Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The next time someone says that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, point them to Judges 7. God’s instructing Gideon to take on over 100,000 enemy soldiers with just 300 fits in the “more than you can handle” category. Imagine how Gideon and his servant, Purah, must have felt trying to come to grips with a humanly impossible assignment.

Standing on the side of Mount Gilboa, Gideon gazed over the Valley of Jezreel, which sprawled beneath him northward toward the hill of Moreh. The valley was a sea of tents, teeming with more than 100,000 Midian warriors.

That morning, the Lord had judged Israel’s army of 32,000 too big to face Midian’s. Israel would think more highly of himself than he ought to think when God gave him victory. So Gideon had sent home whoever was afraid. When 22,000 hit the road, Gideon had to quiet his own fear. Now Israel was outnumbered ten-to-one. But God was with them and armies had overcome such odds before.

Oddly, the Lord considered these odds still too much in Israel’s favor. So in obedience to the Lord’s instruction, Gideon brought his small, thirsty army down to the spring of Harod. And he gave his servant, Purah, the strangest command of his brief military career: “Observe all the men as they drink. Have every man who laps his water like a dog stand off to the side.”

Gideon supervised the selection, but when so few were being chosen, he just let Purah finish the count and he climbed back up Gilboa to pray and survey.

It wasn’t long before Purah emerged from the trees. “So what’s the total?”

“Three hundred, sir,” said Purah.

Gideon chuckled to himself. “Three hundred.” He looked back toward the human hoard in the valley and was quiet for a moment. “That’s less than I expected.”

“Yes, sir,” said Purah. “But thankfully, three hundred doesn’t reduce our strength much.”

Gideon breathed deeply. “No, Purah. The three hundred are not the reductions. They’re the army. The others are the reductions.”

Purah stood dazed for a moment, staring at Gideon. “The three hundred are the army?”

Gideon nodded slowly, still looking into the Midian-infested Jezreel.

“But that’s not an army! That’s how many should be guarding an army’s baggage!”

Purah stepped up beside Gideon. Together they watched smoke columns rising from ten times more cooking fires than they now had warriors. Purah shook his head and said, “Even if we were all like the mighty men of old, three hundred could not overcome 100,000.” He paused. “And we aren’t mighty men.” Another pause. “And there’s more than a 100,000 down there.”

Both were silent for a while. In the quiet, the Lord spoke to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.

Then Gideon said to Purah, “During the exodus, how many mighty men did it take to destroy Egypt and its army or part the Red Sea?”

Purah thought briefly. “None.”

“How many did it take to tear down Jericho’s walls?”

“None.”

“How many did it take to feed two million of our people in the wilderness every day for forty years?”

“None. I get your point.”

“The mightiest are those who trust in the Lord and obey him, no matter how impossible things appear.”

“In our people’s history, the mightiest have not been the strong warriors,” Gideon said. “The mightiest have been those who trusted in the Lord and obeyed him, no matter how impossible things appeared. He has promised us that Midian will be defeated. He has chosen only three hundred of us. We will obey; he will act. And when Midian falls, it will be clear to everyone who felled him.” Then he looked at Purah and smiled. “Maybe the Lord just needs us to guard his baggage!”

Purah didn’t laugh. He only replied, “Should we dismiss the others?” Gideon nodded.

Later that night, in the tiny camp, Gideon lay praying. Every plan to mobilize 300 against 100,000 seemed ludicrous.

Suddenly, he was aware of the Presence. He sat up, his heart beating fast.

The Lord said, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant. And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.

Purah woke to Gideon’s nudge and whispered words, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Purah whispered back, getting up quickly.

“To the Midian camp, just you and me. The Lord has something he wants to show us.”

They quietly crept toward the nearest Midian outpost, veiled by the clouded sky, and saw two inattentive guards talking. Just as they got within earshot, one said, “I had a strange dream before being woken for duty tonight.”

“Tell me,” the other said.

“This cake of barley came tumbling into our camp, crashed into the tent, turned it over, and flattened it.”

The other guard looked at him alarmed and said, “I know what that means! The cake can be none other than Gideon, the son of Joash! God has given us all into his hand!”

Gideon and Purah looked at one another with the same stunned expression.

Cast Your Cares

With renewed faith, Gideon and Purah roused their mini army and launched a night attack. This threw the Midians into a panic and they slaughtered each other in confusion. It was a rout. Not one of Gideon’s three hundred perished in the battle. God gave them more than they could handle to force them to rely wholly on him.

“God gives us more than we can handle to force us to rely wholly on him.”

When we’re confronted with an impossible situation or trial, Gideon’s three hundred preach to us that “salvation . . . is from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39) and “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). These are no domesticated platitudes. God really intends for us to cast our all on these massive truths and for them to give us more-than-conquerors confidence and peace (Romans 8:37), no matter what we face.

It is not hyperbole to say that the defeat of our sin that Jesus accomplished on the cross dwarfs Gideon’s victory. Compared to overcoming God’s wrath against our sin, defeating 100,000 Midianites was very small. And if God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?

God certainly does give us more than we can handle. And he does it “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). If you’re facing some overwhelming adversary or adversity and you wonder how God could possibly deliver and work it for your good (Romans 8:28), then take heart. He is granting you the joy of experiencing the reality of Judges 7, Romans 8, and 2 Corinthians 1.

SOURCE:  Stacey Reaoch/Desiring God

This past fall my husband had the privilege of going to Turkey to speak at a conference for Christian workers. Although I was excited for his opportunity, I was also feeling somewhat hesitant with the terrorist activity in nearby Syria. Thanks to modern technology, we planned to FaceTime every day to keep in close touch with each other.

One day during that week, our appointed time to connect went by with no contact from my husband. Maybe he’s just running late, I reasoned. I looked for text messages . . . negative. I checked to make sure my ringer was turned up loud enough . . . affirmative. Maybe he’s deep in conversation with someone. . . . But as the minutes turned into hours, fear began to seize me. Unfortunately, I learned of terrorists near the Turkey border as I began watching world news reports.

As fear began to consume me, every worst possible situation played out in my head. Had terrorists overcome the conference and taken captives? What would I do? My mind went through multiple scenarios: explaining to our children what had happened, looking for a job to support our family, and wondering whether to sell the house. By the time my husband was finally able to call, I had already decided where to move and how much to sell the house for. Come to find out, he was just fine.

Fear Feeds Irrationality

“During our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us.”

When fear seizes you, all your ability to think rationally evaporates. Life becomes overwhelming, and the promises of God are thrown out the window. When Moses sent the spies into Canaan to gather information for the people of Israel, fear of the looming giants became much more visible than any of the blessings Canaan had to offer. Although they obediently gathered fruit from the land, their report focused on all the seemingly impossible obstacles they faced.

“We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:27–28). As the spies exaggerated and gave the worst report possible, they compared themselves to grasshoppers and claimed the land would devour them (Numbers 13:32–33).

This fearful exaggeration infected the Israelites who succumbed to crying and grumbling against Moses and Aaron, and it even led them to claim they wish they’d died in the wilderness (Numbers 14:2–3)!

It seems Israel forgot God’s promise to give them the land of Canaan, despite the obstacles that looked so intimidating. “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel” (Numbers 13:2). If the Israelites had truly trusted God’s promise, even their enemies in Canaan shouldn’t have been a threat to them. God was going to give Israel the Promised Land, just as he’d said to Abraham hundreds of years before. And during our moments of fear and panic, God is whispering promises to us too.

Fighting Off Fear

When fear begins to creep in and all the “what-if” situations begin to consume your mind, here are seven things to remember:

1. God’s truth. Is what I’m thinking about really happening? Or is it just my imagination running wild? Paul reminds us to dwell on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).

“We can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.”

2. God’s presence. We can be comforted remembering that we are not alone. God is with us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

3. God’s grace. God promises to provide us with his all-sufficient grace for every trial that comes our way. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” Jesus told Paul. And therefore, with Paul, we can “boast all the more gladly of [our] weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon [us]” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

4. God’s sovereignty. God is in control over every situation in our lives. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

5. God’s listening ear. Pour out your heart to God in prayer. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).

6. God’s trustworthiness. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” (Psalm 56:3–4).

7. God’s big picture plan. No matter how awful this trial may seem, God promises to use everything together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). We may not see the good in our situation at the time, but we can trust God has a hidden smile behind the dark cloud.

So, when your child is diagnosed with cancer, or you just learned of a loved one in a car accident, or your husband comes home with news that he was let go from his job, prepare yourself for battle. Don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. Fight him off with the promises of God’s word and his unchanging character.

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

When we are insecure, our first reaction to change is almost always negative. We resist change. This can be particularly true of veterans with a military past who have moved away, moved around, seen hard and difficult things, and then returned home again.

Resisting change seldom works because change is inevitable. It’s going to happen whether we like it or not. You can’t stop growth. You can’t stop change. Sometimes we resent it. And sometimes we just ignore it, pretend it doesn’t exist and we resent it.

The older we get, the more we want security and anything that shakes our comfortable nest threatens us. We don’t like that. We don’t like things to be unpredictable. We don’t like things to change. We want to know exactly where it’s going. We want everything to be programmed, right in place. If anything comes up that is a surprise, we resent it, because it gives us that feeling of uncertainty. So we complain and criticize and we gripe and we grumble.

Change always produces stress. Even positive changes. Negative things like an illness or death, divorce, getting fired from your job, or uprooting your family to move to a new location cause stress. But even positive change causes stress: a wedding, a baby, a graduation, a promotion, a personal achievement. Any kind of change — positive or negative — can cause stress in your life.

We might begin to wonder, is there anything permanent in life? Yes, there is. Hebrews 13:8 says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

While everything else is changing, he remains changeless. All that Jesus Christ was yesterday that we read about in the Bible, he is today. And all that he is today, he will be tomorrow. And Jesus Christ is already in your future. God is not limited by time. He’s past, present, and future. When you get in the future, he’s going to already be there. That’s comforting because I know whatever change I go through, he’s going to be there ahead of me.

You will never fear the future if you’ll remember and focus on three unchangeable facts about Christ, about God. If you’ll build your life on these three things, you’ll have no problem coping with change. You’ll have no problem dealing with the fear of the future. These things are unchanging. They never change. They’re immovable. They cannot be shaken.

1. God’s love for you will never change.

Jeremiah 31:3 says, I have loved you with an everlasting love. It is permanent, so you can build your life on it. God’s love for you will never change. When the winds of change are blowing everything away and everything’s being uprooted, we need little rocks that we can hold onto. The love of God is the first rock you hold onto when change comes.

2. God’s Word will never change.

God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So you build your life on God’s Word. Psalm 1:19 says, For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven.

The fact of the matter is, the Bible, God’s Word, has stood the test of time. It has managed to stay, in spite of all the cultural changes and all the differences for thousands of years. And it’s still relevant. It has been attacked by dictators, ridiculed by critics, burned, and outlawed. But it’s outlasted all those people. It is permanent.

3. God’s ultimate purpose will never, never change.

He has a plan. He is working it out. The fact of the matter is that God is at work in human history. He has an ultimate plan for the history of man. Success is discovering what God made me for — God’s plan for my life — and getting right in the center of it — living in harmony with God’s plan which never changes and God’s Word which never changes and God’s plan which never changes.

You cannot control your future, but you can put your trust in the things that are certain.

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

I’m a huge proponent of moving forward. I’ve never been a fan of remaining in the past.

This could be because I’ve had some past I’d rather not remember.

It could be because I am very forward-thinking.

Either way, and it’s probably the first, I’d prefer to reconcile the past, make the most of it, and get on with my life.

Bottom line, however, is that there are really a few choices when it comes to dealing with your past.

Here are 5 ways to deal with your past:

Forget it – If you choose to and you are really skilled, you can block all memory of the past from your mind. In extreme settings, I have seen people do this naturally, but I must admit, it’s rare. And, because I believe we learn from mistakes, I wouldn’t even recommend it.

Misuse it – You can twist the past for your benefit – gain sympathy, make people feel sorry for you, and use it as a personal advantage. You could be a martyr. The people who choose this option, in my experience, are usually as phony as the story they share. It’s often hard to trust them.

Ignore it – You can pretend your past never happened. You can make up your own version of your past, make it prettier and live in a false reality. With the people I’ve seen do this it seems you never really know the true person behind the stories they tell. They are always hiding a part of themselves.

Excuse it – You can blame every bad decision you ever made on someone else or every future mistake you make on your past. After all, it was “his” fault”, right? I’ve known people with this excuse who never own up to responsibility – and they always seem to find a reason for not doing so. They never take ownership of their actions.

Use it – In my humble opinion, as one with plenty of brokenness in my story, the best way to deal with your past is to use it for a greater good. How could your story benefit someone else? How could God use your brokenness to bless others? What have you learned, which others need to hear? Let your past help build your — or someone else’s — brighter future.

I’m not pretending this will be easy. It will probably involve hard decisions and choices such as forgiveness, confession, and being vulnerable with people. But, the reward for allowing God to use your past for a greater good and being freed from the weight of your past will be worth it.

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

Many of our biggest mistakes in life can be traced to handling disappointment in unwise ways. In times when we’re emotionally low, it’s easy to slip back into the habits that wreaked havoc on our lives in the past. Sometimes, we just need better coping mechanisms!

Here are five simple steps for dealing with frustrations in your life, based on the Bible.

1.  Ask yourself, “Did I cause it?”

The Bible says, “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7 NIV). Many things in life frustrate us because we brought them on ourselves. We don’t have anybody else to blame.

It’s frustrating to run out of gas on a trip. But if you didn’t stop to get gas before you left, or decided to push your luck, who’s to blame?

2.  Ask yourself, “What can I learn from it?”

Use the irritation as an opportunity to grow in character and become more like Christ.

How does God produce the fruit of the Spirit in your life? He places you in the opposite situation. If God wants to teach you love, he will put you around unlovely people. If God wants to teach you peace, he will put you in a situation of total chaos so you can have inner peace.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . ” (NIV). There are many bad things in the world, but all things work together and even the negative God can turn into a positive if we will let him.

3.  Thank God in the situation.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks” (NKJV). You don’t have to be thankful for a bad situation. But you can be thankful in a bad situation. That frustration, that irritation, that inconvenience, that interruption, may be a blessing or an opportunity in disguise.

The apostle Paul wanted to go to Rome to preach, but God took him to Rome to be in prison and write the letters that formed the New Testament. Paul was frustrated, but God saw it as an opportunity to make him sit still long enough to write the Bible.

4.  Turn the frustration into a funny, humorous event.

The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine”  (Proverbs 17:22 NIV). A sense of humor is God’s antidote for anger and frustration.

5.  Ask God to fill you with his love.

Why? Because 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, [Love] is not easily angered” (NIV).  Love is self-giving, not self-serving. We get irritated because we think everyone and everything has to revolve around us. Love concentrates on the other person.

Jesus faced constant frustrations in his life, but he always made time for people. We get so preoccupied with our own things; we forget that people are the priority in life.

“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3 NIV).

SOURCE:  Terry Gaspard/Gottman Institute

Ben and Alicia are both waiting for the other person to change. I see it all the time in my private practice.

“I’ve been miserable for years,” complains Ben. “I’ve asked Alicia to give me space, but things don’t appear to be changing. It feels like I can’t breathe.”

“Ben has his friends over every weekend,” Alicia reflects. “He doesn’t consider my needs and I feel so alone.”

If you want your partner to change, start by accepting them for who they are. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Instead of criticizing your partner, remind yourself of all of the things you appreciate about them, and share those things with them. Be genuinely interested in learning about why they see or do something differently than you, and be open to respecting and even celebrating what makes each of you unique.

Of course, there are some things that should never be tolerated in a relationship, like abuse, addiction, or infidelity. These behaviors should be addressed in a loving and direct way with the help of a professional. Even in those cases, it is possible to accept the person even if you do not accept their behavior.

Vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand

What Ben and Alicia don’t realize is that they aren’t really arguing about the amount of time they spend together. The underlying issue in their marriage is that neither partner is able to express their needs in a non-blameful way.

They had never discussed what alone time and time together meant to each of them. By talking about this in my office, Ben finally understood Alicia’s fear of being alone. His understanding led him to carve out time to spend together on the weekends.

Couples seeking a deeper emotional connection need to understand that vulnerability and intimacy go hand in hand. In other words, intimacy can only occur when partners are vulnerable enough to share their deepest hopes, fears, and dreams without judgement.

Change starts with you

Do you spend more time questioning your partner’s words or actions than examining your own? Blaming your partner can feel good in the moment, but it’s dangerous because it can lead to anger and resentment.

Conflict is not a bad thing in relationships. After watching thousands of couples in his lab for over 40 years, Dr. Gottman discovered a simple truth: all couples argue. The difference between the couples that stay together and the ones who divorce is the way they repair after conflict. The Masters of relationships take responsibility for their role in the issue and change their own behavior.

Dr. Gottman explains, “The couples that don’t repair those hurts end up with festering wounds that grow bigger day by day, the month, and the year until they finally break the couple apart. Repair is absolutely crucial in any kind of relationship, particularly intimate relationships.”

Here are four things you can do instead of trying to change your partner that can change your relationship for the better.

1. Be a better partner
Many people stay in bad relationships with the desire to change their partner. In Marriage Rules, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes, “If you don’t change your part in a stuck pattern, no change will occur. Change comes from the bottom up: that is from the person who is in the most pain, or who has the least power, or who has lost or compromised too much in the relationship.”

2. Focus on the issues at hand
When you focus on changing your partner, you miss the opportunity to work together to come up with a solution. You’re no longer on the same team. Instead, focus on the issues at hand to meet both of your needs.

Anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration, so speak in I statements and focus on expressing your feelings in a vulnerable way that invites your partner to understand your pain, rather than pushes them away.

3. Take responsibility
We are responsible for how our words and actions make our partner feel. Apologize to your partner by taking responsibility for the problem, even just a small piece, and this will validate their feelings, promote forgiveness, and allow you both to move on.

4. Complain without blame
In Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, Dr. Gottman explains that criticizing your partner is one of The Four Horsemen that predicts divorce. It is different from offering a critique or voicing a complaint. A criticism attacks the core of a person’s character while a complaint focuses on a specific behavior.

Successful couples remember to give each other the benefit of the doubt and consider that they are both doing the best they can. In The Science of Trust, Dr. Gottman advices couples to talk about their feelings in terms of a positive need, instead of what they do not need. By being good friends, you can build a healthy bond that will help you repair and navigate challenging moments together.

There is a saying to be the change you wish to see in the world. Gandhi advises us, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.” I believe this to be true in relationships as well.

Instead of trying to change your partner, be the change you wish to see in your relationship.

SOURCE:  Joshua Straub

A few months ago, I spoke at an event on the principles of emotional safety, where a representative from the National Organization of Victim’s Assistance (NOVA) happened to be in attendance. Since then, we’ve been working together on a few projects and becoming good friends.

The mission of NOVA is to champion dignity and compassion for those harmed by crime or crisis. They work quite frequently on behalf of abuse victims.

One evening, my friend and I were carpooling back to our hotel from an event and I asked him a personal question.

As a dad,” I began, “how can I best protect my kids from sexual abuse?

Here are seven answers he gave me.

1.   Have surprises but don’t keep secrets. We don’t keep secrets in our house. We only have surprises. Think about it, secrets are never told. Surprises are always revealed. If I take our kids to get their mommy a birthday present, we’re not keeping it a secret from her; we’re getting her a surprise that will be revealed on her birthday.

Most child predators tell children that the acts are to be kept a secret between the two of them. If secrets are not allowed in your family, it’s unlikely for your child to buy in to someone asking them to keep something secret.

2.   Over 90% of perpetrators are people we love and trust. Aunts. Uncles. Stepmoms. Stepdads. Grandparents. Moms. Dads. Coaches. Teachers. Pastors. Family friends. Be vigilant of who your children are spending time with—or who wants to spend time with them.

3.   Trust your child’s instincts. If your child is skittish towards a relative or friend, don’t push or force him to like and trust that person. Too often we assume that since we trust that individual, our child should too. Allow trust to happen naturally over time and under your supervision. There could be a legitimate reason for your child’s apprehension of an individual. Don’t force it.

4.   Use the appropriate names for private parts. It’s not a “willy,” a “pee-pee,” or a “dingy.” Teach your son he has a penis. The same is true for our daughters. Calling a vagina by its proper name is important because sexual predators often use “cutesy” names to lure children. They need to learn the appropriate terms. If your children know the names of their private parts, they can more accurately, and with no confusion, tell you if it hurts or if someone touched that area inappropriately.

5.   Teach them the appropriate situations for private parts to be seen. Just as they need to be told the appropriate ways to speak to others, use a fork, or share toys, our kids need to learn the appropriate situations for private parts to be seen and touched by others. For the most part, this shouldn’t go beyond bath time at home with mom or dad or an examination at the doctor’s office.

6.   If your children ask questions, answer them. Don’t ignore or deflect questions they have about their penis or vagina. Our children are curious about everything, including their body parts. Ignoring their questions or concerns will only increase their curiosity and, at worst, lead to feelings of shame about their body, as if it’s something they shouldn’t discuss. Age-appropriately, answer their questions. Knowledge is power.

7.   They don’t have to hug and kiss everybody. There’s always the overzealous aunt or grandma in the family who wants to pinch cheeks and plaster lipstick all over our children. Many times we comply and force our poor kids to do this. If your child doesn’t want to give hugs and kisses to family members, neighbors, or friends, respect that boundaries and don’t force them. Lord knows, you probably don’t want to hug and kiss them either.

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