What do I do when I am angry in a relationship

Steve by Jon

I have been working a lot with couples who are battling anger with their spouses.  This is so common today that you might be thinking to yourself, “Well, duh, aren’t you a counselor?  Don’t you realize that people get angry?”

Yes, I am a counselor.  Yes, I am all too familiar with how common anger issues are.

I am also aware of how destructive angry behavior is and how hard it can be to overcome it.

Anger is an issue that is often provoked by our circumstances, but it is never caused by them.  In spite of the frequency with which we say “You make me so angry” the truth is that my anger is not the result of anything outside of me.  My anger comes from my heart, or my soul, and the answer to dealing with it must include seeing myself clearly and committing to two things.  I must commit to repentance, and then I must commit to change.

I have been working on how to help people change and turn away from angry behavior.  God has been doing good things through that work.

As I work with couples one of the things that has been very useful is shifting from speaking about what the other person is doing, feeling, saying, etc. and instead speaking from my own experiences and interpretations.  There has been some important work in both neuroscience and sociology that actually reinforces Biblical patterns of behavior and notes the success rates for this obedience to Scripture.

As I work with my clients to use “I” statements and to ask questions instead of using “you” statements and making judgments, I watch the client change and I watch the relationship change.

The pattern we are working on is to be able to effectively talk about issues without being critical or condemning.  Proverbs 15:1 tells us that “A harsh word stirs up anger, but a gentle answer turns away wrath”.  When we are angry we typically vent our frustration and criticize the other person.  That fuels a cycle in which they are now hurt and they respond with criticism.  This is a very destructive pattern and one that we must stop both to be righteous and also to effectively build our relationship.

If we instead are gentle and talk about our concerns, with the hope that the other will hear us and will deal with our hurt, something remarkable happens.  I watch as couples who have battled each other for long periods of time begin to change how they relate and both parties become different people.

I will write more about this soon, but I encourage you to listen to your words.  Are you often saying “you did…” or “you said…” or “you hurt me…”?  If you are, I encourage you to work hard at sharing what you are feeling, what you are hearing, and how the other person can care for you in the midst of your hurt.

More soon.

Steve

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Story

Kristin2I was listening to a woman on the radio tell her story about the time she had a stroke.  She described this moment when the constant inner dialogue stopped.  There was silence and she loved it.  The stroke had affected the language part of her brain and as her language drifted away so did her connection to all the things that were currently going on in her life.  Her thoughts were silent and it was lovely.  Over the next months, as she worked to restore her language, she said she had mixed feelings about re-entering her thinking life.  “When you drop out of the story of yourself, you’re left stranded in the sunshine, in the now.”  She experienced a peacefulness she hadn’t known elsewhere. As she dropped out of her own story, she found the ability to live in this present moment and it was refreshing.*

There’s something appealing about that isn’t there?  What she’s described is a moment free from the worry and anxiety of the regular pressures of life.  This idea that you have disconnect from your story in order to achieve peace sounds both familiar and dissonant.  It’s familiar because that’s Eastern religion – detach from this world, enter the quiet to find an inner peace.  The solution to anxiety is to disconnect.  That’s all over the place in our culture.  There’s a dissonance though, something’s not quite right.  As Christians, think about the implications of disconnecting from our story. If we disconnect from our own story we’re also disconnecting from the Lord’s story.  As we face the struggles in our lives it’s not our goal to get away from them but to attach them to a greater story.  Peace isn’t found in detachment, but in attachment.  “…Christ is the HOME for my story. He is where my story begins, and ends. Christ [is] the place where I am free to share every detail of my story, and Christ [is] the ultimate Story-teller. His story gives mine meaning, depth, light, darkness. His presence assures me that my story will never be meaningless or hopeless.”**  His presence brings peace to my story.

When I attach my story to his I don’t need to forget the things that cause my heart to be anxious, instead I get to see them for what they really are – plot development.  I’ve read the end of this story, it ends gloriously!  So whatever it is that’s bombarding my thoughts now can only be building up to that.  The image of quieting my soul before the Lord of Ps. 131 comes to mind.  My soul isn’t quiet because it’s ignorant of the brokenness of this present world, because it’s forgotten that things are hard, it’s quiet because 1) it rests on the lap of the Lord and 2) because it knows that the Lord writes the ending.  The unknowns are too great and marvelous for me because they come from the pen of the Lord, the great and kind author.

I think I do the Christian version of detachment too often.  I shift my mind to other things, more peaceful things. I choose not to dwell on it.  Scripture tells us to think upon what is honorable, true and pure (Phil. 4:8). This doesn’t mean not thinking about the things that make us anxious, it means thinking about what is true and lovely in those circumstances.  What is true is that Christ is victorious over brokenness, that the Spirit is ever with us in it, and that the Father reigns supreme.  What’s true is that my story rests in his and that this is where peace is found.

 

*RadioLab, Season 8, Episode 2: “Words”   http://www.radiolab.org/2010/aug/09/

**Heather Nelson   http://heathernelson.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/story/

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Context of Love

Steve

I am doing a lot of thinking about the call for Christians to love.  This past week I preached at my home church on Jesus’ command to love in John 13.  I have preached that passage several times.  This time I felt the need to come at it very differently than in the past messages.

I realized that I have completely focused on the immediate command and looked carefully at the language in the verse.  If we forget the setting of the passage we miss the meaning of what Jesus is saying.

So I focused on the context.  In this case there is a large context.  Jesus is about to accomplish humanity’s redemption.  He is going to the Garden in a few moments where He would seek His Father’s comfort.  Judas was about to lead the soldiers to arrest Jesus and take 

Him away to be tried.  After that He would be crucified.  He was about to pay the price we deserve to pay so that we can experience God’s favor.

Jesus is preparing the church to carry on His ministry in His absence.

The work of the church is to build God’s kingdom.

To build God’s kingdom we must love one another as Jesus loves us.

So we have to understand love.  Our culture understands love in its own particular way.  The Bible presents love very differently. 

A cultural view of love is really looking at love without a context.  It is more often than not a “feel good” love.  A movie in the 1970s entitled “Love Story” is known for a quote that “love means never having to say you are sorry.”  Culturally we also see that love is about comfort, pleasure, and ease.  We see in our culture a reactive love.  I am paying attention to you if I love you and when you are sad, uncomfortable, unhappy, or otherwise down I will do what I can to make you feel better.

That is not a Biblical view of love.  The Biblical view of love is love in context.

We are always in the context of the universe around us.  We are not complete in ourselves.  Biblical love is in the context of building God’s kingdom.  The ultimate goal of love is God’s glory, honor, and worship.  We will spend eternity worshipping God and delighting in Him.  The next level of context is corporate eternal well-being.  The bride of Christ complete and united worshipping God.  We love well if we are preparing for that corporate wholeness.  Then we are concerned about individual eternal well-being.  I love another well if my goal is that they are growing in their identity and experience as one who belongs to Jesus and is preparing for their eternal home.  Their treasure is in heaven and they are focused on that.  After that I begin to think about material, relational, physical, temporal well-being.  These issues are important, but they are not as important as eternal issues.  If I feed someone who is hungry and do not care about their eternal state, then I am not loving them.  The church battles keeping a Biblical balance of both the eternal and the now.  Trying to care about both now and eternity is humanly overwhelming and beyond my ability.  It is, however, the way Jesus loves.  It is the way He commands us to love.

In order to even attempt to love this way I need grace.  I need to trust in the work Jesus has done to redeem and transform me.

More to come in another blog.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How Can We Know Others Well?

Steve by Jon

 

In working with people as a counselor I have learned important lessons about understanding others.  Some people see deeply into people’s lives.  They seem to be able to know others well, and are not shaken when they get conflicting messages from them.

This is not typically true.

An example of this in Scripture is found in Abraham’s life.  By the time Abraham’s son Isaac was a young man, Abraham had learned important lessons about who God is.  We can see this as we study Genesis 22 where we read of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham had spent decades following God, and had gone through many different circumstances where he had trusted God, and others where he had not.  God had revealed Himself to Abraham and Abraham had finally learned to trust God in spite of what we might call mixed messages.  Abraham had come to a point of spiritual maturity in which he had come to know God over time and in many circumstances.  He knew God’s character and had grown in his faith so that he was no longer tossed about by his doubts.  James says in 1:5-7 that those who lack faith are tossed about by wind much like waves are.  Abraham had become a man of faith who had come to know God well.

As I work with my clients I frequently talk about something I call “multiple frequencies”.  This is one way to really get to know others well.

Wherever you are as you read this blog, you are bombarded by all sorts of messages being conveyed on many different “frequencies” or media.  There are FM, AM, HD, Sirius, TV, and cell signals that are bouncing around us everywhere.  If you have a translator properly tuned to the frequency you can hear and respond to the message.

There are so many messages that we cannot possibly hear and respond to them all.  In the same way we are either not trained to listen to many of the messages bombarding us in relationship with others, or we tune them out.  Our age is the age of information overload.

We are broadcasting constantly on all of the frequencies.  One of the most widely used frequencies is vocabulary.  This is a favorite for men.  We know how to choose words and use them to communicate what we want to communicate.  Many of the men with whom I work carefully choose their words and think that the only important messages they are sending are the words they say.  If I question them on what they are saying they will re-direct me to the words they have used and believe that is the only message I should listen to.

When their words are in conflict with other messages they are sending they become irritated when I follow up with more questions.

What other messages am I listening to?  The tone of voice they use.  Their facial expressions.  What they choose to talk about and what they do not choose to talk about.  Where we are when we are talking.  Who else is with us.  What they are doing as they talk with me.  We are broadcasting messages on many more frequencies than we are aware of.

If the messages are consistent with each other, we can take a great deal of confidence that what we are hearing is true and trustworthy.  If they are not consistent, we have to choose which messages are true and which are not.

Abraham had come to know God well.  When God gave him a message that was not consistent with what God had already revealed about Himself Abraham knew which messages to trust.  He knew he could trust the promises and character of God that God had revealed over the decades Abraham had spent with Him.  He was safe to obey the command to sacrifice Isaac because God was going to fulfill the promises He had made to bless the nations through Isaac.  In Hebrews 11:17-19 we read that Abraham knew that if he did sacrifice Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead and fulfill the promises He had made.

We can learn to listen to many frequencies and evaluate the consistency of the messages we hear.  As we do this, we can grow in our confidence with others and we can deepen our ability to know others and relate with them deeply.  We can experience levels of intimacy we have only dreamt about.

If we do not know how to hear the many messages we are often tempted, out of fear, to believe the worst.  Abraham could have responded to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac by concluding that God had finally revealed his character in this heartbreaking command and rejected God as someone who had finally shown Himself in His willingness to rob Abraham of something most precious to him.  Abraham could have decided that all the other things he had heard from God were untrue and that God did not really love him.  I have many times in relationship with other people believed the worst about others when the messages I heard were not consistent.

Think about how you relate with others.  Do you trust them because you have come to know them well and when you hear inconsistent messages you can sort out those which are untrue?  Or, do you live fearfully and protect yourself by believing the worst about them and preventing them from hurting you?  When we do that, we are keeping others at a distance and we cannot connect with them deeply.  We cannot live in meaningful community this way, and we do not live as the people God has created us to be.  We are also unable to be redemptive in the lives of those around us.  We cannot get close enough to them out of our fear to be able to speak redemptively into their lives.  Community cannot exist in a meaningful way if we live with this fear.

There is much more to say about this topic and I will do so in future blogs, but for now I encourage you to think about the many messages you receive and listen  to the messages carefully so that you can develop the skill of knowing others well.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Continuing to find our new normal in community

 

SteveAs a Biblical counselor I am regularly inviting the people with whom I am working to change.  They are coming to me for help in dealing with situations in their lives where they recognize the need for growth and change.

In many cases the changes that are in focus are difficult.  They are more than my clients believe they can handle alone, which explains why they have sought me out.

I have recently been blessed by going through changes in my own life that were well beyond my capacity to accomplish alone.  The blessing I have experienced in this process is that I have a much clearer realization that God uses the community in which He has placed me to accomplish the changes He is calling me to make.

My pastor challenged me a couple of months ago with evaluating where I was going with my life.  I have been adjusting to my wife’s death and the way that has shaped my life.  We had moved away from a previous ministry and the home where we had lived for 21 years.  We were well established in Maryland and we uprooted the family to move closer to extended family and to launch a new counseling ministry.  We also were transitioning a dog breeding business from Maryland to Oregon.  We bought a beautiful piece of property where we could begin to establish our family, our breeding business, and the counseling ministry of Impact Biblical Counseling.  The opportunities were huge and Ann and I could envision a future where we would enjoy God’s blessings fully.

When Ann died, I knew what a personal blow losing her was for me, and for my kids.  I have not thought a lot about how losing her changed our/my dreams and plans.  My pastor was a good friend and asked me to think through how being alone shaped the dreams Ann and I had shared.  He had watched as my sons and I had tried to maintain what Ann and I had built.  He wisely asked me if I thought that the lifestyle we were living was wise or even sustainable.  That was the first way the body was helping me to change.

As a result of his question I talked things over with my sons and we realized that we should put our property on the market and plan on finding a smaller home with a more easily maintained yard.  If we kept the property where we were living I would not be able to keep it up by myself.

In fact, I was not able to get it into shape to put it on the market alone.  The very idea was so overwhelming that I wanted to avoid thinking about making the changes that I knew I needed to make.  I think many of my clients are in the same place as they consider the changes God calls them to make.  I did not want to even pray about what my pastor had raised because I had little confidence that I could accomplish what I knew I would have to do if we were going to move forward with building a sustainable future.

My pastor then told me what I so often tell my clients.  “You are part of a body.  We will help you to do what you need to do in order to accomplish the changes God is calling you to make.”

In my case this involved making big changes to the house and the property.  If we were going to list the house we needed to get the yard in shape.  I am not a gardener.  There are some amazing gardeners in my church and they have spent weeks beautifying the property.  I now have a show garden.  We also had to take care of painting and cleaning my house.  Again, there are expert painters in my church who have spent untold hours remaking my house. The work they have completed is breathtaking.  Others have helped us to de-clutter.  The house is now listed and I am proud for people to see what God has given us and to invite someone to buy this property because I know that it will be a retreat for whoever God has prepared to enjoy it next.

As I reflect on my experience I know that God has placed all of us in the body and we all need to receive the care that the body is created to give, as well as to give that care to others.  I am receiving this care from my brothers and sisters so that I can in turn give care to others.  I need to move away from where I am living so that my time is spent in using my gifts in ministry instead of being forced to spend time managing a beautiful property that needs someone whose calling and gifting is managing a garden and a home.

As you grow in grace, think about how God has placed you in His body and how He plans to use the body to help you grow, and to use you to help others in the body to grow.  My inclination is to go it alone.  After this experience with my church I have a greater confidence that community is safe, and absolutely necessary.  My counseling will focus even more on how God’s gift of others is a glorious part of how we grow.

 

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

He Reigns!

Kristin2I love Easter!  I used to love Easter because it was the one time of year we could eat Cadbury Eggs – you know, those obnoxiously sweet chocolate eggs with frosting in the middle that looks like raw egg?  That’s the stuff of childhood dreams!  I still do love Cadbury Eggs but thankfully my love of Easter has deepened.  It’s not just Easter that I love though.  I do enjoy the lilies and the celebrations, family dinners and the like.  But more than that, the power of the resurrection astounds me. In this one act the Lord declares his reign over death.  In this moment death and darkness, brokenness and sin all become subservient to our King in Heaven.  Yes, they still exist but it is evil on a leash.

We stop and celebrate Easter once a year but the power of the resurrection extends daily into ordinary moments in our lives.  In a former post I wrote about how the Lord transforms the ashes of my loneliness into the beauty of knowing him more deeply and loving others more sweetly.  As I continue to ponder the Lord’s reign over one little piece of darkness in my own life, my loneliness, I realize that it too is subservient to my King.  When I experience that pang of loneliness and see it become a beacon to the arms of my Savior, in that moment I’m experiencing the reign of Christ over darkness.

Loneliness, or whatever it is that you’re wrestling with, still feels dark.  It still hurts, it’s still painful.  But it is on a leash and the Lord has declared his victory over it!  That’s hopeful!

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ashes into Beauty

Kristin2Mourning into dancing, ashes into beauty, darkness into light, weakness into strength.  In Scripture we’re presented with all of these images of the Lord turning things upside down .  His life, death, and resurrection so powerfully break the hold of sin on this world that things that once only pointed to the devastation of sin now beautifully point to the glory and majesty of the Creator.  It’s marvelous isn’t it?  But how far does this reversal of distorted things extend?  We’re quick to see the Lord’s hand when a situation that might have only caused sorrow now produces joy.  We see it when we ourselves or others change, when our responses transform and take on a new light.  But I think it goes even further than that.

There are some things that the Lord chooses not to transform yet.  Take loneliness for example.  When you find yourself in a situation without community, without the people you love nearby, when you’re alone, he most often doesn’t take that loneliness away instantly.  He comforts you in it, he meets you in it, and yet you still feel the absence of living alongside of people.  It’s possible to be both comforted and lonely at the same time, to know that he is good to you in this moment and yet not feel the blessing of the community that you long for.

It’s in this context that I want to think about the Heavenly reversal I spoke about above.  Is it true here too?  Initially if you asked me what ashes into beauty looked like when I thought about loneliness I think my first thought would have been the end of loneliness, a friend entering your life maybe and the joys of Christian community.  But as I continued to think about it he does turn my loneliness on its head.  Loneliness that points to the devastation of sin is a kind that produces bitterness and a life turned inward.  Have you ever noticed that when you’re lonely you tend to withdraw even more?  It becomes even harder to pick up the phone and call someone.  There may be people in front of you but you don’t want to reach out.  But the fingerprints of the Holy Spirit on a life in Christ transform loneliness into something that awakens your heart to the Lord.  You still feel lonely and yet that feeling points you to your Savior.  You long for him in a different way and knowing his presence more sweetly you’re able to point outward.  Future friendships become, not things to fix loneliness, but places where you can reach out and love another lonely person.

Loneliness exists only because of the presence of sin in the world and yet in the glorious power of our Father in heaven, because of his Son and through his Spirit, it becomes the stage for something beautiful.  He turns the ashes of my loneliness into the beauty of knowing him and loving others.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Life with a New Normal

A few months ago my wife died unexpectedly as the result of her treatments for cancer.

That reality sits heavy on us all, much like that sentence does when you read it.

Everyone is struggling with how to relate to me, and to our kids (grown ups) because our cuture does not typically deal with death as part of every day life. Our conventional conversation starters, or our polite phrases that acknowledge the presence of others, simply are not able to handle the reality of pain and loss. “How are you doing?” is expected to be answered by “Fine. How are you?”

When we are face to face with someone who has experienced a life altering loss, this question is inappropriate. If you really want to know how your friend is doing, you will use a different question that communicates your sincere interest.

However, there are many people with whom we come into contact every day that do not know about our loss, and are not interacting with us on that level. Culture teaches us to greet folks with “How are you today?” For many of those who endure major loss, this is a painful reminder of that loss.

Which brings me to having to find a new normal.

My life will never be the same as it was when Ann shared it with me. There are countless times that I think about something and want to share it with her. I have been doing work around the house and want to show it to her. I hear something on the news and want to talk it over with her. I read something in Scripture and want to hear her thoughts on it. But she is gone. We cannot talk about it. I cannot show it to her.

So I feel my loss fresh in each experience.

But God is still good. He is still accomplishing His redemptive work, by taking Ann home and by working in me now. Paul said it well in Philippians “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Ann is free of pain. She is safe where there is no more pain. No more sin. No more suffering. Somehow she is not suffering in spite of not being with her family. She will not dance at our grandchildren’s weddings. She really wanted to do that, but missing that is not causing her pain. That is a comfort for me.

God is redemptively at work in all that He does. He is doing good even if Ann is gone.

And my suffering is not unique. I live among a world of people who have suffered through my asking “How are you today?” I have not been aware of their hurt and suffering as I have interacted with them. I am now more sensitive to where people are before I speak to them now. I am listening more and speaking less. When I speak I hope it has more power and brings more good to those with whom I am talking.

I am also aware that I have the opportunity to help people see God’s redemptive care more clearly. God is still doing His kingdom building work as He has from creation until His return.  Even my experiences, and my family’s experiences, are part of His kindgom work and He is using them to build His kingdom while we wait for our future glory.

The real issue for me as I live in a new normal, is to understand how my new story fits within the unchanged larger story of redemption and return.

That is a central part of my life now as I live without Ann and look forward to the glory to come.

Posted in Blog | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Intersection of Truth and Reality

I am working on a class that I will teach to a group of pastors this month.  The class is called Biblical Conversations.  We will be looking at the pastoral work of discipleship/mentoring/counseling.

One of the books we will work through is Mike Emlet’s Cross Talk which is a very helpful study of understanding both Scripture and life.  Mike talks about exegeting Scripture and also people.  Sometimes we do not take the time to listen to the people we are serving, and move too quickly into “helping” them.

Our clients, on the other hand, sometimes have a hard time understanding how Biblical truth really fits with their circumstances.  I understand this.  It is easy to think that our trials are different.  Our pain is unique.  We see how Scripture really fits in other people’s experiences, but not ours.  Sometimes it just does not seem like the comfort of Scripture is really comforting.  The steps Scripture calls us to take are not going to work.

I think back to the stories I have heard of the great Charles Blondin who crossed over the Niagara Falls in the 1850’s and 60’s.  He demonstrated that he could cross below the falls on his cable, and that he could carry his manager on his back while crossing.  Legend has it that he asked the folks in the audience if they believed he could cross on the wire and all said yes.  They had seen him do it.  He asked if they believed he could carry someone across the falls.  Again, they had seen him do it.  Then he asked for a volunteer to allow him to carry them over the falls on the cable.  He was met by silence.

The truths of Scripture are real.  God tells us what really is, and what we really need to believe and how that shapes the way we live.  Truth is co-existent with reality.  While it may not seem like that when we go to apply the truth to our reality, it is.

So how do we take the steps to live the truth in our reality?

I think some things that I need and I point out to my clients include:  fellowship and support from our community, action on our beliefs, knowing the truths of Scripture clearly, and prayer.  I cannot live apart from the body, either intentionally or merely functionally.  We can be part of the church and active in church life without hearing and accepting the counsel of our brothers and sisters.  They may challenge us on issues and we may understand their views without ever seriously considering applying them.  When I am convicted by the truths, perhaps through the counsel of my brothers and sisters, I act.  I am profoundly convicted that what Paul Tripp and David Powlison say in their lectures and books on change is true.  Insight is not change.  Change in our actions and behaviors is evidence of change.  I need to be in the Word and studying how its truths apply to my life regularly.  God promises His Word will not return to Him empty.  It always accomplishes His purposes.  I also need to be talking with God about these truths and asking for His Spirit to guide and empower my faith.

God works through His truth in the details of our reality to build His kingdom.  Praise God!

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Lessons From Two Men Praying

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,           For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?                                     O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,                          Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

This hymn, written by Bernard of Clairvaux, captures an amazing thought. What would it look like to outlive our love for Jesus?

Hezekiah was a king in Jerusalem who also saw God’s amazing deliverance for himself and his people. The Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem while he was king and threatened to capture the city as they had defeated and captured Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel. King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah went to the temple together to ask God to rescue Jerusalem. God did. God promised that the army surrounding the city would not even fire an arrow into the city. (2 Kings 19:32) The next day, the army was still surrounding Jerusalem, but the entire army of 185,000 were dead. Not one arrow had been fired. Not one defender had died, or even engaged in battle. God defeated the Assyrians.

After that we hear of another conversation between Isaiah and Hezekiah. God sent Isaiah to the king to tell him that the illness he was suffering would kill him. Hezekiah wept bitterly and reminded God of his faithfulness to God. Hezekiah was in fact asking God to spare him. God did. Hezekiah lived another 13 years during which time it appears he outlived his love for God. I think that Hezekiah was seeing the small picture of his own life instead of the larger picture of God’s kingdom purposes. God answered his prayer, and God used the events that followed. However, Hezekiah died after doing some tragic things in his additional years. He did not serve God as well in those years as he had earlier.

In the gospels we see another man who was weeping bitterly. He too was praying that he would not die. However, he never lost his love for the Father. He did not focus on the smaller picture of his life and his comfort.

This man is Jesus.

He went to the garden knowing that he was about to be taken prisoner, tried, and crucified. I do not think that was what most moved Jesus to pray that the cup of wrath be taken from him. Jesus knew full well that the Father and the Spirit would have to turn away from him in judgment as he bore our sin. He would be alone facing the wrath of the godhead. The trinity would be ripped apart as Jesus bore the punishment for our sin. That was the terror that brought Jesus to tears. And he kept the big kingdom picture in view.

His prayer was not simply “take this from me” but was also “nevertheless, not my will be done, but yours.” Jesus was talking with the Father and was trusting Him to accomplish what was best. He did not come to the Father with the goal of telling Him what to do, and finding a way to get what he wanted. Jesus came with honest sorrow, and with full confidence that what the Father would do was redemptive and was best for the kingdom and for Jesus.

It was.

In our prayers we need to keep this focus as well. As I work with many people who are suffering and are facing crises the temptation is to love ourselves and try to lead God to provide what we think we need. We wrestle with our circumstances and want things to be more comfortable and “good.” Our prayers can become a list of things we ask God to do so that our lives are “better.” Like Hezekiah we want to live. We want health. We want the finances that are so necessary for our wellbeing. We want approval. We want our marriages healed. We want to be free of life dominating sin. We want things that in themselves are truthfully good.

The problem is not what we want. The problem is that we treat God as an object that we can use to get those things instead of the loving Father who knows better than we do what we need and loves us more than we can possibly know. We trust our own wisdom and seek the things we “need” by the tool of prayer with the goal of God’s accomplishing our purposes.

What is the solution? Like Jesus we do well to tell God of our hurts, our needs, and our desires. Like Jesus we must remember that the Father is all wise, all loving, and always active in accomplishing His purposes. He is redemptively working to build His kingdom and will accomplish our “best.” He is our loving Father who knows what we do not. He is our loving Father who does what we cannot.

When I remember these truths I can rest in Him and devote myself to worship instead of control. I find peace in my trials as I focus on my Father who is always with me, and is always powerfully at work. I trust instead of guessing whether or not the things that I face are good.

Isaiah 26:3-4 tell us 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , | 2 Comments