Common Issues in Biblical Counseling, Part Four
When we imagine ourselves as independent, we become captivated with our own plans. We pursue greatness for ourselves instead of giving glory to God. We want more money, bigger homes, newer cars, and better health. Our riddled calendars and unrealistic agendas reflect our lust after all these things. When not being intentional about quieting the noise in our hearts, we not only want all these worldly things, we want them exactly our way! Sometimes we are convicted to consider a pause and restructuring of our daily routines to reflect Christ’s goodness and glory, yet most of the time we keep jumping back on life’s treadmill and repeat the same destructive behaviors as before. Until we deal with the root of our problems, we will find ourselves exhausted, frustrated and defeated. We can become restless and disoriented as we exhaust our bodies and corrupt our spirits. The condition of the heart directly impacts how we cope with day-to-day stress.
by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Pe 1:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Stress can be short term or long term. Both can lead to a variety of symptoms, but chronic stress can take a serious toll and have long-lasting effects. Stress at its best can be positive when it alerts us to a problem area and helps us to respond to it. Stress can also be negative when it is constant, without relief. Granted, sometimes stress comes from a difficult situation. But most times stress comes from perceptions about life: worry, perfectionism, fear of failure. Stress affects the body, mind, and spirit. In daily lives, stress has potential to affect both personal and interpersonal relationships.
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 4:6–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
- 1 Corinthians 1:10-13
- Ephesians 5:21
- Galatians 1:10
- Proverbs 19:20
- John 9:13-34
Let’s look at portraits of stress:
• John sat on the side of the hospital bed and buttoned his shirt. Yesterday he had been sure he was having a heart attack. His chest had been tight and he had struggled to breathe. But today, after many tests, his doctor told him that his heart was fine. Nothing was physically wrong. “I think you’re under a lot of stress,” his doctor had told him and had recommended seeing a counselor.
• Kailey has been through a lot lately. Her husband lost his job and the bill collectors are beginning to call. In addition, her mom has been sick, her kids have been having difficulty in school, and the water heater just died. Kailey doesn’t think she can handle one more crisis.
• Micah is trying to be a good student, but lately things have been tough. His mom and dad are getting a divorce, his grades are slipping, he lost his place on the basketball team for missing too many practices, and he has finals next week. Micah feels completely overwhelmed.
(Clinton, T., & Hawkins, R. (2009). The Quick-Reference Guide to Biblical Counseling: Personal and Emotional Issues (p. 241). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)
Psalm 131 gives us an inside look at how we can regain much-needed composure. We are reminded that being at peace requires processing life in the way of the Lord. It means that we deliberately walk with God. This tranquility is learned in relationship.
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 131:1–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Psalm 131 is not about having low expectations or retreating from the difficulties of life. This passage is not about enjoying a life of ease. Psalm 131 is about an inner peace that comes in the midst of all actions. And it’s important to remember that the self control here is learned intentionally. Will you allow yourself to get to this quiet place: I have calmed and quieted my soul? Hope in the Lord (not self) walks out faith that delivers you from your biggest obstacle: Pride. When someone is proud she focuses on herself: Pride says I am so important that I have control of my life and I’m not trusting anyone else. David gains humility in this Psalm when he consciously distances himself and learns what he is not. Andrew Murray describes pride as the root of every sin and evil. The human flesh is bent toward pride.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 26:12). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
- Matthew 23:6
- 2 Chronicles 26:15-16
- Daniel 4:22
- 1 Timothy 6:17
- Matthew 6:19
- Isaiah 47:10
“Humility is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” – Andrew Murray
The sin of pride is possibly the most detestable by God because pride is a form of self-worship and idolatry. Pride and humility cannot co-exist. How does a proud heart become humble? Not by beating yourself up, but by confessing the sin and believing God. Humility believes and dwells on the promises of God. What God promises to do in and through Jesus Christ is the only thing that is strong enough to provide escape from the noise of this world. Counselor David Powlison says, “From our side, we escape ourselves by learning a lifestyle of intelligent repentance, genuine faith, and specific obedience.” Think about what he is saying here. Specific obedience is done on purpose. We need to be stilled. Christians are called to set our hope in the Lord not only now, but forevermore. An appropriate view of self focuses on God and others; your hope is outside yourself.
Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 16:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Co 4:17). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:1–2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
It’s true that pride finds purpose in lifting up of self, but pride is not just about ourselves. Proud people usually view others in terms of what those people can do for them and their interests. Pride is opinionated, tends to routinely judge others, believes in one’s own correctness, belittles, and leaves the person with only shallow relationships. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “None are more unjust in their judgments of others than those who have a high opinion of themselves.” Giving up control of other people means that you are free to pursue the self-control you were made for.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heartThe Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 2:22). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 16:5). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Do nothing from selfish ambition 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.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Php 2:3–4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
- Matthew 7:12
- 1 Corinthians 13:4
- 1 Peter 3:3-4
- Proverbs 18:1-2
- Hebrews 10:24-25
If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we are to be intentional about learning and changing as we live with and for Jesus. He is the One True God, our Deliverer. We must place all of our hope in Jesus’ return. Moment by moment, inner conversations for the Christian should reflect rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit molds the heart as we learn to think like Jesus does. After all, the humility of Jesus is quite possibly his most stunning attribute (Philippians 2:6-8). Biblical growth and change impacts our thinking and our living. Learn more here.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Pe 1:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
- Matthew 11:29
- Matthew 23
- Mark 10:45
How might we apply these truths? It’s important to note that Christ’s mindset was that of a servant, with focus on God and others. His pursuit was in recognition and exaltation of God with a desire to please God. C.S. Lewis accurately said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humble people live differently than those who are proud: Consider your motives in how your time and energy is spent. Do you have trusted friends who might help review your schedule with honesty? (Willingness to ask for help from God and others is a good sign of humility.) Perhaps there is an immediate situation that you could resolve with closer consideration. With God’s help, and with someone you trust, you can break apart the big stressors into more manageable pieces. Do you exercise, or take frequent breaks throughout the day to specifically read and meditate on the Bible? Consider what God is doing in all situations and look for God’s purposes in the difficulties. Cultivate a heart of reading and praying the Word so you might see God’s perspective more clearly.
For the mind – think on what is real and true. Seek the mind of God in all things (prayer, fasting, and Bible reading). Maintain an accurate view of your gifts and abilities.
For the body – focus on sleep hygiene, healthy eating, and routine exercise. If you are experiencing physical effects of stress, not the least of which is sleep deprivation, you should schedule an appointment with your physician.
For the spirit – pray without ceasing. Worship with a grateful heart. Nurture a teachable spirit as you grow in faith by meditating and studying the Bible. Grow in maturity by learning to fully trust God’s character. Learn to act like God (loving others the way God loves you).
- Psalm 119:66
- Philippians 1:21
- 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18
- Romans 12:3-10
- 1 Corinthians 4:7
- Acts 20:31-38
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Th 5:16–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
As Christians, we must be people who discover the truths God has for us so we can learn to identify the false beliefs that lead us into frustration, pain, and heartache. Many times our lives become filled with stress because we refuse to accept our limits as mere humans: Perhaps you’ve simply taken on too much, not acknowledging the boundaries God created for you. Even Moses needed to delegate some of his duties (Exodus 18:13-26)! It could be time to reevaluate, cut back, or simply slow down. We must be willing to honestly examine ourselves and ask God to show us the root behind not only our thoughts but our choices. The choices we make come out of our hearts.
I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 16:8–11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
However, if we are not careful, we can make the common mistake of tackling the actions and thoughts and miss the heart. The condition of the heart directly impacts the nature of our thoughts. If our thoughts are dominated by humanity’s sinful nature, then our thoughts will set out to destroy all that God loves. Dr. Stuart Scott writes, “If pride is the epidemic vice, then humility is the endangered virtue…Only a Christian who has the Spirit of God can learn genuine humility.” The role of our thought life is unmistakable in its impact on a person’s life and wellbeing. But are thoughts the root of our problems as people? If we could simply think differently, would our stress, emotional state and problems in life resolve? If God’s Spirit controls us, our thoughts will bring peace. We need a heart of humility. We need peace.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 36:26). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 5:22–23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that though we bring some stress on ourselves, and some is beyond our control. It may be true that we cannot control all that we encounter, but with the Holy Spirit and our own intentionality, we can control the stress level that the situation has caused. J.C. Ryle wisely penned, “Trials are intended to make us think, to wean us from the world, to send us to the Bible, to drive us to our knees.” Ryle understood our need to be reminded of insufficiency in ourselves. Ask God today to give you the wisdom to handle what you can, and ask for His hand to be in what you cannot. We can run to the One who loves us more than what we can imagine. Our Great Physician promises to be our help. God will give us the peace He has promised. He is faithful (Ezek. 36:26)!
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 1:2–3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Is 26:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
For further study:
John 16:33, Hebrews 13:20, 2 Corinthians 4:9
From Pride to Humility by Dr. Stuart Scott
Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by Andrew Murray
Debbie’s six-part blog series: Biblical Growth and Change