Counseling Resources for Churches
Here are some other resources on a variety of topics
I wrote a book titled, When People are Big and God is Small. Though I haven’t read it for a while, I still think of the topic often and I am left wondering if I have grown over the years.
The topic is this: living for approval from others. It is a doozy. It is everywhere. We discover it behind our infatuation with self-worth. We feel it when we are substandard, and the bar for success always seems out of reach. It animates our joy, despondency, worry, and sense of purpose. Once you start looking for it, you can’t miss it.
Am I growing? I know that my concern about my appearance is rarely an issue. If you think I am unattractive, I can live with that. But this is a tricky one because I am getting older, and when you age, you simply don’t look that great and it only gets worse. So maybe since there is no way to receive approval here, I have merely surrendered to age and have not been sanctified. I still really don’t like to dance at weddings—that is about appearance, too. Hmm. Wouldn’t it be nice to be a little less controlled by the opinions of others?
So back to Scripture it is. One of the encouraging features of God’s Word is that it speaks so profoundly to human struggles. It both describes them and sets out a course for growth. The only question is, how can we draw these truths from Scripture when there is no chapter entitled, “living for approval”?
Since this problem is everywhere, I assume that Scripture speaks to it everywhere. So I will start with my devotions from this morning and look at it through the lens of my [over]interest in the approval of certain people.
The passage included the rebellion of the Hebrews in the wilderness and Moses’ intercession before the Lord. “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Ex. 32:32). The backstory is that the people have blamed Moses for all their woes, they have questioned his motives for taking them out of Egypt, they have suggested that he is a power monger—they have certainly not approved of him. They deemed him a failure and wanted a new leader. How did he respond? Moses did not point fingers or recoil in depression. Instead, he responded by saying to the Lord that, if someone had to be punished, he would die if the people could then live.
Moses shows us that one way to offset our need for approval and fear of rejection is to love others more. In other words, when my spouse rejects me, I hope to love my spouse more rather than protect myself or reject her more than she rejects me. Suddenly, the possibilities for wise and helpful responses are endless.
This, of course, is only one response from Scripture to our struggle. There are so many others, including how God lifts up and honors those who have experienced shame.
FEAR AND ANXIETY
Practical Steps Toward Change
"What does it mean for the promises [of God] to make a difference in your life?"
David Powlison PhD, MDiv, CCEF Executive Director and Faculty
The Blessed Struggle
In this life, we have good reasons to be afraid, but we're never alone. We always have Someone to go to with our fears and anxieties.
Edward T. Welch, PhD, MDiv, CCEF Faculty
When fearful or anxious, we typically feel alone and think that God is silent, which is ironic given that he is just the opposite. In fact, Scripture—God’s communication to us—gushes with words and promises spoken to fearful and anxious people. Like a mother who keeps talking to her child during a long walk through a dark place in order to assure the child of her presence, so our Father says to us, “listen to my voice,” and he keeps talking and talking. Our dilemma is not his silence; it is how to pause on one or two of the hundreds of passages that he speaks to us.
Here are two places to pause. The first passage is for when you need direction immediately. The second will take prayer and practice.
When You Need Something Right Now
In emergencies, when fears and anxieties are loud and relentless, consider these words through The Apostle Peter.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
“Humble yourselves”—those are the arresting words. God is God and we submit to his sovereign control. We don’t try to figure out our circumstances; we simply trust him. Habakkuk captures it nicely, “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20). These words are potent enough to interrupt the anxious heart and quiet the proliferation of doomsday scenarios.
When You Want Hope and Long Term Direction
The next passage speaks to the partial blindness that accompanies most of our fears and anxieties. Fears see only in part. They see that we might lose something dear to us, such as our money, our health or the health of someone we love. They see the potential for loss with microscopic acuity. But they don’t see God’s presence, they don’t see his faithfulness to his promises, they don’t fixate on unseen realities but are dominated by what is merely seen with the naked eye (2 Cor. 4:18).
Elisha gives words to our prayer, “LORD, please open my eyes.”
When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)
This kind of seeing is called faith. It is nurtured over time through feeding on Scripture, praying and asking for prayer, learning from others whose sight is a bit more acute, and knowing Jesus. Rarely does faith-sight come all at once, as it did with Elisha’s servant, but that is just as well. With quick cures we miss the benefit of day-to-day persistence and the wisdom that accrues from it.
These two passages have been personally helpful, and I recommend them, but there are scores of others that might fit you better. Our task is to listen for these words now, to hear them and meditate on them, to talk about them with our friends. Then, when fears and anxieties seize us—and they will—we hear our God talking, and talking.
Broken Body Image
"Someone who's obsessed with body image issues is like a person walking around with a mirror in front of them all day long."
Julie Lowe, MA, LPC, CCEF Faculty
Cosmetic Surgery and Identity
"If I put too much worth in my appearance, then I am saying that is what gives me identity and value."
Julie Lowe, MA, LPC, CCEF Faculty
One pervasive lie in Western culture is that a person’s value is found in physical appearance. As Christians we don’t want to buy into that lie. This presents a difficult task because the media actively tries to persuade us that without the latest technology, coolest shoes, newest makeup products, or thinnest body we cannot possibly live a fulfilling life. Not only that, but a biologically unattainable ideal is set forth. Why? Because the media’s goal is to convince you that you are incomplete without the product or procedure it is trying to sell to you. Perfection is just out of reach, so you must strive (and pay!) for what they have to offer.
The False Buy-In
Do you constantly scrutinize your appearance? Is it as though you walk around with a mirror held out in front of you reminding you what is lacking? In reality, that mirror reflects a distorted perception, much like a carnival mirror that distorts reality. It not only prevents you from seeing yourself accurately, but it creates a self-focused absorption. “You” become more important than truly being known as a person. The mirror creates a wall that isolates you from others. You become enslaved to the pursuit of an ideal image and to caring too much about what others think. So the question remains: How should I view myself?
The True Mirror
God’s word teaches us how to have an accurate view of self. Think about 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” This passage identifies us as “jars of clay” with a treasure of great value inside of us. As inconspicuous clay pots we “show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Consider this image:
Imagine a vase sitting perched on a shelf. Its main purpose is to look attractive. You too want to look attractive. You want people to be drawn to your external appearance. You want the world to look at you and say, ‘Look how successful, beautiful, and smart you are!’ But the Bible paints a different picture. Instead of being a beautiful vase, we are dirty clay pots with cracks and holes. We have struggles and weaknesses and imperfections. And in fact these imperfections allow the treasure within us to shine all the more brightly. Christ brings value and meaning to us, yet we so often want it the other way around. Any time someone tries to be perfect or be the most attractive, the external adorning gets in the way of the gospel (1 Peter 3:3). That external adorning cannot be sustained (Ecclesiastes 3:11)…and as a result any time we find a crack or hole we desperately grab for something to try and hide our weakness and shortcomings.
The True Evaluator
God knows you by name, sees you accurately, is aware of your strengths and weaknesses, and still he calls you his own. In Christ you are given freedom to be broken, to be imperfect, to have failings. 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18 goes on to say, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”
“You” In Perspective
It would be easy to conclude that we need to care less about the external and more about the internal. There is some merit to that. However, a better concern is the degree to which we allow our appearance to dictate our worth. Scripture emphasizes that we are called to live for the eternal. We should live for eternity in a way that shapes how we live today. As the old, familiar song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”
DEPRESSION AND LOSS
Help! I'm Always Sad
"We have a Savior described as a Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief. He looked life in the eye, and life has a lot of broken things."
David Powlison PhD, MDiv, CCEF Executive Director and Faculty
How Christians Should Think About Emotions
People tend to equate Christianity with stoicism and think emotions should be buried. Winston offers an alternative.
Winston Smith, MDiv, CCEF Faculty
On the Monday morning after Mother’s Day in 2013, life began as normal in the Lowe home. We were rushing around getting ready for school and work, taking care of our menagerie of pets, and making a list for the day’s agenda. We live a full life with five children, two dogs, two cats, three birds, and two bunnies. I was on vacation and looking forward to rest from work and time to tackle things I never have time for.
But my day did not turn out as expected. By noon, I was watching seven fire companies make a frantic attempt to save our house. Unfortunately, it was not to happen. For five hours, we watched a fire ravage its way through our entire home. Memories we had made over the last seven years flashed through my mind as everything burned away. I experienced overwhelming grief and guilt because I had not been home when the fire started. I wasn’t there to save our cherished pets.
I watched fire fighters risk their lives to save our home, while neighbors took videos and pictures of our tragedy. I was in a state of utter disbelief. My mind quickly rushed to my children. How do I tell five children that all they had left behind that morning is now gone? How do I prepare them to face the fact that their toys were destroyed, the pets they adored were dead, and the place we gathered together as a family was gone?
It is hard to paint a vivid enough picture of what that day was like, let alone the ongoing experiences that have followed. That day I began to feel a range of emotions I was unprepared to deal with, and I often still feel the repercussions of our loss. It was not so much that we lost all our material and physical possessions: the wedding albums, family photos, favorite Bibles, heirlooms, and childhood treasures. Though losing all that was difficult, the most significant loss came from the trauma of watching so much that I loved destroyed right in front of me. It’s the memory of watching that fire go from bad to worse. It’s the hours spent standing in front of a crisis, incapable of changing its outcome. It’s living with the “if onlys” and the “what ifs.” And it’s replaying the day over and over again as though I could bring about an alternative ending.
The trauma of the fire stripped away the sense of safety and stability I had. There was this blunt realization that the world is both a dangerous and precarious place. Any sense of security I held onto was a pretense. Life was turned upside down in so many countless ways that it became hard to quantify and difficult to capture for others to understand.
Yet, life kept going. And the challenges kept coming. Within weeks after the fire, our son was diagnosed with a progressive and degenerative eye condition. The fragility of life was in our face again. We were reeling. We did not doubt God or his goodness. We did not become angry at him. I’m not even sure I could bring myself to question him, though I did have many questions.
We were simply hurting. What did we need? What does processing loss look like? We needed to find the ability to grieve and find comfort in the Lord. To shed tears and still trust. To be confused but know our hope was sure. To hold onto both sadness and belief. This, I believe, is the complexity of living with loss. Sorrow couched in hope.
We needed people to understand, to help us think clearly when we were incapable, and not to judge us unfaithful when we struggled—and we did struggle. This reminded me that God calls each of us to empathize with other sufferers—those who have lost a child, a spouse, survived a tragic experience, lived through a war or genocide. As believers and biblical counselors, we must walk alongside and offer ourselves as sufferers process and heal. It takes time to understand, to listen, and to help survivors find comfort and hope. Tragic losses aren’t overcome in a few weeks, or even a few months. With each new life event or season, the loss is experienced at a new level. This has definitely been my experience.
So as we hurt and as we minister to the hurting, may we be people who point one another to the One who is in control, redeeming all that has been lost. And may we be comforted that though we will endure numerous, heart-wrenching losses, we will never lose the One who loves us and who never leaves us.