And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. – Mark 10:21-22 (ESV)
A few weeks ago a counselee of mine asked why I won’t counsel another way. I understood what she was asking. Since then, I have thought about her query nearly every day.
She discerned a death feel to my counseling and she was struggling. Though she does not disagree with my counseling approach, she did feel compelled to share her internal angst with me.
It was not that she wanted me to change my counseling style. She needed to audibly acknowledge what she is going to have to do in order to find true freedom. I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard this often.
Please tell me something different
Often in counseling a person will say, “You have not told me anything I did not already know.” Sometimes I think people come to me hoping there is another answer or an easier way.
They come to me and I tell them what they already know and sometimes in a last ditch effort of avoidance, they ask a question they already know the answer to: Can you counsel another way?
At one level of their hearts they want to know if there is another path to freedom–a different path than death. Their query is proffered in a half-hearted way because they know the truth.
My friend was really saying in an odd way that she agreed with what needed to be done, but she was struggling to walk through death’s door in order to find the most successful life a person can experience.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. – Luke 9:23-24 (ESV)
I would have loved to give her seven habits for highly effective people so she could apply those habits to her life and live happily ever-after.
Recently a parent came to me asking how to change the behavior of his son. He had put him on restriction. He took away his cell phone. He scared off his friends. Still yet, his son was not changed into something the parent could accept.
This loving parent was taking a legalistic approach toward changing his kid. I could not go along with his counseling approach. I could not counsel his way. I needed to share with him a harder way–a more biblical way.
Though the kid needed to change some of his behaviors, he needed to be changed at the level of his heart. No matter how hard the parent forced new behaviors on the child, he was not going to be righteous. Only God could do what the parent was trying to manipulate.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. – 1 Corinthians 3:6 (ESV)
Not only was the child going to have to die to himself, but the parent was going to have to die too. This is hard counseling. What loving parent wants to watch his son walk off a cliff, plummeting into self-destruction.
He wanted to save his child from future horror. He wanted to do what I want to do with my children, but I know I can’t accomplish. I can love them. I can warn them. I can take things from them. But I can’t change them.
These are hard truths to hear, but it is the only way I can counsel. Even Jesus felt the helplessness of this counseling approach. In His humanity, He could not save the ones He loved.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! – Matthew 23:37 (ESV)
There is only one right way to counsel a person: ask them to die. Each person will have to make a choice as to whether they want to die to themselves. This is why Jesus could not counsel the rich young man any other way.
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” – Mark 10:21 (ESV)
Jesus offered death counseling because He loved this man. I counsel this way because I love you. It is a matter of conscience. I would be sinning against my conscience if I counseled any other way. My friend was hoping against hope that I would give her some tips to help her marriage.
And I did give her some tips, but they came with a huge caveat: if you don’t change your heart as it pertains to your husband, then these behavioral tips will not give you what you want.
The call of Christ on our lives is deeper than behavioral modification. While the Bible can give us some wonderful things to do as far as how we practically live in our relationships, if we are not changed from the inside out, then we really haven’t changed at all.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 7:21 (ESV)
Let me be brutally honest (and transparent)
From 1987 to 1990 my ex-wife repeatedly committed adultery in our marriage. She left me in 1988 and took our two children with her. They were 6 and 4-years old at the time.
No doubt, I needed practical help in order to learn how to cope with this catastrophic loss in my life. I was in my second year of Bible college and the LORD turned my world on its head.
Prior to the beginning of the adultery in 1987, my oldest brother was brutally murdered by someone. The police in our town did not press charges because they felt it was one less bad person off the streets and no one really cared anyway.
In 1997 my second oldest brother was also brutally murdered. His death was at the hands of his wife. Within 10 years I lost two brothers, one wife, and two children. This does not include being reared by a physically and verbally drunk father who hated me.
The reason I counsel the way I do is because I know there is no practical way to work through pain without giving up the most precious thing in your life. The thing I’m talking about is your life.
Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. – Proverbs 16:3 (ESV)
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. – Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
Christians are some of the most disappointed and depressed people you will ever meet. I used to be one of these people. The reason I lived in a self-pitying, whiney, depressed, grumbly, and complaining condition is because I did not want to do what I knew I needed to do.
I knew I had to give up the rights to my life. This meant I was not going to get what I thought I should get no matter how hard I tried. It took me over four years to work through this. It did not come easy. It did not come without a fight.
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:11 (ESV)
The fight was between God and me. The battle was not between me and the man who murdered my brother or my sister-in-law who murdered my other brother or my wife who committed adultery and was rewarded our two children to boot.
Those were external matters where I needed practical help, but there is no practical help which was going to help me where I needed to change the most. I had to make a decision regarding my relationship with God.
Was He going to run my life or was I? Was I going to continue the tug-o-war battle with the LORD or was I going to die to my dreams, desires, and disappointments?
Was I going to continue the intellectually dishonest game which manifested by making my struggle about the people in my life? My struggle was not primarily about the people in my life. It was about God.
For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. – Job 23:14-15 (ESV)
My struggle was because God was not giving me what I wanted. At some level of my heart I knew God was sovereign and He could turn things the way I wanted them to be turned if He would only acquiesce to my demands (Proverbs 21:1).
Though I would not say it out loud, the truth about God’s sovereignty was resident in my soul. God could change the outcomes of my life, but He was choosing not to do this.
My friend who asked if I would counsel another way struggles with her husband. He is not all he should be and she is correct. She married him with the expectation of how things should be and those things did not turn out the way she planned.
For the record, her husband is in the same boat. She is not all he wanted her to be and he lives with a low-grade anger toward her. For the record, their story is my story and your story. None of us have received the life we expected.
We made our plans, but things went in another direction. Though there is a lot of would’ve, should’ve, could’ve in all of our lives, that is not where we should focus. Though we want God to change our circumstances, that is not where we should focus either.
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”
And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. – Luke 22:42-43 (ESV)
It all boils down to a simple, but life changing “not my will, but your will be done” acquiescence. It does not matter what you want. That is a secondary issue. The main question you must genuinely answer is whether or not you’re willing to lay down every desire you have and trust God.
My friend who asked me for another counseling option is torn between letting go of what she wants or claiming the death God is offering to her. Can’t you see how hard this is? I know you can.
God was calling me to let go of the dream of ever having a wife and family and to trust Him. God was calling me to let go of the bitterness regarding a childhood which would never be mine. God was calling me to let go of the hope of living with my brothers into old age.
My friends, the Gospel is the most counter-intuitive force which will ever confront you. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). His ways do not make sense at first or when it’s your turn to be sprawled out on Gethsemane’s floor while being asked to let go of your dream.
But I can tell you from personal experience, if you will let go of whatever it is you want but can’t have, God will give you something which will surpass anything you have ever imagined.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)
It is only when you give up your dream that you will be ministered to by God (Luke 22:43) and carried to a place of death (Matthew 16:24-26) which will not only change your life, but it will position you to be used by Him in amazing ways (Philippians 2:8-11).
If you want to read my journal from the season in my life where I lived through adultery and the loss of my two children, then get the book, Suffering: Stewarding God’s Most Feared Blessing.
I cannot counsel any other way because I know the only way you’re going to find what you’re looking for is through the door of death.
And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…