beyond repair. Laws can be unjust, penalizing the innocent. Communities discriminate against people because of the color of their skin or their zip code. Chronic pain may be your unwelcome friend, visiting you each day. 

    This world is not without its troubles.

    How does the Christ Follower deal with his own downturns? How do we handle troubles that are not a direct result of our own poor choices?

    Some options:

    Just put on a BRAVE FACE!

    Let’s just not talk about that…. Let’s dwell on the good things.

    I must have done something to deserve this….

    Throughout the pages of the Bible, we see another path:

    Unlock Your Lament!

    Entire Psalms are given to the LAMENT (ex., Psalm 69, 102, 137).

    God gives us an entire book of the bible dedicated to Lamentations.

    When we wrestle through large-scale brokenness, here’s how to lament.

    First, Express Yourself.

    Tell God how you feel. Authentically express your emotions.

    God, it looks like this _________.

    God, I’m wrestling through this _________.

    God, I don’t understand this _________.

    God delights in our honest communication with him. It’s not wrong to wrestle with God; it’s wrong to stop wrestling with God.

    Boldly Pray, “God, Change This!”

    You’re not wrong to ask God to deliver you from a storm.

    For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:8 NLT)

    Sometimes the greater miracle happens when God delivers us through a storm rather than from a storm. But that should not keep us from asking for deliverance!

    Reaffirm the Relationship.

    This element of your lament is crucial. In the midst of your prayer, reaffirm your enduring relationship with God. As you stare down the dire circumstances in your life, keep an eye on the character of God. Discipline yourself to restate the grace, goodness, and compassion of your creator. Allow him to comfort you in the midst of the struggle.

    However you answer, God, I’m here. I’m going nowhere. I love you and know you have a plan beyond this pain, even beyond this life.

    Finally, Rest in the Bigger Picture.

    Then a white robe was given to each of them. And they were told to rest a little longer until the full number of their brothers and sisters—their fellow servants of Jesus who were to be martyred—had joined them (Revelation 6:11 NLT).

    God is exercising far greater patience than us! Every moment God allows our broken world to exist, it is a testimony to his compassion toward us.

    God has a plan beyond this sinful world. God has a plan for you in this midst of this sinful world. God has a larger plan!

    Could God be preparing you to be a priest to a world in pain? Might your suffering qualify you to lead others to an eternal life in Christ? Is it possible that our Christian hope would enact large-scale, generational change?

    Unlock your lament!

  • Is My Thought Life a Problem?

    by Susan Thomas

    Have you ever heard the statements, “you are what you think.” Or, “if you think you can’t, then you can’t!” These statements and many like them, reflect the observation that our thoughts are powerful. The things we think about can impact our lives in a significant and sometimes life-altering way.

    Just the other day, one of my sweet daughters expressed her struggle with math. “Mommy, I CAN’T do it! I’ll never be able to do it! I don’t know my multiplication!” In a God-given moment of patience, I looked at her and in true, cheerleader-like fashion (motions and happy facial expressions included), I said “you may not know it now, but you WILL!” I began to chant this cheer until her look of distress gave way to giggles of delight. And she began to study her facts with renewed vigor.

    It’s amazing how our thoughts can change things. Perspective matters. What we think about is HUGE. God talks about the importance of our thought life all throughout the scriptures. Our thoughts are undeniably important and God has a design for our thought life. (See Romans 12:2.)

    But I believe sometimes we blame our thoughts when our problem goes deeper.

    For example, as Christ-followers, we may look at 2 Corinthians 10:5 and assume that our final, great battleground resides in our thought-life.

    We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV, emphasis mine)

    Or, we look at the wonderful instruction found in Philippians 2:8 and assume that if we can simply control our thought life, all will be well.

    Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Philippians 2:8, NLT, emphasis mine)

    So we tackle our struggle with lust and try to stop ourselves from thinking about the ungodly fantasies that fight for our minds’ eye. We try and try and wonder why we continue to fail! We find ourselves paralyzed with fear so we begin to chant the memorized scriptures our friend shared with us in hopes that distracting our thoughts will free us from fear. And then we become despondent when the pit inside of our stomachs continues to almost incapacitate us.

    The battle for our thoughts is no doubt a reality and crucial to the victorious life of every individual. Taking our thoughts captive and making them obedient to God is a vital practice in the life of every Christ follower. But if we stop there, I believe we have missed THE ROOT of our struggle. You see, behind every errant thought, there is a heart problem. 

    Behind every errant thought, there is a heart problem.

    Now I’m not talking necessarily about the errant thoughts that pop in your head and you instantly dismiss. I’m really not even talking about thoughts of temptation. I’m talking about the thoughts that linger. The thoughts that we entertain. The thoughts that can turn into beliefs. We must understand that something drives our thoughts! We have a nature, a heart condition that actively influences our thought life. The desires inside our hearts lure and entice us. Out of our hearts, thoughts flow! And because we have a heart condition that is either very, very sick or being healed by our Savior, we must take seriously the state of our hearts. Check it out!

    Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)

    For from the heart come evil thoughts… (Matthew 15:19)

    Out of our hearts, come the thoughts that we think! Our hearts are full of all kinds of desires, and our desires are often expressed via our thoughts. While intricately connected, we must understand that the condition of our heart directly impacts the nature of our thought life. If we are dominated by our sinful nature and heart, then our thoughts will set out to destroy us and all God loves. If we are controlled by the Holy Spirit of God, our thoughts will bring life and joy to our existence and even to the lives of those around us!

    So what does this mean?

    It means that no amount of effort or thought control will ever be enough when it comes to the problems I face in my life. Controlling our thought life is important. But we must get first things first. We must love God. When I love God, I will obey him. When I run to Jesus, my thought life will follow.

    In John 15, Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” He goes on to warn us that apart from him “we can do nothing.” It is only in intimate connection and relationship with Jesus that our hearts and lives can be transformed. Without daily intimacy with Jesus and running to him fresh every moment, our thought lives remain in a precarious and vulnerable position.

    Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. (Romans 12:2, emphasis mine)

    At the end of the day, it will be GOD that transforms us and changes the way we think. If knowledge and self-control could do the trick, we would have never needed a Savior. We must resist the urge to use God (even subconsciously) to get freedom from the thing that plagues us. Instead, we must surrender to the One who loves us most and run to him with our love, devotion and adoration. As we fight to keep him first in our hearts, we then trust him to heal us from the inside out. We don’t just need new thoughts.

    We need a new heart. We need a new spirit.

    And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. (Ezekiel 36:26)

    Will you join me in running fresh to our Savior today?

    God, thank you that Jesus did not come to this world to judge us but to save us! You know that my heart is sick and runs far from you. Thank you for your desire to give me a new heart and daily heal me from the inside out. Help me to follow you each moment of my life. And when my heart begins to wander, Lord I pray you would gently draw me back to you and that I would RUN into your loving arms. By your spirit’s power, help me take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to you. Your ways are life. YOU are my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen

  • How the Mercy of God Flourishes in Suffering

    Reality, to a large degree, is constructed subjectively through the processes of the mind. “Facts” are perceived; variables of that perception shape an interpretation; and these interpretations ultimately serve to shape a person’s experiential reality. By no means does this diminish the fact that objective, absolute truth exists, but it is important to recognize that this process of perception, interpretation, and conclusion has a significant impact on the way people experience life. Understanding this can have a profound impact on helping people walk through difficult seasons of suffering.

    A fascinating example of this is seen in the book of Mark: 

    “And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:37-41)

    The disciples and Jesus were engulfed in an objectively shared experience, but subjectively, they each experienced this moment very differently. The disciples were fearful and panicky while Jesus was relaxed to the point of sleep. For the disciples, their perception seems pretty accurate: “We’re in a raging storm, and in danger of going under.” But their interpretation of the situation completely enslaved them to fear and dread. From reading the account, their interpretation must have been something along these lines, “We’re in a horrible storm, and we’re going to die!” Their seeming admonishment of Jesus reflects this, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (v.38). On the other hand, Jesus responded to the situation with complete power and authority. 

    What was the missing variable in the disciples’ interpretation of the situation? It was faith. Jesus rebuked them for this asking, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (v. 40). The Creator of the cosmos sat in physical form with them on the boat, in the storm, but their lack of faith in him caused them to miss the amazing providential moment of mercy that was unfolding right before their eyes. Jesus was there, and safety was imminent. 

    How does this translate into helping others who are going through difficulty and suffering? Let’s consider two implications:

    The Variable of the Gospel Forces a Reinterpretation of EVERYTHING

    Typical responses to suffering tend to foster contempt for and doubt in God. It is not unusual for me to hear statements (from Christians who are suffering) like: “Why is God punishing me?” “What did I do to deserve this from God?” “Why is God abandoning me?” “If God is such a good God, why is he allowing such evil in my life?” “I am very angry with God.” These responses expose a profound distortion in the flow of one’s perceptions, interpretations, and conclusions. While the perception that life is difficult, even grueling, demands enormous compassion from the counselor, the leap from this to the “God-is-against-me” type thinking demands extensive consideration. For example, like the disciples, these responses assume God is either asleep or apathetic to the situation. The interpretation is not simply that life is difficult, but that since it is difficult, God doesn’t care, or even worse, is working against them.

    This myopic translation of reality completely expunges the “Gospel-at-work” dynamic from the person’s experience of suffering. If we help them bring the Gospel variable into the scene, the nature of God, from careless and cruel, is transformed into the realization that He is actually amazing and merciful. The person with the “God-is-against-me” mentality is going to have a very difficult time responding to suffering with humility and trust unless the light of truth is shed upon their experience in such a way that His mercy is meaningfully revealed. 

    The truth of the matter is that during moments or seasons of suffering, and particularly in the context of sinful responses to suffering, the Gospel is perpetually at work. When accusations against God are being catapulted from the heart, waging war against Him, and when anger and doubt are the predominant themes as it concerns one’s attitude towards God, the finished work of the Cross is stunningly active. Rather than being condemned for such responses, God ascribes to the one sinning the very righteousness of Jesus. God actually treats the suffering saint (with a sinful attitude) as though he or she is responding with perfect obedience to and faith in God. God examines all the doubt, anger, fear, and hostility directed at Him through the prism of the Gospel, and treats the individual as though he or she were responding with the very perfection of Jesus. In essence, in our weakness and sinful responses, we act like the disciples in the boat, but are viewed by God as though we were responding with the perfection of Jesus. Even further, Jesus took upon himself our guilt as though He were the one responding without faith in a loving Father.

    This realization of the Gospel in the midst of suffering forces a reinterpretation of the God of the Bible. Suffering is no longer viewed as His divine lightning bolt intended to punish or curse the afflicted, but is understood as a divine context that is intended to radiate the glory of His love and mercy. As this reality crystallizes in the heart, people’s view of God changes. Where their Gospel-void interpretation once influenced their conclusion of God as the arbiter of pain as a means to justice, they now understand their pain as a means to understand His infinite grace resulting in the freedom to genuinely conclude He is truly a God that is good. They realize His mercy flourishing through suffering in that they were desperate in their weakness for the imputed righteousness of Christ, and that God was eager to offer it as a means to magnify His infinite love for them as they endure life in a fallen world.

    As such, the variable of the Gospel completely reinterprets the entire scene of the narrative elevating God as a compassionate Father of His own. Furthermore, he is realized as a Person who demands absolute honor and obedience compelling the believer to repentance where sin has abounded in his or her response to suffering.

    The Gospel Actualizes Christ-Like Responses in Real-Time

    Not only is the Gospel at work by imparting the righteousness of Jesus to the believer, the message of the Gospel is also about actually changing human hearts. If we were to put this in modern, Western terminology, the Gospel is about conforming believers to the image of Christ, therefore empowering them towards true psychological health; this psychological health not being conceptualized through a Western view of psychological health and research, but understood and determined by the very nature of Jesus Christ.

    Jesus was emotionally, mentally, and spiritually perfect. Therefore, he responded to suffering perfectly. As believers are conformed to His image, these aspects of human nature are being radically healed and transformed. Consider the words of James, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:24). Here, James is touching the same theme as Jesus did with His disciples in the boat: faith.

    Suffering has a purpose, and that purpose is to create people of faith who are complete and lacking in nothing. It is a means of healing by conforming people to the image of Jesus. Basically, it is the trial that He uses as His instrument to equip believers in responding with a faith reflective of Jesus. Can you imagine what life would be like if you or those you serve faced marital struggles, depression, anxiety, or illness with the faith of Christ? It feels nearly inconceivable as to how this would change the experience we call life. But this is God’s commitment to His own, and it is through suffering that He is mercifully accomplishing His work of healing and transformation in the hearts of believers. Therefore, suffering should not be viewed as the wrath of God upon His children, but as the tool He uses to create beings who relate perfectly to Him in glory and honor. It is a means to help Christians learn to live with their minds set on the things of the Spirit; something Paul taught would bring life and peace (Romans 8:6).      

    Suffering: A Delicate Reality

    As I write this blog, I recognize it barely touches the complexities of human suffering. Therefore, as you consider what is written, avoid making these things into formulaic, emotionally insensitive methods for counseling. The Gospel is rich, and effective for change. However, we as counselors must always be eager to weep with those who weep, and resist any tendencies of scripting the process of redemption for those we serve.

    Human change operates on the divine timetable of a sovereign God, and we must submit to His will as we walk with others. Biblical truth brings freedom, but we must speak this truth in love with a keen sensitivity to the exterior and interior struggles that influence confusion about God and the human experience. Even more, we understand that it is God who will bring ultimate understanding, freedom, and peace in the time He has allotted. May we always humbly walk in light of this reality.

  • A Cry for Faith

    by Faith Morin

    Several times over the past two weeks I’ve been reminded of Mark 9:14-29, where Jesus heals the boy with the unclean spirit. There is much to digest in those 15 verses, but perhaps what has always moved me the most is the fathers cry:

    “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

    This is so often how I feel. I work hard at gathering wisdom, knowledge, and skill only to realize how pitiful my accumulation really is. I see my limitations, weaknesses, and powerlessness. I want to believe…I want it desperately so…but often my faith seems like a fragile shell of what it ought.  

    I love that the father here is both full of hope and doubt. You can sense the agony and angst of his plea,  that if anything can be done, for it to be so. This father is honest with Jesus. He doesn’t pretend, he doesn’t flatter…he’s real. “But if you can…”  I’m always in awe of Jesus’ response because the father does not come across as a man of great faith. He’s clearly questioning Jesus’ ability to do anything at all. He wants it to be possible, but he doesn’t know.

    And then Jesus says, “All things are possible for one who believes.” (What? This guy believes???) The father realizes, “I believe, but help me because I don’t believe enough” (paraphrase). He knows he can’t create his own faith. He’s never seen this before. He’s tried all he knows, all that his faith was in previously, and it didn’t work. He wants to believe but can’t manufacture it…and doesn’t even try. Instead, he admits his unbelief and asks the only one who can, to help.    

    I am this father. I want to believe, but I still don’t…not fully. By the time I come to Jesus I’m spent and desperate. I’ve exhausted my resources and wonder if change is even possible. I need a savior and I need him to move, but unlike this father I far too often wrestle with Jesus. I want to bargain and, typically, I’m consumed with the fear of “if he doesn’t.”

    See, I am not able to push my Savior to act when I hope; I can’t manipulate or bend His will. I know that and worry that he won’t come through. I want  greater faith, but I don’t confess my lack or ask for more. Instead, I usually spend more time trying to muster it up or cover the fact that I don’t really believe in the first place. Ugly stuff.

    Today I’m thankful for this reminder {I always need reminders}. Jesus knows. He sees my heart, my unbelief, my self-righteousness, my sin far clearer than I do. He knows I can’t give myself more faith to believe. It’s part of why he’s showing me a lack to begin with, so that I might first go to him.

    Oh that the desperate words of this father, “I believe, help my unbelief” might be the constant cry of my heart.

  • About 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.