Understanding the deep issues of the heart enables us to take a close look at how problems develop and points to what we can do to move through our problems to find God’s power, presence and purity in our lives.
We have been created in the image of God, and this means that we have god-like capacities for relationship and impact. God is relational and he made us relational beings so that we might enjoy fellowship with him and with each other. God is also a purposeful being, and he gave us the capacity to share in the working of his purposes.
This means we have a deep longing to fulfil our created purpose – to enjoy a deep, satisfying relationship with God, and to fulfil our God-given purpose to be fellow-workers with him to fulfil his purposes in the world. This call upon our lives is summarised by the two great commandments of Christ to the church – the command to love, and the command to make disciples of all nations (John 15:9-12 and Matthew 28:18-20).
Longings for relationship and impact are the most crucial and fundamental of all our longings and they dominate the deepest part of our personality.
After the fall, these capacities became longings for what was lost. But our thinking has become infected by the deceitfulness of sin. At the root of sin is the deception that life works best without God, and drives us toward idolatrous, self-serving ways of pursuing relationship and impact. Longings for relationship and impact are the most crucial and fundamental of all our longings and they dominate the deepest part of our personality. They are at the very core of our being. It is impossible to live with this emptiness inside. We are desperately looking to have these longings fulfilled, and the whole of our life is about finding ways and means of doing so.
These longings are entirely legitimate. It’s the way God made us. However, due to our foolish thinking, our sinful bias against God, every single person’s story is about illegitimate ways of trying to fulfil these longings. Despite the fact that God alone can fulfil our longings for relationship and impact, we deliberately choose to go it alone believing that we can do it without him.
The way we go about this is linked to our idolatrous beliefs – the things we have come to believe will meet our fundamental longings for relationship and impact. We have been redeemed by Christ, set free from sin’s penalty and delivered from sin’s power over us. But we still have to do battle against the flesh. We tend to find sin enticing, and must rely daily on the Holy Spirit to enable us to turn from our old ways of thinking, choosing and acting. Learning to embrace the new ways of thinking, choosing and acting, means that the pursuit of holiness of life is essentially a positive experience.
This process can only take place as we live the new creation life (2 Corinthians 5:17). Learning to embrace the new ways of thinking, choosing and acting, means that the pursuit of holiness of life is essentially a positive experience. We turn from sin and embrace the lifeaffirming ways of Christ. But the process of growing in maturity, moving away from sin and moving closer to the Father, is a life-long process. At times, it is also painful, confusing and difficult.
The Holy Spirit directs us to the presence and power of Christ. He attracts us, encourages us, corrects us and, most important of all, leads us into closer relationship with the Father and the Son.
The battle against sin is not a futile one. We are going to win!
We still have to deal with our sinful desires, despite being new creations in Christ. James says that we are tempted to sin because we are drawn away by our enticing desires (James 1:14). Sin still clings closely, ensnaring us and, therefore, hindering us as we run the race of faith (Hebrews 12:1). Some run fast, some make slow progress, but we all do battle with sin on a daily basis. This quotation from Calvin, the 16th Century reformer, puts it well, Let us not cease to do the utmost that we may persistently go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair because of the smallness of our accomplishment. Though we fall short, our labour is not lost if this day surpasses the preceding one.
(The Golden Book of Life, John Calvin). People who are struggling with sin in any of its subtle and pernicious forms need the encouragement of Scripture to assure them that they are going to make it. God is going to finish what he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). His faithfulness will ensure that we will end our journey thoroughly sanctified and blameless in spirit, soul and body at the coming of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24). The battle against sin is not a futile one. We are going to win! We all should reflect deeply on what is happening inside us when we are struggling against sin. Why is it that the things which we know are harmful, destructive and displeasing to the Lord are the very things that we are drawn to do? Why do we find many things that God so clearly calls sin, so pleasing, attractive and apparently fulfilling? We know in our minds that God’s way is right and good, but we do not seem able to connect with these facts deep in our hearts, and so the struggle goes on.
This is not just about our struggle with the “gross” sins that everybody will instantly recognise as wrong. Sometimes we overlook signs within us that not everything is as it should be. There is something going on that prevents us from fully engaging with God and other people or developing the rich relationships that are the hallmark of spiritual maturity. God’s way is for us to face what is really going on inside us and find his answers to the deep issues of the heart.
Every Christian who reflects for a moment on what is happening inside will find things to puzzle over.
In his book Understanding People Christian psychologist Larry Crabb lists some common questions some people might be asking about their inner life:
• Why am I uncomfortable when meeting new people?
• Why am I jealous of the success of others, especially those in my field?
• What do I do with the terrible pain I feel whenever I remember my mother’s suicide?
• How do I cope with the awful fact that my father was too weak ever to love me, to be there for me?
• What am I supposed to do with my deep desire to be a woman because I am so scared of being a man?
• How do I handle my terrible fear that if I ever expressed how I really feel, no one would really want me?
• Why do I feel so threatened when someone successfully proves that I’ve been wrong about something?
• Why do I not want to admit my internal struggles?
So, where do we go from here? We retreat to the side-lines, giving up the spiritual battle, never finding the abundant life that Christ promises and the true joy and power of the gospel. Or, we choose to deal only with surface issues, the things that are most obvious to others, and bury the rest beneath the veneer of acceptable forms of outward behaviour.
Neither of these options faces the reality of what is happening inside us and both foster a sub-Christian experience, leading ultimately to brokenness and defeat.God’s way is for us to face what is really going on inside us and find his answers to the deep issues of the heart. He does not want us to be squeezed into the conformity of this world, but to break out of the mould and be transformed by the renewing of the mind.
At the root of all our sin lies the false beliefs we have adopted as to where and how we might find fullness. We know theoretically that fullness is found in Christ alone, but we are held back by the sinful desires produced by our wrong beliefs about where true satisfaction is found. When we deal with these beliefs held at the core of our personality we can begin to learn to obey God, trusting that he will come through for us. That way, we grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord in ways we previously thought impossible.
NEW COUNSELLING COURSE
It seems that many Christians are deeply unhappy with their spiritual lives. If we are satisfied with Christ why do we show all the signs of dissatisfaction in our souls? We try to hide it, but our discontentedness surfaces in our anger, anxiety, depression, resentment and frustration. It is seen in our jealousy, criticism, unforgiveness, low self-esteem and hurt. It is visible in our defensiveness, competitiveness and super spirituality. We long for the blessings of God, but our lives revolve around the interests of self and not the kingdom tasks he entrusted to us (Matthew 28:18-20).
Renewing the mind is the cornerstone of Level III Counselling, and indeed for all spiritual growth. This principle is highlysignificant for bringing deep, lasting and satisfying change in our lives. Since we are motivated to go in the direction we believe our needs will be met we can only be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Confrontation of sin and exhortation to obedience is not enough. There must be profound repentance, a change of mind concerning our deeply-rooted beliefs.
First, we must reconsider where we truly believe our deepest longings can be satisfied. If we continue in the assumptions that were forged in the futile thinking of our unbelief, the Christian life will never be the life-affirming experience God promises. Forsaking the broken cisterns we have hewn for ourselves, we must return to the Lord the fountain of living waters (Jeremiah 2:13).
Returning to the Lord begins with understanding that the Life we long for is found only in Christ. The empty core at the depth of our being can only be filled by Christ. Once we understand this we begin to look to God and God alone to satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. We hear afresh what God requires of us and by faith obey out of love for him. We deny our old “self” that “life” rooted in our old sinful beliefs, and choose to follow Christ, believing that the Life we seek really is in him.