As “Mr. Analytical,” I’m the least probable person I know to be doing pastoral counseling, but God seems to have given me a special grace to walk with people to those places where He wants to meet them in very powerful, transforming and healing ways. I guess it’s one of those spiritual ironies that God uses to confound us. He works through the least likely to insure that the glory is His.
Whether in the jail or in my home study, I deal weekly with issues that – believe me – exceed anything you might imagine. But the Lord meets us in amazing ways, and men and women find freedom in just one or two sessions from decades of emotional and spiritual bondage.
God shows up!
The Lord patiently, lovingly wants us to go to those places in our lives where we need his healing. Those places are at the core of our beings, where all the accumulated “yuk” lies. But it’s hard to go there, because there’s pain and hurt there.
My job is to help people get there. When we do, I simply ask Jesus what he has to say. The Lord then dramatically speaks to them in real, personal ways and brings healing and peace to some of the most unspeakable experiences and issues in their lives – including sexual abuse, child prostitution, occult ritual abuse, abandonment, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual compulsions, anger and fear.
I’ve done this hundreds of times, and have never needed a “re-do” session where God has spoken his gentle truth. When God speaks (and he always does if there is a willingness to expose what needs to be healed!), the lies at the center of the hurt and the pain – which have cause bondage and been so controlling – immediately die. Simple and complete; wholeness and health. It’s wonderful to see.
Too often we forget that God wants to restore us to health, and have fellowship with us, because he loves us in deeply personal ways. After all, God valued Adam so much that he walked and talked with Adam in the garden during the cool of the evening. God values us just as much, and desires a relationship where we can once again commune with him, and he with us.
Anyone who knows me knows how much I value the historic tenets of our faith, but we can’t major on correct doctrine to the neglect of the personal relationship God wants with us. Doctrine and Biblical truth provide a context for our day-to-day faith, but are not a substitute for intimacy with God and learning to hear his voice. We need both!
Hurt or Health?
It’s sad but true – too many churches have become a refuge for hurt people, led by hurt people, rather than a place of health that reproduces health. It’s OK to be hurt – there’s no condemnation in that! But we have an obligation before God to seek his healing and restoration.
I’ve had lots of challenges in my own life: an emotionally crippled ex-wife, the death of two very close friends, a potentially fatal autoimmune disease, an unwanted divorce, and the need to start over again financially. But despite it all, I have chosen life, not hurt.
Too often, as we go through the motions with our day-to-day routines, we forget why God redeemed us. Instead, we slip unawares into a rut of accumulated hurts and emotional pain, and start believing that’s normal.
I encourage those who are burdened with hurt to chose life and seek help.
Jesus, in his parting instructions to the disciples, told them to go forth and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:44-48). That “great commission” applies to all believers, even now!
We have distorted repentance and think it simply means saying we’re sorry, or else we confuse it with confession. That’s not repentance – although authentic confession and forgiveness often are essential components of repentance.
The Greek word for repentance, as used in the New Testament, means to change the way we think so that we then change the way we act. In my experience working with and mentoring lots of men as they get out of jail, it is rare that someone can change the way he acts unless he lets God change the way he thinks. Having the will power, dedication and commitment to change how we act, without letting God change how we think, is seldom enough.
Changing the way I think means much, much more than believing correct doctrine or precepts in the cognitive, rational part of my mind. It also involves changing what the experiential and emotional side of my mind believes. You may rationally believe that “all things work together for the good of those who love God,” but when you lose your job or your daughter comes home drunk or you get a deadly disease, your emotions and reactions demonstrate your true belief. Our emotions and how we react to things spring from, and point to, our true beliefs.
Life’s Septic Tank
For God to change the way we truly think, we need to be willing to open up and expose those beliefs, and their source, to him. To help make this process understandable, I tell guys in jail that our lives contain a septic tank, and it holds lots of crap and stink. Although God forgives us, he still wants – and needs – to replace that crap and stink with health and wholeness. But to do that, he needs us to remove the septic tank’s lid so all that nasty stuff inside is exposed.
This process of removing the septic tank’s lid and exposing the crap and the stink is confession and repentance – and it often does not involve sin (although it can)! It may simply involve wrong beliefs based on lies that took hold in our lives through no fault of our own – often before we became Christians and often due to experiences during our childhood when our lie-filled belief system formed about ourselves, others, the world around us and God.
Emotions Show Beliefs
Our emotions – based on what we really believe despite cognitive facts and logic – are pathways that lead back to root lies. If we want to allow God to change the way we think so that he can then change the way we act (and react!), then we need to expose those lies to God by taking the lid off of the experiences and emotions that contain them. Once we expose those lies to God, we can invite God to speak his truth to us. In the jail, as God speaks his truth to men about themselves or about things that happened in their lives (as opposed to me giving them a cognitive to-do list of right living – which may be needed, but that’s another process for another time!), wholeness and health floods in and replaces the crap and stink!
This, then, is what we’ve been doing in the jail. God shows up and changes how men think by speaking to them his truth about them in deeply personal ways. And when he does, his truth sets them free!
God’s Truth Displaces Lies
When God speaks his truth, lies are displaced. Horrendous memories and experiences that were a source of pain, hurt and bondage become places of righteousness, peace and joy. Our job in the counseling sessions is to simply facilitate the ministry of the Holy Spirit as the men take the lid off the septic tanks of their lives and let God pump out all of the crap and stink, then bring health and wholeness by speaking his personal, loving truth to them.
Sometimes it’s not easy for people who come to me for help to do this, because they don’t want to expose the pain and the emotions. But when they do, God speaks his truth to them in tender, loving, personal ways and the lies that previously held them in bondage disappear.
Sometimes, after these counseling sessions, I have to sit quietly to let the glory of God’s presence subside enough for me to reconnect to the so-called “real” world.
Our churches were never intended by God to be hospitals or way stations, and our Sunday services are not places intended by God to perpetually sooth our hurts. My vision is that our churches and our lives become places of health that reproduce health.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have problems or have issues, but do we have the zest to confront life and let our sovereign, personal God continually transform us, even through hard times, into the people he calls us, and created us, to be? Are we willing to repent by opening up the crap and stink in our lives so that God can speak his truth to us and bring his transforming peace and joy?
That’s what the world wants to see – not perfect people, but imperfect people who can traverse life’s issues with God’s grace evident in us. God is not about covering over or burying our hurt and pain, like old wounds under thick callous scabs. Rather, he calls us to repentance so that he can get at the lies in our lives and heal us through his truth – which means not only doctrinal truth but also truth about our past, who we really are, how God really sees us, and who he created us and wants to empower us to be.
That process not only changes the way we think, but also can’t help but change the way we act.
If this resonates with you, a good book to help move towards health is Healing Life’s Hurts by Ed Smith.
(c) Copyright 2009, Fulcrum Ministries. All Rights Reserved.