This month I’m returning to some counseling themes on Contemplations. After all, to address the world of professional counseling is why I established this blog in the first place. In particular I want to discuss counseling from a Christian perspective. I have written about that perspective before here, here, and here. Some time has passed since I published those blogs, and I have come to realize how experiences that life throws at us shape our understanding of and our relationship with God.
The providence of God is something that must be trusted. No finite and fallible human being can fully comprehend it, figure it out, or explicate it. When human beings even try to do so, they cross a barrier that is not theirs to cross. Providence is an attribute of God in which we rest rather than know fully. It hopefully leads us to more prayer with God. Knowing that God is in control of all things helps us develop perseverance as we face the aftermath of certain experiences. And it helps us develop that thing called patience, an attribute that seemingly always alludes our grasp. It is meant to bring us peace, not total comprehension.
An experience that life threw at me occurred on October 9th, 2020. I got up that Friday morning and came to realize that sometime during the night while sleeping I had experienced a cerebellum stroke. My life took a different turn at that point. (I have written some about that experience here.) My stroke cast me on God’s mercy. And it definitely has had an impact upon my faith. And I still have a long way to go in facing what my life will be like in the future.
Providence and Prayer
At first glance providence and prayer appear diametrically opposed to one another. If God is providential over all that will occur, then why pray for particular outcomes in our lives? Such tensions are replete throughout Scripture. On the one hand, God’s eternal existence cannot be contained by space and time. On the other hand, the space-time continuum is where human beings live out their daily existence. Throughout Scripture we are exhorted to pray and meditate on God’s word. Both prayer and reading Scripture are pathways to knowing God. Prayer in particular is personal communication with God. God knows we are needy, and he exhorts us to place our needs before his throne of grace. The providence of God is that in which I rest; prayer allows me to develop a personal relationship with a providential God. As much as anything else in our lives, God is providential over our prayers. Moreover, our prayers are answered by God. In other words, God hears and responds to our prayers. Rather than a contradiction, God’s providence is an open invitation to constant communication with God.
Providence & Perseverance
The dictionary provides us with varied nuances of definition for the word perseverance. The following comes from dictionary.com: to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty and discouragement; to continue steadfastly. All three of these definitions relate well to the Christian faith, but I particularly like the second one. The early church faced constant persecution and believers encountered daily challenges to their faith. In more than one epistle the Apostle Paul exhorted the church to persist in the cause of Christ in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming odds. Paul viewed even his several imprisonments as God working out his providential plan for the church. Because of God’s providence, Paul did not falter in his apostolic duties, and he did not want believers to become discouraged among the churches to which he ministered. Throughout Scripture we read how various individuals viewed what appeared as tragic circumstances as falling under God’s providence. Joseph in the Book of Genesis is a prime example. If we take a close hard look at the political landscape today and its response to the church, we can easily recognize that the culture in which we live is still at odds to the cause of Christ. Knowing that God is in control of everything allows us to persevere in a fallen world that is not friendly to the message of Christ. So yes, we as believers in Christ are to continue steadfastly and maintain our purpose in building up the church. I realize that this steadfastness is easier said than done. To take captive every sphere of life to the cause of Christ requires that we strongly trust in a providential God who will grant us the strength to persevere toward our purpose in Christ.
Providence & Patience
Providence and patience appear to be the most logically connected attributes one can imagine. Yet many people will claim that as a personal character trait, patience is on the bottom of their list. Galatians 5, however, lists patience as a fruit of the Spirit. I have to admit that across my seventy-three years on this earth, patience is a fruit that I haven’t cultivated very well. The importance of harvesting this fruit of the Spirit is seen in the fact that impatience is actually a lack of trust in God’s providence over our lives. Having been hit by a cerebellum stroke, being wheelchair bound, and facing other challenges like testing positive for COVID are experiences that have taught me the importance of patience even though I haven’t cultivated it the way that I would like. Going back to prayer, patience is something for which I pray while at the same time acting as though I really don’t want it. When connected with providence, however, patience is simply letting God be God in our lives. It is our being still and letting God be God. Patience entails our waiting on God and letting him work out the details of our lives. It involves our learning how God does in fact work in our lives. All of this is so much easier said than done that to simply say to someone be patient is so much shallow nonsense. For one to have the patience to abide in God’s providence, one must cultivate his or her relationship with God. Because I believe that patience is one of the most difficult fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives, I think it is one of the most important to develop. I have come to expect that we will continue to face daily challenges and difficulties in this life that throw us back onto trusting God’s providence in our lives. This will be true even post stroke and other major challenges that life throws at us. Providence calls us to enter God’s rest, to be still and quiet, and to wait on God’s working in our lives. Patience as a fruit of the Spirit requires true wisdom as discussed in the Book of Proverbs that comes with a deep relationship with God.
Providence & Peace
Jesus Christ is our peace. This was announced on the night of his birth. In Christ God has been propitiated and his wrath turned away from us because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe in him. Through Christ, we have been brought near to God. We are no longer enemies of God, but we have been reconciled to him. We are justified before God by our faith in Christ. And we are redeemed through the work of Christ on the cross and by the power of his resurrection. Therefore, those of us who were once at enmity with God now through Christ are at peace with God. God’s plan of salvation is the ultimate example of God’s providential concern for humankind on the earth. But he is also providential in our sanctification, our day-to-day lives with all its blessings, struggles, and hardships that we undergo. If God is providential over our lives, we can enter his rest and find peace in the truth that he is working out our sanctification and spiritual growth through all we encounter in life. Our peace is grounded in God’s unchanging character – his grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. For example, on my part, I have to trust his providential working regarding my stroke. I may come to understand that to a larger or smaller degree, or perhaps not much at all. If the latter, I must trust that whether or not I understand the why of my stroke, that it falls within God’s providence and his loving concern. Demanding that God answer all our questions about the difficulties that befall us will only disturb our peace. For our peace comes by resting in his providence.
When we face hardships in life, we all want them resolved as quickly as possible. Christian clients enter counseling with the same hopes as anyone facing difficult challenges in life. Although not a popular position, I believe the focus for Christian counseling should be engaging clients to develop their relationship with God. This is not, however, at the expense of also focusing on the concerns that clients bring into the counseling room. This is a both-and process, not an either-or decision. As individuals develop their relationship to God, knowing God on a deep level becomes the foundation for future life challenges that clients will face. The desire for a quick fix of life’s problems tends to draw us away from resting in God’s providence. The desire for immediate relief clashes with our need to be patient. Moreover, it robs us of our peace because when quick fixes don’t work, we easily become embittered, angry, and frustrated. Impatience tends to interfere with our prayer life because we begin to think what’s the use; prayer isn’t helping. An overwhelming desire for a quick resolution of life’s challenges also interferes with our ability to persevere. This is not to say that some personal concerns do not lend themselves to shorter resolution than others. But major life challenges tend not to be of the kind that can be quickly resolved. Resting in God’s providence means signing on for the long haul, if not now then sometime in the future. Even though we can’t totally comprehend it, having some insight into God’s providence produces wisdom, which will provide a firm foundation for facing life’s challenges and working through them in a productive manner.
John V. Jones, Jr. Ph.D., LPC-S/ March 14th, 2021