The Christian lives as a sacrifice before God daily, as did Jesus. It is our reflection of His grace that we expend ourselves in His service and service to others. As we die a bit more day by day or are crushed by the world little by little, we have the opportunity to pour out our gratitude and love for God and neighbor. As like the Old Testament sacrifices, we are thus a sweet aroma pleasing unto Him. This follows from nature that in the same manner that spices and incense give off more and more of their flavor/aroma as they are burned or crushed so do we in our sufferings unto God. This is why murmuring and complaining in such circumstances is not befitting the true Christian. Psalm 44:22, Romans 8:36, Psalm 116:15, 2 Cor. 2:14-15, Eph. 5:1-2.
Tag Archives: Biblical counseling
Prayer and Doing
Jay Adams talks about three common questions he used in counseling: “What is your problem: What have you done about it: What do you expect me to do about it?” In his experience the second question is typically a one word answer, “Prayer”.
As discussed in a prior post prayer does not shift or punt the problems of life to God. There is no shift of the problem to God and thus you are free to go about daily life, except to maybe pray more, and wait.
We are foolish to expect God’s answer to prayer to drop from the sky or be some audible answer. Adams uses the example of eating. We are taught in the “Lord’s Prayer” to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”… and yet none of us, if we expect to eat, sit and wait for a bag of fast food to drop out of the sky. 2 Thess. 3:10 further teaches us that if a man refuses to work, then he should also not be fed. This all seems to clearly indicate that there is more to our problems than just prayer. There needs to be action that accompanies the prayer. Prayer is only the beginning point of dealership with a problem.
Philippians 4:6-9 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Typically we read verses 6 and 7 and say “There it is, I just need to ask for peace and I should get it”. So many Christians seem to be praying for peace in life these days and are not getting it, why is that? Could it be because we have neglected to read on in context? In verses 8 and 9 Paul gives us some bold things to do in striving to attain that peace. We are to work on changing our thinking and check what are right and wrong thoughts. We are to actively emulate Paul and he is only emulating Christ. There is nothing about waiting until you get peace until you start to do these. We are to be doing them within and during the pursuit of peace. Paul qualifies in verse 9 that we are not to be seeking peace so much that we neglect that God is the God of peace, and that it is ultimately Him that we have gained in our salvation, and not just a self achieved personal peace of mind. In short prayer is just step one, of actively working towards anything you are praying about. If all you are doing is praying about something, maybe it’s time to start taking part in doing.
The Christian Doctrine of Prayer:
In the simplest and most correct form I know of I wish to present the ACTS model of praying. In other words the word ACTS is really an acronym for recalling elements of prayer the Bible gives us.
Adoration is the first word of the acronym. Thanking God for more than what He gives, but for who and what He is. The adoration is lacking when it centers on what God gives and our current feelings about our current life situation. We may struggle with contentment about life in general, but we should always be far more than content and even ecstatic that we have the One true God looking out for us.
Confession is the word making up the next letter of the acronym. In general it is saying the same thing, about ourselves that God has revealed about us in His word. Because the Christian is in Christ and free from the judgment to come, he can honestly confess sin when he has committed it, and return and talk to God about it.
Thanksgiving is the third word of the acronym. Thanksgiving is the Christians expression of gratefulness in all things that no matter what our losses are, the Christian will not drift or float away into utter despair because he is anchored to the thankfulness of salvation in Christ.
Supplications is the last word from this acronym. It is simply making our requests be made known to God (I’ll get into more details about this in a future post).
Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
I wanted to address in this post some of the false notions of prayer that are common in today’s world.
First is the psychological shifting of perceived weight; which is therapeutic projection of letting go and letting God, cast your cares upon Him. In this type of prayer God is more like a metaphysical closet to hide/ dump your burden in, or try to disown them. This kind of prayer is just a psychological exercise of venting and doesn’t really have to do with God at all. The mental health secular world can in this context encourage people to pray and yet not care if there is really a God or not. It is just the act of doing it that is the therapy. Yet this is truly insulting to the person and work of Christ.
People are in trouble when trusting in the “act” of prayer rather than the God to which they are supposed to be praying. It is not a subjective experience of feelings or a magical solution should you get the form and content just right.
It is also wrong to think that praying is only useful in conforming man’s inward heart to God’s, and not really impacting the world. Now I do believe that this occurs (Prayer will change our hearts), but I do not believe this to the exclusion of God using and working in and through prayer. God is not fate, but really and personally listens to the prayers of His people (more about God’s hearing and listening in the next post).
Prayer is not the same as petition only. It is meant to be a heartfelt communicating about more than just the need or desire to ask for things. Think of a close relationship (spouse, BF/GF, close friend, etc.) and what it would be like for you if the only time the person spoke to you was to ask for you to do something for them. I don’t think such a relationship would last very long in human terms.
Prayer is not the same as Eastern or even Christian meditation. Transcendental meditation is to let your mind wander into unconsciousness, and Christian meditation is to reflect upon passages of God’s word seeing freely thinking about how those passages intersect with life and other thoughts that come to mind, but this is not prayer (although I admit it could lead to prayer).
I must say that I also disagree with the Catholic notion of prayers to saints, as if the direct access to God in Christ is somehow obstructed, and the saints provide some other avenue of approach. Is Christ too busy for the prayers of all Christendom? To the degree that a saint has the power, attributes, or inside track on some benefit then it is subverting the authority and honor of Christ who teaches plainly that all men are to come to Him. The living would hardly suggest that any man should pray to another man, so why is this somehow different in death?
Stay tuned for more.
Reference: Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979.
In these comparisons I want to give everyone a fair and yet condensed perspective of what various psychologies would diagnose a problem to be and how they would approach a treatment. I think this will show just how diverse, conflicting and unscientific the methods, which will either not affect real change or leave the person in a worse condition. As evidence of the worse condition, I’d just point to the culture and ask if the psychologies are true, then why do people seem to have more issues and more clinics are opening all the time. I’d say they are promoting the problems and not helping. Yet the same could be said about Christian counseling. To this I’d answer that Christian counseling is just getting started, and is still finding its way back into the practical application of theology.
The first example I’d like to consider is a fairly common one. We all have a bout with depression from time to time, but what about when it becomes a dysfunction that begins to interfere with a person’s everyday life, and something they just can’t shake? What is done with a person to get them functional again?
Medical: The person has a chemical imbalance and if the chemistry can be figured out, we can relieve the depression. This may help make a person somewhat functional, but it does not have the cause of the depression even on the radar. It is a treating of the symptoms at best.
Freud: “Very interesting,” spoken in my best Freudian accent. No advice is given, but as the client talks he is led to realize and confess on his own that the world is full of bad people, he is one of them, and he just needs to live with unrealized dreams and hope and push onward. This is as good as it gets, and he should just make the most of it. There is no redeeming quality to offer the client about people or themselves, no tools to feel better, and no explanation for why others are not depressed.
Burns: The client is simply full of wrongful thinking and thus feeling about standards and perceptions of the world and expectations, and how to win friends and influence people. The Client is equipped with charts other tools to assess why he does what he does, and once he learns what triggers certain reactions (bad habits, or reactions to things) he is positively coached to “learn” correct thinking and behavior patterns. This treats the subject of depression as symptomatic and only masks the cause as a trigger to which you apply a different trained reaction other than depressing. The misery and melancholy are supposed to just vanish with enough practice in correct thinking. But, how often does life clean itself up enough to allow everything to go “your way” long enough to get everything sorted out?
Adler: The client does not have a “problem” with depression he just needs to understand what inner goals he has formulated that led him into this. The client is “depressing” and so he must have an inner goal pulling him into the solitude and solemn soul searching he is experiencing. He needs to make use of this time and situation to figure out those goals and seek with the counselor to formulate new goals or tinker with the private logic that helped formulate the goals that exist. You can probably see that this is a nice system but provides no real relief from the depression. It’s a good thing to be depressed and so just learn from it. Few tolerate this type of thinking, when they know they want real relief and others seem to have it.
Bradshaw: The client is a malnourished child (specifically your inner child). The client does not have a healthy self image because at some point in his past, someone was supposed to help provide that love and care, either did not, or gave cause to some form of subtle or malicious abuse. The client is lead to search his past seeking to reveal who is at fault for his loneliness and despair, and through sessions not only realize and come to grips with the pain, but to forgive and move on as the wounded warrior he came in as. Yet hope and encouragement is provided from the counselor and possible reaffirmations by a group, of similarly suffering clients, who separate are hurting, but together are unified in support of each other’s pain. The fallacy of it all is that some inner child from the past is really the you of today, acting out as a child because you are not getting the toys you want. Manipulating a person to blame something of the past, and then forgive it at the same time is a mental sleight of hand, and did nothing but presents a straw man and burns him down.
Christian Integrationist: The client in this counselors’ care is in a type of “up for grabs” methodology. Depending on how the counselor has been trained, the client will receive one of the above methodologies. In this sense all that has changed is that this Christian counselor has pushed one of the prior mentioned systems into the Bible to find support and so bless it as godly counsel. Taking the medical approach would be like Paul counseling Timothy to take some wine for his ailments. As Freudian that the world is a sinful and brutal place and we face it every day. As a Burns, you just need the right doctrines and your life will work itself out. As an Adlerian your okay, God is speaking to you and giving you signs in life of shutting and opening doors and you need a goal and just keep pressing towards it. Lastly a Christian counselor under Bradshaw would sound something like a Joel Osteen, with encouragements, suggestions, and steps to fill those God given needs in your life. In each, the end is the same as those above, and yet worse, because the sufficiency of Scripture and love of God have been dragged through the mud.
Biblical Counselor: The client is advised to have a check up, because he is not a disembodied spirit, and the physical can contribute to the mental. But the mental is not ignored as only physical ailments, as there is some impact and training to be made of how to recognize when physical symptoms are encroaching again. The client is advised that the world is full of sin and misery, and yet that God has done something very significant to redeem the world, and him in the process. The client is led through not only doctrinal insight on God’s interpretation of the world, people and feelings, but also that the heart is also a vault of sin and sometimes motivations that override what we know. The counseling does have a goal in mind, that of being more like Christ each day and yet able to look into those goals and our past that shaped us and honestly answer to our responsibility in allowing ourselves to become the people we are. The Client is not only a victim, but has participated in some of the same sins as those he laments as happening to him. The depressed client in particular is not allowed to simply set new goals, or blame his past, but acknowledge that he set up idols that he believed would bring him satisfaction outside of what God provides, and those idols will not be rehabilitated by the counselor but destroyed and God shown to take their place. Even still it is not that God will be shown to fill his every need, desire and want, for his own selfish good feelings but that God will rehabilitate his desires, needs, and goals to be as like His, and so those that bring glory to God, and not to self. The pat answer to just repent and conform will only be as such from a loving perspective or correction that is to bring healing and growth in grace. It is not a session of hell fire and brimstone, but it is also not a band-aid where surgery is necessary. There should be the meeting with God, whereas the truth of how God sees the person and the situation is brought to bear in the same tender and caring way that God loves His people. The Biblical counselor can be holistic in the deepest sense because God’s word is the deepest insight into the persona of men, and has the authority to direct, correct and train us.
John Bradshaw was made famous by PBS when they would broadcast his mini seminars and counseling tips and ideas. He is the promoter of the inner child and illustration of an empty cup psychology. His needs model of understanding the psychology of mankind is, in my opinion, the predominant model in America currently. The basic premise is that we are all born in certain needs that we not only want but “need” to have met. This starting point assumes the innocence of mankind as children, who have this mental cup waiting to be filled with love, nurture, and acceptance. When the cup is filled with the toxic pollutants of the world, you get people who just react badly. As such Bradshaw would observe then that everyone and every family is dysfunctional to a degree. If you sip something too strong, you react with a blah face, and recoil from the cup. We all have banged up and bruised cups from all the pain and suffering of life imposed upon us, and yet there is this innocence of a little child still deep inside us, longing for that cup to have something good put in it, so that we can be relaxed, loved, and warm while sipping upon good things (insert your favorite coffee commercial here). Again I know this is a gross generalization of the man and his work, due to the brevity of space, but I believe it is an accurate picture from the inside.
Solution comes in the form of being able to trust the counselor and the corresponding support group, who affirms you and who you are in a bare self-appeasing way. The blame for how you feel and what you do is based upon others not needing your needs, leaving you and training you to fend for yourself in very questionable an non-affirming ways. Patterns of anger are not sinful, but a learned way of gaining respect and attention, because that need was not met for you, and so on. You simply replace idols of anger to get attention with more humane patterns of getting more with honey. It’s learning to work with the system of manipulating people and things in a more positive way, so people are serving you and you serve their needs and wants, or what we might call the “win-win” principle. It is a tainted version of the golden rule, “don’t spit in my cup and I won’t spit in yours.”
From a practical standpoint this model also does not take all the data into account. Bradshaw cannot explain why some children from very nurtured homes, still turned out badly, or why some kids raised very poorly turn out so good and mentally healthy. It really has no morality to it, as everyone is out there seeking ways to be fulfilled, and yet Bradshaw (like the others) just sees it as counterproductive to fill your cup off of the manipulation of others (in a strictly negative way). It also seems to project a client into their past to find insight and pain from childhood, when such pain may not really be there. A client who was very content as a child may just recently be dealing with the lack of feeling acceptance and love. To project the client backwards to childhood is misleading and a manipulation of their childhood.
The Christian integrationist does much better with this model than with others I’ve discussed. It works well with moral examples, and can point us to be like Jesus and so forth. But it’s starting and ending premise in Bradshaw is that we are innocent through and through. There is no sin, just frustration in not getting your desires or “needs” met. Dobson, Crabb, Minrth and Myers, products sound the same notes (most sticking with the cup illustration too), only they say that God is the true one to fill your “needs” for value, acceptance and love. It’s the old Beatles song, “All you need is love,” where the human love of Bradshaw is substituted with God. But this is a tainted self-praising love and not godly, righteous or justifying in the least.
The theologically sound Christians pause to reflect on if these are really “needs” or fleshly desires. Christians recognized that sin is within and not just pushing in on us from the outside. Does God exist to make us happy and feel good about who we are, or do we exist to bring glory and honor to Him in all circumstances? Christians do far better to remember that although we are sinful, in very moral ways, God saves us from our sins, not to seek to get our feelings pumped up by Him, but to have our youthful lusts of self praise lowered and put off so that our sense of praise and worship for God might increase. We lose ourselves in the praise of God, only to really find ourselves happier than we could have imagined. We can then pray to see God’s will done, whatever tomorrow holds instead of telling Him how to change our circumstances and others (not us, we are fine) in order to make us happier people. In grace, we are humble, and Christ seeking in such a way that we can put all others first, because God has really and practically given us more than we could have hoped for.
Adler worked from the premise of understanding our individual worldviews; how we see the world and ourselves in it. His system is a psychology of striving toward a future goal, and not one of motivations that drive or push us. His beginning premise is that we all started at birth to be small and inferior to others, and so we all have a type of subconscious goal to compensate for that, overcome our smallness to reach a state of social usefulness, belonging, and fitting in. Adler would say that in our development there are “shaping factors” that push against us and that we push back against that in turn form into learned habits or a “private logic” by which we live as if things are true in all cases, parallel to the conditions we learned, which lastly form into a lifestyle or life strategies.
Adler is not so much concerned with your past (shaping factors) as he is in trying to figure out what internal subconscious goal you have established for yourself that is causing you to have unsuccessful compensations. Adler would not be interested in why you are depressed or anxious, but is instead concerned with what use you are making of them. He would suggest that you would not be depressed but that you must have an end goal you are striving for in which you are currently frustrating the goal in an internal conflict type of way. The tool of depression is an internal signal trying to get you back on track with your unrealized goal. Either your goals are out of whack with being socially useful or you are acting out of whack with your goal, causing conflict. Adler’s goal is to get you to overcome your inferiority complex, and poor goal setting and thus help you gain the feeling of acceptance and belonging. To Adler, life is an ongoing social comparison to others and their abilities and we compensate in our own way through our own worldview trying to belong and contribute or we unsuccessfully compensate or over compensate and are frustrated in our efforts to measure up, belong, or fit in. There is no sin, only unsuccessful compensations, thus we are to want to be socially useful, and in an evolutionary way seek to benefit mankind and its success as a species.
If someone is introverted and another is attention seeking, they both have unsuccessful compensations to Adler. One retreats from being socially useful and the other belittles others and frustrates rules to get their attention. Still others, although appearing successful, are overcompensating for smallness and so have a power struggle feeling that they must remain on top. Adler would seek to understand their faulty worldview and then tweak their goals to match their efforts, thus creating attainable goals and as such lift their feelings of worth and belonging. At worst, Adler would say that if he could expose someone’s lifestyle they may not stop doing them, but they would not enjoy it as much as they had. He spoke of spitting in someone’s soup to illustrate this point. Adler can’t say of anyone what real social usefulness is, and yet denying morals, can only be socially acceptable morals, he would not want you to take his wife away, but if her goals are unsuccessfully being met in him, then his advice would have to be to leave for someone who is. Goal replacement and rehabilitation is all that Adler has to offer besides encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Integrationists take Adler at face values and incorporate the full model and, like Burns and others, just apply seemingly parallel Bible verses to it. To me this is the same as saying Mormons are the same as Roman Catholics, because they both have the externals of praying to Jesus and being moral people. There is a danger in attempting to adapt a system whose goal is not righteousness, but to feel better about belonging. Sure the Bible talks about belonging to Christ, but not in a performance or goal oriented way, it is only though the cross of Christ that we are acceptable before God. Adler begins with man’s smallness as after the fall, and so does not maintain categories for understanding the Creator creature distinction, that our very lives and efforts play out in rebellion or glory to God. The Christian does better than Adler to consider His goals, attitude and efforts as deficient and to seek aid from God in prayer and growth to transform our minds, put off the old man, and seek to become more Christ like as we were made to be. Just lowering goals and standards may make even the Christian feel better for a while, but that while will be shorter and shorter lived as the goal has to diminish down to no standard, because in sin, you will not always meet any standard you set for yourself, or see in comparison to others.