In Part 1, we looked at the need to share the gospel as we engage in one-another relationships. In Part 2 we will take a look at the need to “apply the gospel” to life’s struggles.
Apply the Gospel
Any kind of mentoring, discipling, friendship, and all One-Another ministry should continue to be rooted in the Gospel. One of the best tools for One-Another relationships is this phrase: APPLY THE GOSPEL.
What do you think is meant by “apply the Gospel”?
As you engage in one-another relationships, you see how much people struggle with sin and suffering. You are likely to bump into some of these struggles if you have any kind of ministry, family life, or social life. Once you are fairly certain that someone has grasped the Gospel for salvation, you have an opportunity to help her to APPLY the Gospel to her life. You want to always be sure that you are not giving her the idea that she needs to change her behavior or mindset in order to earn approval, acceptance, or even worse, salvation. Always emphasize her eternal security; struggling people often wrestle with this Truth. Remind her of her identity in Christ and how He views her. It is not because she earned it, but because of the Gospel — His finished work on her behalf.
Let’s look at a few phrases you might catch on to as you speak with people that could indicate that they either do not have a clear understanding of the Gospel or that they are not applying it to their lives:
*“I don’t understand why God would do this to me.”
*“I can’t see any purpose in this.”
*“I just don’t know who I am anymore.”
*“I am so anxious and worried all the time and it consumes me.”
*“I feel so guilty.”
*“I do not deserve another chance.”
*“I don’t feel forgiven.”
*“He hurt me too badly; I can’t forgive him.”
Let’s look at those again, and see how the Gospel might apply. Realize that although we don’t have the full story in each of these scenarios, this is meant to show you what we mean by “apply the Gospel.”
*“I don’t understand why God would do this to me.” — The gospel tells us He suffered everything we do as He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24).
*“I can’t see any purpose in this.” — The cross is why He can promise to work all things together, because it was the ultimate working together for good on our behalf (John 19:28-30).
*“I just don’t know who I am anymore.” — At the cross, we find our identity, upon conversion, we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
*“I am so anxious and worried all the time.” — God made provision for you at the cross in every area, proving Himself completely trustworthy as your Heavenly Father (Philippians 4:6).
*“I still feel so guilty.” — You are forgiven at the cross, whether you feel like it or not (1 John 1:9).
*“I do not deserve another chance.” — Grace, because of the cross, flows freely (Romans 3:24).
*“I don’t feel forgiven.” — God’s Word says that you are forgiven when you place your faith in Him (Ephesians 1:7).
*“He hurt me too badly, I can’t forgive him.” — We don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, either, but we are forgiven (Romans 4:7).
These are just a sampling. There are many more Truths from scripture that help us to apply the gospel as the gospel binds us forever to the loving Father. The Gospel provides daily security as we wrestle with sin. Jesus promises to complete the work of redemption in our lives. We can have intimate communication with God because of the gospel. We are also compelled to live mercifully with others. As we apply the gospel, we are reminded of the rich, eternal, incomprehensible, overwhelming love of Jesus.
When we are struggling, we tend to forget the gospel. Elyse Fitzpatrick, in her excellent book “Because He Loves Me” explains a dynamic that we see in 2 Peter 1:9 – “whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” Elyse explains:
“Peter writes that one reason we don’t grow in ordinary, grateful obedience as we should is that we’ve got amnesia; we’ve forgotten that we were cleansed from our sins. In other words, he is saying that ongoing failure in sanctification (the slow process of change into Christlikeness) is the direct result of failing to remember God’s love for us in the gospel. If we lack the comfort and assurance that his love and cleansing are meant to supply, our failures will handcuff us to yesterday’s sins, and we won’t have faith or courage to fight against them, or the love for God that’s meant to empower this war. Please don’t miss the import of Peter’s statement. If we fail to remember our justification, redemption, and reconciliation, we’ll struggle in our sanctification.”
When your counselee, mentee, friend, or loved one is struggling in her sanctification, revisit the gospel and discuss how it applies. In every type of struggle, God’s Word will give the answers as you dig deep and look for gospel applications.
As you engage in a One-Another relationship, after you have helped someone to apply the Gospel and she grasps these Truths, you can continue to disciple her as you apply Scriptural principles, commands, and promises to her struggles as well. This is ongoing “one-another ministry”! Simply put, this is DISCIPLESHIP.
Look again at the woman at the well (John 4:28-42). After the woman received the Truth, she immediately went and told others. As a result, many believed. She exemplified One-Another ministry immediately upon belief. She did not wait to learn a formula or a program to start a ministry. She simply went out and shared her story, which included the gospel for salvation and the gospel for sanctification. Let’s do the same, as we minister Life On Life according to the One-Anothers of Scripture.
“One-another ministry” is simply a term for any kind of discipleship relationship. You can call it discipleship, mentoring, counseling, soulcare, and other similar terms. There may be some variations in the definitions of these terms, but one thing should be consistent in their nature: the Gospel.
The Gospel has to be our starting point for all one-another ministry. The implication in the one-anothers is that we are to do life with other believers. Of course, we also do life with nonbelievers, but the one-anothers emphasize the role we play in each other’s lives, believer to believer.
The Gospel for Salvation
If you are in a relationship with a woman or girl that God has placed in your life and she has understood the Gospel, you have a very good starting point for one-another life together. If you are not sure she understands the Gospel, you have an opportunity to share it! How often have you asked a new friend (or an older one for that matter) what they think the Gospel is and how it applies to their life? We can’t miss this! It’s not only our starting point, but it is the ending point and everything in the middle, too.
The Gospel is for salvation. It is also to be applied to our lives from that point on. It is not to be applied in the sense that your salvation depends on performing a certain way or upholding a certain standard of perfection. In the process of living life, the Gospel applied has the potential to either gradually or immediately change your view of God’s sovereignty, how you behave, how you relate to people, how you make decisions and solve problems, how you view people, how you view yourself, and everything else about how you live.
Often women are intimidated about talking about the Gospel. What makes many women so weak in this area? Is it fear? Lack of understanding? Maybe they are not sure they can articulate it clearly. Maybe they are afraid they will say something wrong. Sometimes they are afraid that they won’t be able to back up what they say from Scripture, forgetting where to find the verses.
Your Personal Gospel Story
In a one-another situation, one of the very best ways you can share the Gospel is to share your own story of salvation. You can talk about what your life was like before you came to know Christ and what was happening when you first came to belief. You can talk about your understanding of the Gospel, and how it transformed you upon salvation and how it continues to transform you now. Sometimes, our own stories speak more clearly than going through a formulated “Gospel presentation.”
Woman at the Well
There is an account in the Bible about a woman that you are probably familiar with and how Jesus shared the Gospel message with her. The story of the woman at the well is found in John 4:7-26.
Jesus did not use a “formula” to share the Gospel with the woman. In this passage, we can take note of some ways to share a clear Gospel and to be sure it is understood:
* Jesus met the woman when she was alone. Often, people will be more honest if nobody else is listening.
* Jesus began with her immediate need — not spiritual, but tangible (v. 7). Because she was not a believer, she could not discern spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, He spoke about something she could relate to — water. We can approach people in the same manner of developing a conversation. If we are not certain they are a believer, we can make them more comfortable by starting with tangible conversations.
* Jesus, after establishing this conversation, turned to the spiritual (v. 10). He simply talked abut the things of God. The questions we ask could help us to see if the person understands what being a Christian means. We could ask “Are you involved in church?” or even “Do you love God?” We could then move on to asking about her salvation testimony and asking what her walk with The Lord is currently like.
* If this conversation reveals that the person does not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, then you can follow Jesus’ example from this passage before you go any further in relating with her. Verses 16-18 show how Jesus brought conviction, using the Law and gently pointing out her transgression. Gently speak with her and let The Holy Spirit do the convicting; let Him direct you as to what to say. Once she comes to an admission of her guilt, she is ready for hope.
* Jesus then revealed Himself to the woman at the well (v. 26). She was ready for grace. If the person you are talking to is ready for grace, be sure to present the work of the cross — that God sent His Son to suffer and die in our place. Tell her of the love of God in Christ, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and the defeat of death. You can say something like, “It’s as simple as this. We broke God’s Law, and Jesus paid our fine. If you repent and trust in the Savior, God forgives your sins and dismisses your case.” If a person is truly broken over her sins and grateful to God, then her confession will flow without prompting, either silently or verbally to you. Be sure to pray with her. Make sure she has a Bible. Encourage her to go to a Bible-believing church. Start a one-another discipleship relationship with her!
In next week’s post (Part 2), we will look at how to apply the Gospel in one-another ministry.
The above is, in part, an excerpt from Word of Hope Ministries’ course on Biblical Mentoring called “Life on Life, Applying the One-Anothers of Scripture”. You can learn more about this course at www.biblicalmentor.com
Please click on this button to view Ellen's notes from her presentation at Grace Baptist Church, Santa Maria, CA
Loneliness in Our Churches
There is a very important woman or girl in your midst. She is often present, yet seems invisible. She doesn’t openly complain. In fact, maybe she rarely ever speaks at all. She goes unnoticed by most, although she tries to fit in somewhere. She has a lot to offer, but she doesn’t feel free to speak her opinions and is too uncomfortable to approach people.
She is lonely. She can be around a lot of people, yet she is still lonely. She can be working with the public, yet she is still lonely. She can be a faithful volunteer in your church, yet she is still lonely. She can be a leader in your church, yet she is still lonely. She can be a faithful and loyal friend, yet she is still lonely.
Maybe....she is you...or the woman next to you...or the woman you forget to notice at church every week.
Loneliness is common in our churches - too common.
It is very easy to come to church ready to socialize with your circle of friends, yet ignore others who are lonely.
God’s Word Acknowledges Loneliness
God’s Word has some things to say to us about loneliness. In Genesis 2:18, God says that it is not good for man to be alone. In Psalm 68:6, God tells us that He “sets the lonely in families.” Ecclesiastes 4:10-11 tells us that we can help each other up when one of us falls. God assures us in His Word that He will never leave us or forsake us, and He has made it known that we are to walk through life with each other. The one-another passages in Scripture make that very clear, and they do not exclude anyone – not even the person you would rather not love.
Although loneliness and being alone can go hand in hand, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Some of the time, being alone isn’t a negative thing unless it is causing the person to feel an inner emptiness. Loneliness is a frequently expressed complaint in counseling, both secular and Christian. Loneliness and insecurity often occur simultaneously, and that often bears destructive fruit. A lonely person is tempted to cope with the pain with something — anything — that might bring some relief. If that relief is not found in Christ, the loneliness will continue to be a struggle.
How do you offer hope to a person who is suffering with loneliness?
As a follower of Jesus Christ, our model for caring for one another is Jesus Himself. No doubt, He experienced extreme loneliness — He was separated from the Father on the cross. But He also had friends who played a One-Another role in His life as well as He in theirs. In John’s account of the last evening Jesus spent with His disciples, Jesus told them, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:12-17)
Love One Another
Jesus’ command was to LOVE EACH OTHER. He put no conditions on it. It was not a suggestion. This command is blatantly clear for us in Scripture - we must love each other... not just those who are nice, or just the people we like, or the ones who are the most within our comfort zones, or the ones we understand the best, or the ones that make us feel good about ourselves. That lonely woman or girl may not fit in to any of these requirements that we must admit we all have at times. She may be difficult to approach, or even difficult to love. But what are we commanded to do? Love her.
There are a variety of ways to love. This love is an action, not a feeling. What more loving thing can we do than offer them HOPE. We do that with God’s very words from Scripture.
As you help someone who is lonely, you can begin by offering them the following Truths:
*God created man with an inherent need for social relationships (Gen. 2:18). God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:27), and God is a social being (Gen. 1:26). A social relationship exists among the persons of the Trinity — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without relationship, there will be loneliness. Therefore, the first encouragement a lonely person needs is to start building relationships.
*The most lonely time in history was when the Father deserted the Son and Jesus was left alone as He bore our sins. “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
The lonely person needs to understand that Jesus understands their loneliness, and experienced it Himself. This person also needs to know that they are loved by God, and by you.
*This post is, in part, an excerpt from the biblical mentoring course “Life on Life, Applying the One-Another's of Scripture” offered by Word of Hope Ministries. For more information on this course, please visit www.biblicalmentor.com
NOTE: this post first appeared at the Biblical Counseling for Women blog
“I Am Too Busy”
There is a trend in our current culture – we are too busy. I hear it so often that I fear it has become a badge of honor to some. There is something deep inside all of us that believes that we need to strive and earn God’s favor. This is legalism. But what I am also seeing too often is striving and trying to gain approval and favor from people. Simply put, this is the fear of man. We need to encourage each other to repent of this unbiblical motive of trying to impress people and present ourselves as spiritual wonder-women. Our busyness is often an effort to look spiritually strong and healthy, when in fact the opposite is true.
One of the most common topics in mentoring and counseling women is “busyness”. There is much that can be taught and said about this reality. We need to encourage others to prioritize, steward their time well, and to sometimes say “no”. Many women feel that they are too busy for …(fill in the blank!)
The one theme that I see all too often is what concerns me the most - women feel too busy for time in God’s Word. I hear it from women of all ages and all walks of life. College students, women who work outside the home, stay home moms, retirees; nobody is immune from this lifestyle of busyness.
“I Am Too Busy For Grace”
God’s Word is the last thing we should be neglecting! When you say “I am too busy for friends, family, church, and God’s Word” what you are really saying is “I am too busy for grace”! All of these things are powerful means of God’s grace. God’s Word is the priority means of grace for all of us but it is the one that is the most often neglected.
The Word of God enables us to grow and mature in the gospel as we see all that the narrative from Genesis to Revelation offers. God’s Word reveals His creation and it gives physical life. The power of the Word is so strong that He raised Lazarus from the dead by his powerful Word in John 11:43! The Word of God also gives spiritual life. “Faith comes by hearing through the word of Christ”, Romans 10:17. Without God’s Word, we would not have armor to be able to fight against the Devil, according to Ephesians 6:10-17. The Word is critical in spiritual warfare that rages all around us at all times.
What types of struggles do you have in life? In what ways do you need physical power and spiritual power? Depression, or anxiety? Relational conflict, or unforgiveness? Habitual sin, or victimization? God’s Word sufficiently addresses every single spiritual struggle we endure, no exceptions. When trials come, we can respond to them biblically only if we have been spending time getting to know God more in His Word. His Word is the primary way that He speaks to us. If we are neglecting the Word, we are unprepared for trials that will surely come.
Taking time for Bible reading, study, memorization and considering what you have read takes intentionality. We tend to make time for what we really want to do in life. If you really want to make time, you will. Most of us waste plenty of time each day on entertainment, social media, and other less important things that could easily be set aside. We also have time as we are driving, resting, taking a break, which can be used to read or listen to an audio Bible. Be creative! Make the time, there really are very few valid excuses not to.
To enjoy and thrive in your walk with God, you will NEED to give time to His Word. If not, you do not stand a chance against the enemy, nor do you have a chance against sin and your flesh. To neglect it because you are too busy is to deny God’s most amazing gift of grace. This challenge to you to spend time in God’s Word is not some kind of legalistic to do list, it is actually LIFE to you. Pray that God would give you a hunger and thirst for it.
Some people find a Bible Reading plan useful. If this kind of thing is hard for you to maintain, then simply purpose to spend a little time most days reading through a passage or book of your choosing. You will never regret time spent in God’s Word. Regardless what method, or lack of method you choose; there are some essential principles to keep in mind:
1 Peter 3:15 says:
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
This verse summarizes the challenge that we all have to be prepared to offer people hope whether we are sharing the gospel with them for the first time, or talking to them about a life struggle of some sort. At any given time, we are all struggling with something. And most everyone around us is also struggling with something in life. Do we know how to biblically speak in to those struggles?
I did not become a Christian until I was 30. Prior to that, I would have told you I was an atheist. My entire worldview and belief system was secular, humanistic psychology that was prevalent then and still is. I thought that all of life's answers were held in that realm, and that any problem you had could be addressed by it.
I worked in the field of psychology professionally for many years before I became a Christian, and for a few years after that. As a young Christian I continued to adhere to my belief, based on my training, that people are inherently good and that once you address their strengths and lift their self-esteem, they will be on the road to doing better in life.
Once I started going to a bible-believing church, I heard that we are all born sinners and that there is nothing good in us apart from Christ (according to His Word). This was my first experience with a worldview collision.
Eventually I left that career behind. I had been a Christian for several years when I realized that I was carrying some guilt I had not really dealt with, so I thought. I wanted to figure out how to “forgive myself”. So, I went on a quest to explore my old passion of psychology at the same time as searching the bible, and tried to learn how to forgive myself by mixing the two.
In that quest, through a friend who knew my struggles, I came across the ministry of biblical counseling. With help, I learned that I had some thinking that was much more pop psychology than it was biblical. I learned that “forgiving yourself” is not found anywhere in the bible. It is just not there. We hear this all the time "you really need to forgive yourself" or "I just can't forgive myself".
This is unbelief. Unbelief is sin. I needed to repent of my sin of unbelief, I did not need to forgive myself!
We do not need to pay for something that has already been paid for. Jesus’ death on the cross is enough. He forgives me, erasing the perceived need to forgive myself. My thinking was held over from my old worldview...forgiving yourself comes straight out pop psychology, not out of the bible.
It was at this point that I learned about something called “biblical counseling”. I had never heard of it before, not even in my bible-teaching churches. The more I learned about it the more I realized how much of my thinking needed tweaking – the old worldview still had remnants in my belief system and God started a process of rooting them out. We are all prone to falling in to humanistic teaching if we are not careful. Why? Because it is all around us, not just in the world but also at times in the church.
We must develop discernment and seek the Scriptures in order to allow God to transform our minds. I am a work in progress, how about you?
Do you call sin a “disease”?
Do you explain that someone’s past is their excuse for their sin?
Do you talk about self-esteem, self-assertiveness, self-awareness and self-help more than you give biblical hope and help to those who are struggling?
Do you encourage peacekeeping instead of peacemaking?
Do you believe that all emotional struggles are mental illness?
Do you believe that we need to mix man’s psychological theories with the bible in order to help people?
Do you believe that behavior management and emotional comfort are good counseling goals?
If you answered “yes” to the above, ask The Lord to show you that there is a better way. His Word is sufficient and offers the answers.
1 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
My biblical worldview says that God’s Word is sufficient. I pray that He will continue to correct any wrong thinking that comes to my mind, and to yours.
In what ways has your thinking or belief system been challenged as you grow in discernment? Are there any areas of pop-psychology ideas that need to be replaced with Truth?
NOTE: This post first appeared at Biblical Counseling for Women
Fear Leads to Resistance
Fear of man is the primary reason that teens resist counseling. This is revealed in a variety of ways, but some of the most common are:
In order to be prepared to encounter a resistant teen, it is helpful to gather data from the parents before you begin meeting with the teen. It takes some digging in to their history in order to get an overall view of the teen. Teens are often unreliable historians because of their limited perspective and resistance to counseling.
Here are a few questions that are important to ask the parents:
Have there been any major changes in her life recently?
Has she had trouble like this before, or is this a new problem?
Has she ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder? Is she medicated? Ask for details.
How well does she cope with school, peers, church life, hobbies, sports, etc?
Is there anything going on in your marriage or home life that could be troubling her?
What behaviors are you most concerned about? (Defiance, isolating herself, mood swings, suicidal, substance abuse, sexually acting out, etc.)
The parent's perspective on these types of questions gives you a good starting point when approaching the resistant teen. With this kind of background, you will know better what direction to go in your initial discussions. That will be critical to building some trust.
A Resistant Teen
Here is an example of a counselee that was initially resistant to counseling. Ahead of the initial session, the mother told me that this teen was failing in school, angry and defiant with both parents, isolating herself from the family, and she had told a teacher that her mother hit her (which was true, resulting in a CPS investigation, which led to the counseling referral.)
This 14 year-old girl walked in to my office, looked around as if to take note of some Christian themed decor, and before she took 2 steps she pronounced "I am an atheist". She looked surprised when I invited her to have a seat as I told her "that's ok, I look forward to getting to know you, and I was one until I was 30 years old."
Behind what she meant to be intimidating and off-putting to this biblical counselor, I could hear the fear. She clearly hoped I would be offended and excuse her from the session. Instead, I invited her to tell me her story.
She talked of troubled relationships at home, insecurities at school, conflicts with peers, and insistence that at age 14 she feels quite ready to be emancipated. Her reasoning for rushing her independence is, she stated, to “get away from the people who are causing all my problems.” She told me that she does not need counseling, and that she only needs to be rid of her parents. This unearthed a long story of family dysfunction and trouble on many levels.
I listened, interjecting heart-probing questions, and listened some more as I allowed her to tell me what is troubling her. She eventually broke down in tears and I was able to ask her if she knows about the gospel. She said yes, because she has been in church most of her life. She told me she remembers Awana verses from years past, and has always attended Sunday school. And then she admitted that she is not really an atheist, but “I was hoping you would be mad when I said that and then I would not have to stay in counseling.”
The Gospel Breaks Through Resistance
By the end of this first session, we were able to begin the process of seeking God’s Word to address her fears. We began with a basic teaching about the fear of man...what it is and how to address it. Galatians 1:10 gave us a good starting point.
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." Gal 1:10, ESV
This led to a discussion about the details of the gospel, which she understood intellectually but admitted she is not certain she really believes it. Because she had shared some of her story, we could start to discuss how her story fits in to the story of redemption found in her Bible.
She had softened to the counsel, I believe, because we were able to get right to the heart issues. Because I had the background from the parents, I was prepared to address her fears and give her hope. The fear of man is a very relatable issue because it is common to all of us. We began to talk about the ways it manifests in people's lives and I briefly shared some of my own struggle with it so that she would see me as a mentor more than an authority figure. The beginning of a potentially fruitful journey together began that day. We did not get to every discussion needed to address her struggles, but we did get to the gospel and she was listening.
The gospel breaks the barriers of resistance with teen counselees.
Psalm 34:4 " I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears."
Join the Conversation
What other causes of resistance have you experienced in discipling teens, and how did you address it?
NOTE: a version of this post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog.
A couple of months ago, I was in a car accident. My van was totaled, but my daughter and I were not seriously injured. Whiplash, bruises, and soreness have become our daily battles, but those things will get better.
The emotional effects are the most difficult to overcome. I have counseled many post-accident and post-trauma victims. As biblical counselors, we know how to come alongside someone gently in the immediate days following trauma. We know how to eventually begin to target the heart when we see unhealthy and unbiblical responses to the trauma. When the trauma is our own, do we know how to "self-counsel" our own hearts? There is no trauma too big or too small when it comes to the need for counsel.
When we find ourselves repetitively dwelling on and reliving the accident details, condemning ourselves for the guilt we might bear for the cause of the trauma or accident, having panic attacks at the thought of re-entering normal life again, getting behind the wheel, or seeing the place where the trauma occurred, we must cling to the good counsel we offer to others by offering it to our own hearts.
One of the goals in biblical counseling is that the counselee would eventually be able to do self-counsel. Self-counsel means that when someone is struggling with sin or suffering, she can turn to God’s Word for answers. She can read, study, memorize and pray as she seeks to bring the gospel to bear on her struggle. In that process, God can reveal her heart issues, and she can focus on mind renewal as she repents of her sin. This is how we are all to live, every day, as self-counselors.
As I continue to recover from whiplash as I write this, I have found these things to be most helpful. This is good self-counsel for someone who has recently suffered any kind of trauma:
* Take every thought captive. Remember that every struggle we have begins with a thought. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to destroy the things in our thoughts that are not consistent with the gospel.
* Focus on what is true. Philippians 4:4-9 is a passage to go to often and consider it as sort-of a checklist. Run your thoughts through that Philippians 4:8 grid, and redirect your thought life.
* Rehearse the gospel. This phrase is not a cliche, it is life-giving. Thinking on the gospel recalibrates our minds and reminds us that we are no longer under condemnation, that we have been given a new identity, and so much more.
* Fight the fear with the knowledge of God's sovereignty. God is either in control or He isn't, and I believe He IS. Yes, even over my car accident. I do not need to know the why's or how's in order to trust His promises. Romans 8:28 keeps me from dipping too deep in to the "why me's".
* Know when your natural initial responses are becoming debilitating, and ask for help. Low grade temporary depression, for example, is common to most trauma victims. But debilitating depression requires intensive biblical counseling. If you are unable to function at home or on the job, spend most of your day isolating or sleeping, have turned to substance use to self-medicate, are unable to make decisions or get along with those you love, then it is time to ask for help. God's Word has answers you need, but we sometimes need someone to come alongside us and show us the way.
Some people say that "time heals" even trauma. I suggest that although that may seem to be true sometimes, it is only God who can truly heal a traumatized heart. Because of my self-counsel, I am struggling far less with the effects that the accident had on me.
To self-counsel, you must seek Him more intentionally, dig deep in to His Word - read it, study it, memorize it. Keep a meaty prayer life, stay in church and in fellowship with Christian friends who encourage you (and also admonish you as needed.) Serve in ministry at your church, putting others before yourself. And do not hesitate to call on a biblical counselor if you are stuck, and she will be glad to come alongside and offer help and hope. These are the things that helped me and I believe they will help you, too, regardless of your struggle.
Isaiah 41:10 (ESV) "Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand
NOTE: this post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling for Women blog.
It is a Gospel Issue
As I approached writing this blog post, I asked my 18 year old daughter for input. I asked her what she would like counselors, youth workers and parents to consider on this topic. She said this:
“Body image issues are common, all girls struggle with it. Some of the prettiest, thinnest, and most attractive are the ones who have the most discontent with their bodies.”
Then she made this important point:
“A girl will never achieve what she feels is a perfect body now, but she need to realize that her body is made for greater purposes than just looks or sex. It is made for childbearing, and for taking the gospel forward.”
My daughter hits a key point - this body image struggle is a gospel issue.
It is a Matter of the Heart
Psalm 139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
The conventional thinking is to blame “self esteem”, the fashion industry, culture, social media, poor parental examples, etc. Although some of these things are the external factors, they are not the real culprit of our teen's body image issues. The real culprit is: the heart of the teen.
The heart of body image issues in teens reveals the FEAR OF MAN. That fear manifests as perfectionism, insecurity, and peer pressure. The teen will strive hard to achieve the impossible, and they are dissatisfied because they never reach the perfection that they think will make them more popular, more acceptable, or more worthy.
No one will ever be satisfied or content with their body if they are not completely satisfied in Christ. Our souls thirst for satisfaction, and we are prone to search for it in idols rather than in the gospel. Both believing teens and those who do not know Christ struggle with this dissatisfaction (as do adults!) For the believer, though, the satisfaction they long for is already in their possession because they are in Christ. It boils down to the sin of unbelief. Does the teen truly believe that their identity in Christ is enough, or do they believe that they need to strive to earn approval? Unbelief must be repented of regularly. This is where a teen will find victory over the idol of perfectionism and be truly satisfied in Christ.
It is Not a Hopeless Struggle
Matthew 6:19-21 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
There is hope and help for teens with body image struggles in the gospel. As we disciple teenagers, we must focus on identity in Christ rather than focus on human standards. The goal is not body-change. The goal is heart-change.
Hope for all people is found in God’s Word - regularly reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, and studying it deeply in order to go to the root of heart issues. This is the only way to renew the mind to bring about true heart change.
The teen must also be encouraged to grow spiritually by being involved in a local church, engaging with strong adult influences (mentors, youth workers, parents, teachers, counselors and others.) They must be taught to choose their friends wisely. They must become good stewards of their bodies and engage in good healthy habits (which is different than obsessing over appearances.) They need help to minimize (and sometimes completely disengage from) the most negative influences that have tempted them towards an improper view of their bodies (social media, entertainment, unhealthy peer relationships, etc.)
Above all else, they must have clear gospel-understanding. Heather Davis Nelson in the Journal of Biblical Counseling says it well:
“In pursuing worldly beauty, we strive to become this elusive image in place of who we really are. You and I are created in the image of the living God. Our purpose is to reflect His image to the world. But since the fall, we let the world inscribe its image on us. It is the very picture of sin and ultimately death. Instead of being transformed to God's image, we conform to the world's image. We are hopelessly stuck in a lifeless cycle, exchanging God for the creature as our object of worship. But God in His mercy rescued us! In love, God sent Jesus Christ to take on the consequences of our idolatrous affair. He became sin so that we might become righteous. In Christ, God gives us freedom from sin's power now and hope for its eradication in heaven. God makes you beautiful with the beauty of His Son, Jesus. It is in gazing at God's image in Jesus Christ that you are transformed. Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, (sisters) in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
It is Your Titus 2 Challenge
Titus 2:1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.
We are all called to teach the younger generation, according to the second chapter of Titus. Counselors, parents, mentors, youth workers, teachers: reach out to struggling teens. Be intentional about getting past the surface behaviors and go deep in to the heart of a teen. Begin with evangelism if needed, and then deeply disciple youth for the sake of the gospel. In discipleship with teens, adults are tempted to focus on externals rather than the heart. It can be helpful to utilize gospel-rich resources to keep your discussions deeper than the surface so that the teen might be changed at the heart-level.
This topic is far bigger than a limited blog post, so I share here with you some resources to get your conversations with teens started:
Recommended Scripture to unpack with a struggling Christian teen:
What Do You Think of Me, Why Do I Care, by Ed Welch
Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Youth, by Keith R Miller and Patricia A. Miller, chapter on “Eating Struggles”
For eating disorders: Redeemed From the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration From the Bondage of Eating Disorders, by Marie Notcheva
Additionally, be sure to seek a Biblical Counselor for a teen or parent who needs further help with this or any other struggles they are facing.
Join the Conversation:
What challenges do you have in your interactions with teens who struggle with body image? What other resources have you found helpful?
NOTE: A version of this post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog.
We Have a Creative God
When counseling teens, it can often help to approach sessions and homework assignments differently than with adults in order to keep them engaged, interested, and even willing to come back. There are benefits of offering creative outlets within the context of biblical counseling sessions.
In Biblical counseling we often bring God's attributes to bear on our counselee's struggles. Within those attributes we find that our God is a creative God.
God is most certainly an intelligent, creative artist. We are His masterpieces (Psalm 139:14). There are a variety of ways that God shows us His creative attributes. Beginning with the creation story in Genesis 1:1, we see that creativity is an integral part of the biblical narrative. Art in various forms has been used through the ages as a means of expression, to document history, to provide practical tools for daily living, and more. (Exodus 35) For many, creativity is an act of worship as God-given talents and skills are imparted by Him to bring Himself glory (Psalm 150:1-6).
God has given us many creative abilities. He has given us art, music, writing, building and more. We can utilize creative activities in Biblical Counseling, especially with young counselees who do not respond well to a conversational style of counseling.
I am not suggesting that we utilize creativity as a means of accurately interpreting a person's struggles. I am suggesting that creativity in counseling can be used as a means to open up discussion on pertinent topics as we seek to apply biblical solutions.
Creativity is a Tool in Counseling Sessions
In my counseling sessions with teen girls in particular, I have found that incorporating creativity has been beneficial.
There is nothing inherently biblical in the actual creative means you utilize in counseling, but there is still value in it. For example, the completion of a creative assignment can be satisfying to the counselee. A sense of accomplishment is affirming. Or a teen may find that they can stick with a task to completion when the have been unsuccessful at that in school before. Problem solving skills can be developed through creative activities such as learning to do an art project or writing project. Often people find that the creative process relieves stress and has certain health benefits. However, none of these benefits are enough reason to include them in biblical counseling sessions. They are simply a tool that can bring insight in to the heart of a counselee in a unique way.
Teens have felt less threatened about maintaining eye contact as they work with an art medium while we talk, whether or not that art pertains to a topic we are discussing. For young people with poor ability to concentrate on a discussion, doing something with their hands while talking can often help them to maintain that discussion.
Creative outlets lend themselves to the discussion of the many ways God has gifted us. It can also be a way to discuss how creative God is. This is a good starting point for teaching about God’s character. This is a valuable topic for all teens, especially those who have not yet understood the gospel.
The creative task can be geared towards the topic in counseling. For example, while talking about a biblical definition of “the heart”, the counselee can draw and decorate a poster of a heart with the Scripture references written on it. This is often my first creative activity in counseling girls and it is typically well received. They are instructed to display it on their wall to refer to for future homework assignments on heart-related topics. This kind of creative activity in the counseling session carries over in to the homework and engages the counselee differently than just talking. An ongoing creative project helps to motivate a young person to return to counseling and engage in the process more fully.
To provide you with more specific and practical suggestions, here are a few creative activities to use in counseling youth:
Poetry can be assigned as homework. This can be topical or freeform, and can provide you with something to springboard in to a discussion. You may find that you can discern some deeper heart issues in the poetry.
Short stories can be utilized in the same way as poetry. You can ask for a story that pertains to a certain theme, or you can allow the counselee to write what they wish and then discuss it as it applies to their current life struggles, and then look at the biblical applications.
Music is more interesting than art to some. Listening to and or composing lyrics or discussing songs and how they apply to life can be fruitful.
Craftwork such as pottery or jewelry making, or artwork such as coloring sheets, collages or diagrams that reflect a teaching can reinforce a concept better than a worksheet might.
Popular right now is what some call “Bible Art Journaling” where drawings are done right on the Scripture to reinforce content and engage with the Word in a creative way.
Art can be done digitally with a photo-editing program, adding Scripture or text to pictures that reinforce counseling topics.
Bookmarks to color can add to discussion of a Bible reading assignment.
Utilize various forms of journaling homework, and decorate the journal as you talk. Many are more likely to use it if they have made it their own. Some teens have difficulty speaking with you, but will do very well drawing or writing creatively in their journal to express their thoughts to you.
Regardless what creative activity you choose, use great tools. Gels, stickers, paint pens, glitter pens, small items to glue, these are all things that add to the enjoyment and benefit of creativity in the counseling session. Have some simple craft supplies handy to do while you talk such as stringing beads for jewelry, modeling clay, etc. The art itself is not the point, but it can remove the threat of a counseling conversation to have something tangible to work with. Equate this to any ‘doodling’ you might do while you talk on the phone or listen to a podcast.
Don’t hesitate to enjoy the creative activity along with your counselee, it creates a connection between you that can be helpful!
Join the Conversation
What other means of creativity have you utilized in counseling young people? What benefits have you discovered?
Note: a version of this post first appeared at the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog.
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