Words are a window through which what we worship is often revealed.
Put another way, spoken thoughts are the pathway of discovering what is treasured deep down in the heart. Thus, before we seek to speak the truth about God and his Word into the life of others, we must first actively listen to what their words reveal (Prov 23:7). Spoken thoughts reveal our character as well as with what we are consumed (Matt 12:34; 6:19-21) Our words reveal our thoughts. Our thoughts reveal our treasures, or that which we love, ascribe the greatest worth to, and pursue.
Ok, who cares? For starters, God cares! God cares about our hearts and the hearts of those who we dialogue with in casual or formal conversations. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “… for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Why is this? The answer is simple, yet profound. What rules the heart, regulates what flows forth from one’s life (Prov 4:23). Why vigilance in keeping the heart? Jesus answers that in Matthew 22:37 as He gives the great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Such an all consuming command is immediately followed up by a second command given by Jesus in Matthew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These words of Christ need desperately to be both heard and understood in our relativistic, overly tolerant, and psychologized culture. Note that Scripture does not contain a command to love yourself. We already do that way too much as exemplified in the countless and often creative ways in which we seek control over life circumstances, comfort through temporal possessions, and commendation from those with whom we want companionship.
As Christians, we must grasp the reality that to truly love others we must go beyond merely focusing on the externals. Doing others spiritual good goes beyond statements such as “Oh, I like your hair,” “That’s a cute outfit,” or “Nice polka-dot bowtie!” In his book Discipling, Mark Dever says that “discipling is deliberately doing spiritual good to someone so that he or she will be more like Christ… discipling really is just a bunch of church members taking responsibility to prepare one another for glory.”² Sorry to disappoint some, but since there will likely not be polka-dot bowties in heaven, how can we use our words to help others see how their own words are a window to the condition of their all-important souls?
As words are a window to the condition of one’s soul, then biblical counseling must maintain a healthy balance of listening and speaking. Listening leads to understanding, and understanding enables us to speak the truth in love that we may present one another mature in Christ (Eph 4:15; Col 1:28).
Practice active listening.
For counseling to be beneficial, it must address both the issues at hand as well as any underlying issues of the heart. Before we ever give counsel, we must first seek to understand the situation at hand (Prov 18:13). When someone is suffering from their own sin or from the various affects of sin in this fallen world, they may struggle to grasp how to deal with their situation as well as fail to grasp the promises and precepts of God’s Word. Helping such a person requires taking time to ask good questions. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out.” A man of understanding is one who knows God’s Word and learns how to ask good questions accordingly. As you meet with someone struggling, you might ask questions such as “What is the problem as you see it?,” “What have you done about it so far?,” “What would you like to see happen?,” and “What hope do you have concerning your situation?” The answers to questions such as these can be revealing on a number of levels.
Provide biblical instruction.
As we run to God in prayer, we open God’s Word through which the Holy Spirit might work on your unfriendly friend. The reality is that all personal sin is the result of wrong thinking. We think no one will see. We think it is no big deal. We think that our self-sacrifice elsewhere outweighs our self-indulgence in this “petty sin.” We think according to our own wisdom (which is applauded by the world) and thus reject the wisdom of God as revealed in his authoritative and sufficient Word. All the while failing to acknowledge that there is a fundamental flaw in our thinking, as spelled out in Jeremiah 17:9-10. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’” The heart is synonymous with the mind, or our thinking. Left to our own thinking, we are easily self-deceived. Our inner lawyer seeks to excuse our sinful actions. Yet v. 10 implies that God is not impressed or amused, and He certainly does not wink at our iniquities. So if we are easily self-deceived, then what hope is there for real change? Where is the objective standard by which we must measure our actions?
Real hope and real change are not found in psychotherapy or in a bottle, it is found in a person. His name: Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Do you see any change in this verse? Christ not only frees us from slavery to sin and changes our position from enmity to friendship with God, he also enables us to walk faithfully in the ongoing temptation of sin.
Promote prayerful application.
Becoming like Christ requires seeing oneself in light of God’s Word, which reveals the true condition of the soul (Matt 5:3, 4). Does not our sinful anger reveal distrust of God’s goodness and displeasure concerning his divine wisdom? Does not our anxiety question God’s ability to provide our every need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus? Does not our despair reveal our doubt that all things really do work together for the good of those who love God? Does not our complaining show contempt toward God, who through Christ has given us immeasurable and eternal blessings? Words of anger, anxiety, despair, complaining and so forth serve as a window into the soul. What lie is being believed? What idol is being served? What lust is being embraced?
May we exemplify and encourage others to pray the heartfelt words of Psalm 139:23-24, even as we call them to consider the condition of their souls as expressed through their words. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
A Case Study
Let’s say there is a husband who comes to you for help, and you ask the questions: “What is the problem as you see it?,” “What have you done about it so far?,” “What would you like to see happen?,” and “What hope do you have concerning your situation?” You find out that he struggles with anger — the dozens of holes he has punched in his sheetrock testify to it. He would like to stop getting so angry so much, but doesn’t think it is possible — unless his wife stops nagging him about taking out the trash and his children become self-parenting. He’s upset that the local anger management class is FULL, so he comes to you venting for help. What do you do? RUN! That is … run to God by putting on the whole armor of God in prayer (obviously you’ll need it). Having asked good questions, you should begin to see a pattern of thinking related to his anger. There might be certain idols that he doesn’t like anyone to mess with. It might be that he questions God’s goodness in light of his current circumstances (which might just happen to primarily be the consequences of his own sin). Once you have asked good questions and come to solid conclusions related to the issues at hand as well the issues of the heart, what next?
Provide biblical instruction.
Our angry man has been frequently overtaken with the common temptation of anger. Is there hope for him? YES! “God is faithful,” and in Christ provides all that is needed to put off unrighteousness and live in the righteousness of Christ. He needs to be taught how union with Christ enables him through the power of the Holy Spirit to put off anger and replace it with kindness and tenderheartedness (Eph 4:30-32). Not only can he change, but God’s Word exposes and instructs him in the ways in which he must change. If you are to do spiritual good for someone struggling with sin, you must ask good questions that will then allow you to take them to the truth of God’s Word and the hope found in Christ Jesus.
Here are some suggested questions that have proven helpful time and time again from the family room to the counseling room:
- What was going on? (SITUATION – Prov 18:13, 15, 17; Prov 20:5)
- What were you thinking/feeling? (HEART – Prov 23:7; Jer 17:9)
- What did you do in response? (BEHAVIOR – Prov 4:23)
- What did you want? (MOTIVE – Jas 4:1-3; Matt 6:21)
- What was the result? (CONSEQUENCES – Gal 6:7)
- What should be most important? (WORSHIP – Matt 22:37-39; 1 Cor 10:31)¹
These questions start with the issue(s) at hand and draw out the issue(s) of the heart, thus allowing us to once again to emphasize our great need for Christ (Matt 11:28; John 15:5).
Promote prayerful application.
Model how to pray Psalm 139:23-24,“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Challenge the angry man to consider the condition of his soul as expressed through their words and actions..
- Adapted from “Getting to the Heart of Parenting” DVD by Paul Tripp.
- Mark Dever, Discipling. pp. 13, 43.
Bryan Gaines is Pastor of Family Discipleship at Grace Community Church in Glen Rose, Texas. He regularly teaches classes to encourage and equip parents, works in the Student Ministry, leads an adult Care Group, and oversees Grace Preschool. Bryan also leads Grace Biblical Counseling, LLC. He is certified biblical counselor with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC, formerly NANC).