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 caused 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 day. 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: emotionally crippled close family members, the death of several very close friends, a degenerative and 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.
~ Jim Wright
- Whole Health (crossroadjunction.com)
Love it. This was a great thing to read.
Jim, the more I read your writings the more in tune I see that we are. You have learned so much from life. I am so grateful that you are talking about the intimacy of God changing our lives. I’ve tried to bring that across for a long time also. If we as his people don’t catch the simple fact that our closeness to Jesus is the only way that we can change our lives, how can we expect someone who doesn’t have a clue to hear it from us.
Firstly,i want to thank you very much, bro JIM, for the great things that God is using you to do in the lives of the men in jail. I want to tell you that you may not be an idol in the world sense or a Hollywood star but to us who were in jail you will always remain special to us. As i sat in the jail for 5 months i learn a lot about the operation of Gods gift through the Holy Spirit in my life and in the life of other men. I had the opportunity to talk to several guys of different ages, race, social status (i.e. poor or rich) and came to one point that everybody need the touch of God in his life. I met a lot of guys who are genuinely born again(believers) but i found out that they need the touch of God just as the murderers and thieves. What do i mean by that? I went to jail not as a visitor or pastor or a jail officer but as a fellow inmate. I learned from jail that in whatever circumstance you find yourself in if only you will avail yourself to God, HE will use you. In jail you will learn and understand that the people in this world are not interested in nice cloth, flashy cars, nice house and apartment and huge money although they were all once craving for them but rather a touch of God to bring rest to their burden souls. I witnessed young guys who thought having a lot of girlfriends and partying every weekend was what fun and happiness is, whiles i fellowshiped with men of 40 years and above who once paid attention to money and nothing else. What about those who thought of playing smart on everybody and the other group who sell drugs and use them on themselves to to take away pain from their soul. All these groups of people came to one point that they need GOD rather than gold, dope, girls and what have you. We do not need any special training to be able to bring the touch of God in their lives, only if we will avail yourself and walk in faith, the Holy spirit will counsel them through you. What benefit will you also get from that? You will understand the wisdom of GOD as you observed GOD in his creation. I say do not seek for spiritual gifts but rather let the gift of God flow through you. The scripture says it is more blessing to give than to receive. Since we have received much from our local churches, let’s in turn go out to give since to him much is given, much is expected from him. As for me i will always pray that God will give me more opportunities to preach the gospel in boldness to everyman at everywhere for this is the power of God unto salvation. AMEN
Pingback: The Gift of Mercy « Fulcrum Prime: A journey of faith that embraces all of life
Pingback: Whole Health « Fulcrum Express: A Journey of Faith Embracing All of Life
Pingback: Jesus at the Fringes | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Becoming Our Past | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Getting to Simple | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Finding Freedom From Life’s Hurts | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Theology and Reality | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Words | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Half Grace – Part 1 | Crossroad Junction
Pingback: The Gift of Mercy « Crossroad Junction
I just wish that I could go to jail and be counseled as you speak of Jim. I would gladly trade a year of my life to have a fellow believer such as yourself walk me through to wholeness in Christ. I know that there are things deep down inside that come out raging at times. One of the hardest for me is the accusation that I am being unsubmissive from a church Pastor when I bring things up that the Lord lays on my heart to bring up.
I know there is a monster in there somewhere. Lying quietly as in a dark tunnel. I sometimes forget that he is there. Until I meet some Pastor somewhere (a father figure) who through his words to me, accusing me and otherwise restricting my God given freedom to follow God with all my heart, causes that monster to rise up, come out, and fill my soul with seething anger.
I’ve tried forgiving Pastors who have hurt me in the past. That’s helped. But still…the monster comes out again at some point. It’s like there is me, a righteous child of God who wants to do the right thing by my heavenly Father, and there is the monster inside me that wants to rise up and rage against a perceived suppression of my person and of God’s call on my life to speak out that which is on His heart.
At times I can feel the monster rising up and it’s all of God’s grace within me that I can keep the monster down without allowing it to control me and burst out in a silent rage.
I have laid it all before the Lord and exposed all that I know of to Him but still the monster remains.
I am praying that the Lord will lead me to wholeness and healing of whatever has caused this monster to live inside me.
The men in that jail are more blessed than many who are outside in relative “freedom”.
It’s unfortunate that the church you are talking about is not the norm and not found in our area. Our church experience has been a place of refuge where the wounded are leading the wounded and therefore causing more hurt than healing. Regardless, God is our source of healing and will fill this void the church is currently facing.
Pingback: Pastoral Counseling « Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Intentional Ministry « Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Whole Health « Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Redemption « Crossroad Junction
Pingback: Bearing One Another’s Burdens « Crossroad Junction