Psychological counseling theories and therapies have become so accepted throughout Christendom that Christians rarely question their use. They assume that psychological counseling is good, especially if practiced by a Christian. This acceptance of the psychological way actually reveals a lack of trust in Christ and the Bible. For example, many Christians spend more time, effort, and money on talk therapy than in learning to trust and know God through their trials. Sadly, they may run from trying to solve one problem to the next and miss tremendous opportunities to know and experience God in their trials and to practice walking according to the Spirit through valleys of suffering.
We have had the great privilege of knowing believers who walked the spiritual way rather than the psychological way. One such person was a retired missionary, Mary Lewer. Mary shared her life with us for a number of years while we had the privilege of driving her back and forth to church. She would talk about her life on the mission field in a very informal manner as we were in the car with our children, who gleaned much from hearing about her experiences. She spoke of learning languages, of traveling three days by mule before reaching the closest railroad, and of being divinely protected from robbers along the way. She also told us about the people who came to know Christ and whose lives were dramatically changed.
Mary’s faith was anchored in the Word of God and strengthened in the trials of missionary work in a very remote area of China. God’s call on her life was so very personal and strong that even when her baby boy died she did not turn back, but looked to Christ and served faithfully with her husband. Then when her husband was swept away in the Mekong River, Mary remained at her mission post with her two young daughters. Her relationship with God was one of such trust that when our pastor talked about questioning God, she was concerned that people would question Him. She wondered at the thought and quietly, almost to herself, said, “I never questioned God.” While she may have wondered why He allowed various trials in her life, she did not question Him or His will for her life. Mary did not know the psychological way that has captured so many Christians today. She knew the Lord and His way of sanctification.
When experiencing trials, painful challenges, and other problems of living, we can easily forget that our Father in Heaven knows and uses every circumstance to conform each of His children into the image of Christ. We can become so caught up in difficult circumstances that we lose sight of God’s perspective as our Creator and very present Potter. However, during tough times we can find strength by affirming eternal truths about our relationship with Him. Remembering the basics of salvation can draw us closer to Him whenever we become overwhelmed by problems.
God’s relationship with each of His children goes way back. He established our DNA and then formed us in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139:15-16). However, because of the horrendous damage to the soul wrought by sin, each and every person needs a thorough cleansing and a brand new beginning. Sin had to be judged for justice to prevail. Thus, because of His great love, God sent His only Son to fulfill justice by dying in our place. Then when Christ was raised from the dead and took His seat at the right hand of His Father, He sent the Holy Spirit to each one who would trust in His substitutionary death and thus live the new life, which is the very life of Christ in the believer. That is the miraculous beginning of sanctification—being set apart for God. From that moment on every believer continues to be a work of God’s mercy and grace until the day when we will see Him face to face:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).
This hope of seeing Him and becoming like Him both encourages and purifies us during those times when the refining process involves rigorous challenges and painful trials.
Unfortunately, when suffering comes our way, it captures our attention, whether it be physical pain, mental pain, strained relationships, financial problems, persecution, or any other trial. Thoughts naturally gravitate to the problem to the point that the problem runs our thoughts and lives. We think about it, talk about it, worry about it, dream about it, and search all around to find solutions to alleviate the troublesome situation. Yet, this is the very place of possible blessing when we know that the Potter is in charge and He knows what He is doing for His glory and our ultimate good.
Trials can be treacherous journeys through which we learn to walk by faith and experience God to the utmost. That is why Paul could write:
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope:
And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us (Romans 5:1-5).
Notice how Paul starts with our position in Christ. How useful to return to these glorious truths: “justified by faith” and “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”! Here we stand on solid ground even while circumstances seem to be spinning out of control. Here is the place of grace and even rejoicing as we anticipate the glory of God—even that day when we shall see Jesus face to face. Here is the position from which Paul was able to “glory in tribulation.”
“Glory in tribulation”? Glory “in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft”? Glory in receiving 39 lashes? Glory in being beaten with rods, being stoned, suffering shipwreck, “in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness”? (2 Cor. 11:23-27) How could Paul glory in all this tribulation?
He tells us. As he depended on God in every one of those trials, he experienced God’s faithfulness, presence, power, wisdom, and truth. He learned to walk by faith as he kept his eyes more on Jesus than the circumstances. Indeed, he found “that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Amazing! How can we, as ordinary Christians, glory in tribulation like Paul? It’s not easy to keep our minds and hearts steady on Christ. Yet, this is where we find strength to meet the challenges and learn to walk more by faith than by sight.
Fixing our eyes on Jesus does not in any way remove us from whatever He would have us do about our circumstances. In other words, this is not an escape hatch. Rather, it is an arsenal, the very arsenal described in Ephesians 6:10:18. We are called to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might,” not our might, but “His might.” Paul learned through many trials to be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” In following the Lord there is help for the moment, but beyond that there is help for the future. With each trial Paul was further prepared for the next through increased wisdom, endurance, and knowledge of his Savior.
On the other hand, trials can be used by the enemy of our souls to breed anger, bitterness, selfishness, hostility, malice, evil speaking, and a tendency to blame others, including God, but Paul learned both internal and external obedience. Thus, he wrote:
Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Eph. 4:31-32).
God knows our every thought and what we will say even before we say it (Psalm 139). Therefore, we sin against Him when we entertain thoughts that are not consistent with the truth of His Word and the excellency of His being. Since God is love and we are to love one another (1 John 4:7-8), even our thoughts must conform to love. That is why David prayed, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14). Indeed out thoughts can grieve the Holy Spirit, whereby we are “sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).
By reading his letters, we can see much of what Paul learned through tribulation. For instance, as “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” during trials (Rom. 5:5), God’s love came through him so that he could describe the kind of love God has planned for human relationships:
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Trials test us and can thereby strengthen our love for God and others. Yet, it is so easy for believers to fall into the flesh, react in the flesh, and try to solve the problems in the flesh. Oh, the mercy and faithfulness of God! Even here we learn to know Him as we confess our sins, for surely we will sin during stressful situations. We become especially vulnerable under stress.
Thankfully our great high priest knows and understands and makes intercession for us (Heb. 4:14-16), so that even here we come to know Him more. And, as our love for Him grows, we become stronger in Him. Thus victory will come for believers through all the work that Christ is doing in them, both through the constant cleansing of His blood and through His life working in them. Thus, we join with Paul in seeing tribulation as opportunities for true spiritual growth in Christ.
The greater the trial, the greater the need to seek the divine source of wisdom, strength, and love: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Eph. 6:18). Why pray for others when our own needs are so great? This is God’s plan to keep us looking to Him rather than being totally focused on our own needs. As we pray for one another in the body of Christ, every part of the body benefits, so that even as we pray for others, we are built up in Christ.
As Christians we can be confident that we are the Father’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). We can also be confident “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6) and that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Therefore, as we look to Him in our adversity we can be confident that He will work mightily to produce patience and experience in walking with Him. Then the experience of walking by faith in our faithful Lord brings forth hope and such hope will never make us ashamed because of “the love of God [being] shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:1-5).
Our Lord Jesus is faithful moment by moment. Thus we can depend on Him moment by moment. Depending on God is not passive but active in the sense of being yoked together with Him and actively going where He’s going and following His lead according to His manner (Matt. 11:28-30). Rather than being enticed into the psychological way of the world, believers have an opportunity for spiritual growth during seasons of stress and days of despair. As believers turn to the Lord and His Word, apply these truths to their own lives, and then minister them to one another in the body of Christ, they will grow into Christ’s likeness. May we all reflect Christ’s faithfulness more and more during trials as we respond to His moment by moment presence, love, care, and continuing creative work in our lives.
(PsychoHeresy Awareness Letter, March-April 2014, Vol. 22, No. 2)