Evangelizing “Christians”

Via Rick Thomas: Counseling Solution

Wives come to counseling hoping to get their husbands fixed.

Husbands come to counseling hoping to get their wives fixed.

Parents come to counseling hoping to get their children fixed.

Friends come to counseling hoping to get their friends fixed.

The counselor sits and listens to their stories, illustrations, and anecdotal evidence that could persuade any jury that the other person is guilty.

If allowed to continue, I think the typical counselee could talk for hours about what the other person did to them, or how they were hurt by the other person.

I do wonder to myself sometimes if people think that counseling is a place where they can vent, just to get things off their chest.

There is a fine line between conveying information and venting.

The former is speech that is redemptive, while the latter is speech that flows from a heart of bitterness.

It is not unusual for a counselee to be more interested in getting the situational difficulty resolved than repairing their relationship with Christ.

Rather than seeking to understand the objectives and purposes that God wants to accomplish through their troubles, they only want the other person fixed. Unfortunately, getting the other person fixed is not a promise from God.

Getting fixed is a choice that each person can make. It is a personal choice, not a mandated choice and no spouse or counselor can guarantee that the other person will make that choice. Therefore, the goals within the counseling process must be higher than getting another person to change.

Do you want God?

It is rare for a counselee to come to me with a greater interest in what God is trying to do, teach, or illuminate, than what is going on in their horizontal life. Last year a lady was honest enough to say, “I really don’t care what God is up to, I just want my husband to be nice to me.”

This kind of attitude and hope is when counseling devolves into negotiations rather than helping a person to learn more about God, while growing into a deeper relationship with Him.[1] As odd as it may sound, it could be that God’s main point is for her to draw closer to God.

What I’m really talking about is the need to evangelize Christians before they can be biblically counseled. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a Christian is re-introduce them to God.

You do this so they will have the right trajectory set in their hearts, before they attempt to resolve the horizontal problems in their lives–assuming it is God’s will for their problems to be resolved the way they hope. If they don’t do this, then counseling will turn into negotiations:

  • The counselor says to the wife: I will give you a spiritual husband, if you will stop nagging him.
  • The counselor says to the husband: Your wife will give you sex if you will provide better care for her.
  • The counselor says to the parents: Your son will repent, if you guys start modeling Christ in your home.

Some people reading this might not see a problem with this approach–though it is not biblical. If you compared what some counselees want versus what the Savior taught, then it becomes clearer:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26 (ESV)

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. – Matthew 10:21-22 (ESV)

When the brother turns against the brother or that which is more common: when the husband and wife turn against each other, we act as though some strange thing has happened to us.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. – 1 Peter 4:12 (ESV)

Your first question

All situational difficulties, regardless of what they are, have a triunal-dynamic-tension: God, man, and the situation. You cannot have a problem and God not be part of that problem. At some level, in some way, He is working in your trouble. This was the testimony of Joseph and Job in the Old Testament and of Paul in the New Testament. (See Genesis 50:20; Job 1:12; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

The first question any Christian should be asking when trouble comes should be along these lines: “My life is going sideways. My husband is doing such and such and I want to know what God is up to. Can you help me learn more about God so I can be sustained during this trial?”

Friends, that is a rare counseling question from a counselee. Typically the first question is about what is going on horizontally in the life of the counselee. And the real big question, whether asked or not, is how can the nonsense in my life cease.

If we believe that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-everywhere, also called omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, which all Christians should believe, then we know that God is in our troubles. We also know that He has a plan for the troubles He is writing into our story.

Now let’s just get wild in our thinking here: it could be that God has brought this pain into your life for a greater purpose. Let me press the point a bit more: and it will never go away. You don’t believe me? Go ask Joni. This is crazy thinking, I know…but it is also biblical.

When I’m partly to blame

Some troubles happen to us, (i.e. Joseph, Job, and Paul), and we are not necessarily the cause of the troubles, in part or in whole. However, most of our troubles–particularly relational ones, are caused at least in part by us.

In such cases of our personal culpability, many counselees do not seem to realize that part of the reason they have this kind of trouble in their lives is because there is something broken regarding their relationship with Christ. They won’t see that this is more about them and God, than them and the other person.

Recently I met with a lady who told me, “I am very angry at God.” I had to draw this out of her. This is not what she led with. Don’t you think she should have led with that? There is no more important statement she could have made to me.

Sadly, her thoughts were elsewhere–what she was going to lose in her marriage and family. Her thoughts were as logical as me cutting my foot off and then complaining about not being able to run.

There is a disconnect, something missing, or something not understood regarding her relationship with Christ. Whatever that is, it must be fixed before she begins to address or repair her marriage and family–assuming God has plans to fix her marriage and family.

To be angry, frustrated, or discontented with God, while trying to fix the horizontal relationships in your life is a fool’s mission. It does not work that way in God’s world. Our job is to authentically seek God first, while lining up our other desires behind Him (Matthew 6:33).

We’re pragmatists at heart

The sad news is that many of the Christians I have counseled are not genuinely interested in my God-centered approach to counseling. “Just fix my problem” is the implication of their requests to me.

The tension is that we disagree on counseling methodology. I’m trying to deal with their hearts first, as it pertains to their impoverished relationship with the Father and they want me to primarily deal with the practical and external dysfunction in their lives.

While I don’t want to ignore the practical dysfunction in their lives, and I don’t ignore it, I do make a strong appeal for them to think about, focus, and practically work on restoring the brokenness they are experiencing with God. In short, I am “evangelizing” them all over again–or re-introducing them to Jesus Christ.

What they don’t see (or won’t see) is that if they do not fix their relationship with the Father, there is no way they can truly change or experience real peace, joy, and relational unity in the world in which they live.

You cannot have authentic harmony in the relationships in your world when there is disharmony between you and your heavenly Father. It just does not work that way.

Let me illustrate

Anger, for example, is not so much of a problem between two humans as it is a problem between the angry person and God. The angry man is making a strong case, as revealed by his anger, that God is not coming through for him.

He feels as though he has no choice but to blow-up in order to get what he wants. This is a man-centered approach to accomplishing goals. His anger-sin keeps him from a rich and vibrant relationship with God.

If he repaired his relationship with God, he would be able to patiently endure a lot more than what he is currently going through. He also would have a Spirit-empowered perspective on his situation.

This perspective would help him to govern his heart through the situation. Thus, he would be enabled to model what Paul learned in Philippians:

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)

Criticism and gossip are two other behavioral sin issues that create strains in relationships. The real issue with the critic or the gossip is a diminutive relationship with the Father. The critic or the gossip feels compelled to put others down, which is a form of self-righteousness–”I am better than you are.”

A person who truly understands the Gospel would not be compelled to gossip or criticize another person–especially their spouse. The Gospel-centered person is not characterized by self-righteousness.

And when it does manifest in his heart–what does the Gospel-man do? He quickly repents and moves on. He lives in the daily awareness of what Christ did on the cross and his gratitude that the Savior would save him radically alters how he views, talks about, and responds to others.

Only a proper relationship with Christ can give him this kind of perspective. However, if the only or the primary thing that matters to him is fixing a broken relationship, then there is a good chance he is going to miss God–who is in his brokenness, seeking to show Himself strong.

Evangelizing Christians

There are an amazing number of folks who call themselves Christians, who come to counseling only to get some form of behavioral modification. God has been marginalized in their thinking and their lives and when I draw attention to this, they become frustrated.

They say they are Christians. They ask for Christian counseling. I counsel them as though they are Christians by addressing the most important issue in their lives–their relationship with God. But, seemingly, this is not valued by them.

Some Christians have been so psychologized and secularized that talking to them about the Gospel and how they are not walking “in line” with the Gospel is viewed as strange (Galatians 2:14). In such cases, it is easy for counseling to turn into negotiations:

  • On my end of the table I have Christ alone, with no guarantee that your relationships will ever change.
  • On their end of the table is one card: I want my relationships to change.

Time for honest confession

I am one of those Christians who needs to be evangelized. I understand their struggle because it is my struggle as well. There have been times in my life when I wanted my situation to change and that was the only thing that mattered. A life sentence of brokenness did not appeal to me.

And there have been many times when God did not change my circumstances, no matter how hard I wished, hoped, or prayed. And I’m sure there will be more times in my future where I will cry out to God for a change and, just like my past, it could be His good will for my life to not change my circumstances (Genesis 3:18).

The Lord is slowly teaching me that the first place I must look in times of trouble is not for a method of escape, but to the God of hope. My starting point for all of my troubles has to be the evangelization of my heart.

I need to remind myself all over again about the Gospel. I need to remind myself that if God can solve the worst problem in my life–my lack of relationship with Him, through the power of the cross, He is able to solve any other problem that should arise in my life.

Even if I cannot see Him working in it. Even if He chooses not to change the situation according to my hopes, if my heart is right with Him, then I will be okay.

My first and foremost responsibility in all of my situational difficulties is to evangelize my heart. The best place to evangelize my heart is on my knees, in my closet, begging God to change me, with no expectation that He changes anything else.

So, here are some questions for you:

  1. Do you spend more time thinking about your problems or God?
  2. Do you spend more time trying to change your problems or trying to change your heart?
  3. Do you spend more time trying to change other people or trying to change you?
  4. Will you unconditionally surrender to God? You’ll know this has happened when contentment, peace, rest, and faith begin to annihilate all forms of anger, criticalness, anxiousness, and worry. This kind of life is born in a closet of prayer.
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About John
A follower of Christ and sinner who needs his grace everyday.

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