emotional problems woman hand on headMeet Sarah—
Sarah went through emotional trauma every time her husband left home to go to work. She felt like he was leaving her permanently, even though he had always come home. They had been married for 10 years yet she wrestled with these feelings each time he left home without her.

As I talked with her about her childhood, she told me that she was a quiet, shy child who mainly had been raised in rural areas. However, when she was about to enter junior high school, her father took a job in a big city. Because she was from the country, kids at school made fun of her, and she had a hard time fitting in. This was very traumatic, and she would go home crying every day. Her parents didn’t know what to do. They tried talking to her and coaching her. Eventually they told her that she must be doing something wrong or the other kids would like her. They took her to a counselor, and again, she got the message that there was something wrong with her. Nothing changed. In fact, the situation at school got worse.

Her parents finally decided to send her to boarding school in order to give her a new start. Off she went to try to fit in someplace else. But it didn’t work. Once again she felt like she didn’t fit in. Although she made a few friends, she still felt like the “odd person out.” But this time she had no family to rely on. Because her family did not have a lot of resources, Sarah could not see or talk with them very often. Even on holidays she often could not afford to go home and had to stay with a friend. Essentially, Sarah was on her own to take care of herself, cut off from her family. She felt like they had abandoned her.

Now, many years after college and marriage, she still felt abandoned every time her husband left for work. These feelings also affected her relationship with God. She felt that He was distant and unavailable, much like her parents. These experiences led to a whole set of emotional problems that Sarah needed to find some way to deal with.

Sarah is not unique. Everyone experiences emotional pain and problems to some degree. Becoming a Christian does not automatically cause those problems to go away. In fact, they typically get worse if they are not attended to.

There are many ways a Christian’s spiritual growth can be affected by unresolved emotional problems. Some Christians are unable to grow spiritually at all. Others are only able to grow to a certain point and then growth stops. There are some who grow to a point and then begin to regress. Still others grow, but their growth is slowed by their emotional problems. Emotionally based problems do not go away and, in fact, tend to gradually get worse until the person begins to deal with them. Commonly people in their teens and twenties have strong enough coping mechanisms to survive, but their lives and families begin to fall apart in their thirties and forties because of unresolved emotional issues.

Emotional problems tend to be confusing to both the person who is suffering from them and to those in the church that are trying to help. Historically, the church has often not known how to deal with these emotional problems and has focused on the present symptoms instead of the root causes of the problems. The root cause of many emotional problems is found in childhood when a child experiences pain and does not know how to deal with it. The pain remains unresolved and sets off a chain reaction of problems.

Unresolved pain in childhood leads to some predictable problems in a child’s life.

When emotional pain builds up in a child’s life and he has no way to deal with it, the pain becomes increasingly overwhelming. The child will adapt to survive. He has no choice. He must do something with the pain. Proverbs 15:13 states, “heartache crushes the spirit.” This is why the Scriptures admonish parents not to exasperate or embitter their children (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21).

Children are tender and vulnerable, and we need to take great care in how we relate to them. Parents need to provide a safe environment where their children can talk about their feelings.

child with hands on headIf a child is not able to process his emotions, there will be several negative results in his life. One result is that he may develop adaptations in order to survive. An adaptation a child often uses is addictions. An addiction is anything external that we focus on to avoid what is going on inside. An addiction distracts us from our pain by giving us another focus. Distracting addictions are things such as work, sports, reading, television or video games. Some addictions are mood altering. We use them to try to feel better: sex, food, drugs, spending or anything that gives us an adrenaline rush. Lastly, there are addictions that numb us like alcohol or sleep. Many people are poly-addicted and use whichever addiction is convenient at the time.

Another survival adaptation a child may use is to develop unhealthy defense mechanisms. When a child gets hurt on a regular basis, he often develops defense mechanisms to try to avoid getting hurt again. Typical defense mechanisms are denial, people-pleasing, isolating, conflict avoidance, etc.

What happens to the hurtful emotions that a child has but is not able to process? Do they go away? The answer is no. The child suppresses these negative emotions, another result of unresolved pain. When emotions are suppressed, they get stored in the child’s body in the form of stress. As internal stress builds up through childhood and continues to increase as an adult, it may cause problems such as physical illnesses, emotional explosions, depression, etc.

When hurtful things happen to a child and there is no one to help him make sense out of it, he will usually develop wrong thinking, again a result of unresolved pain. He may think that all people are unsafe, that the world is more dangerous than it is or that there is something wrong with him. He may develop those thoughts even further telling himself, “No one loves me”; “No one will protect me”; “I never do anything right”; “I cannot stop this.”

One common belief that children tend to develop, when enough bad things happen to them, is that there is something wrong with them. When they make a mistake, they feel like they are a mistake. They think they are broken and cannot be fixed. Once a child develops this way of thinking, it is very hard to rectify. The development of this is a shame-based identity, also a result of unresolved pain.

Sarah suffered to some degree from of all these problems. She, like any child, had to adapt to survive the pain that was building up in her life. Once she got to boarding school, she didn’t feel as if she had anyone to talk to about her life. Her earlier attempts to talk to her parents and a counselor ended with them accusing her of being the problem. So she just buried the pain on the inside and tried to manage it. She tried to stay busy. If she ever stopped, the powerful feelings she felt were uncomfortable and frightening. Her thinking about people and herself became quite distorted. She felt that there must be something wrong with her and that no one would want to be around someone like her. This led to fewer efforts to make friends and more isolation. Sarah’s life seemed to slowly become worse and worse.

Unresolved pain in childhood leads to additional problems in an adult’s life.

man stressful face When children have been injured in their childhood, they carry the unhealthy behaviors, internal stress and wrong thinking into their adult life, which causes more pain. Their injuries keep them immature and lead to unhealthy behavior and thinking. We see this in Sarah’s life. The problems in her childhood led to further and deeper problems as an adult. Her life will continue to spin out of control until she begins to address these problems.

There are several typical types of problems that adults will develop when there are problems from childhood. They will often have relational problems. Damage from childhood hinders a person’s ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. For example, if there were abusive relationships in a person’s past, he may unwittingly seek out similar relationships as an adult, because these kinds of relationships feel normal. A person may also become over-controlling because he is afraid of being hurt by others or very passive because he feels powerless to change anything in his life. He may be afraid to get too close to people because he is afraid of being found to be lacking in some way and being rejected.

It is also common for a Christian with these types of problems to have a poor relationship with God as well. All relationships are affected including our relationship with God. For example, emotional issues may lead to a distorted view of God or negative feelings toward Him. Children often project onto God the feelings they have toward their parents. If they felt their parents were distant, they may feel like God is distant. If their parents were extremely critical, they may feel that God is only going to condemn them. They may be unable to feel like God loves them. This should not be very surprising since parents have a God-like presence in a child’s early life.

Another common problem in adulthood is poor decision-making. Because of a person’s distorted thinking about life and addictions, he often makes unwise decisions that are detrimental to his life. Because of a low self-image, he may think he cannot be successful in college or any other kind of school. He may be afraid to try anything challenging, even though he may be more than capable of doing it. He may make poor decisions about finances, relationships, jobs, and many other important areas of life.

Often the pain increases when a person becomes an adult, so the addictions also tend to worsen. Adults have more dangerous addictions available to them; and therefore, some addictions may become life threatening.

As stress increases both inwardly and outwardly, people often become clinically depressed because the ongoing stress depletes the brain of the chemicals it needs to function correctly. This clinical depression is different from depression caused by a known loss such as the loss of a job, death of a spouse, divorce, etc. In a clinical depression, the person usually doesn’t know why he is depressed, and usually, medication and counseling are needed to eliminate the depression.

Although Sarah had become a Christian, she suffered from many of these problems as an adult. She was having relational problems with both God and others, making poor decisions, suffering from addictions and depression. She was addicted to food. She ate to soothe herself, to try to fill the emptiness after her husband left for work. But it didn’t work. Instead, she gained weight, which made both her and her husband unhappy.

Sarah also tried to distract herself from the pain by keeping herself constantly busy while her husband was away. But as time passed she became increasingly depressed and isolated. Her workaholism declined and she spent more and more time in bed. She couldn’t concentrate and lost motivation to do anything. Everything became drudgery. As her problems escalated Sarah felt increasingly out-of-control. Her problems were not going to go away without some help. When she was in her thirties, she finally became desperate enough to seek help.

These types of problems tend to get worse and often become overwhelming when the person enters his 30’s and 40’s. But the tendency is to see the adult behaviors as the problem when they are really only symptoms of the root problems that began in childhood. In order to begin to heal and to make healthy changes, the person needs to deal with the root problems. It is important to understand how emotional problems develop so that we can focus on the root problems (suppressed emotions, false belief systems, unhealthy defense mechanisms, addictions) that began in childhood and not just the symptoms we see in adult life.

Emotionally based problems are major stumbling blocks in many people’s lives, and they must be addressed for a person to reach the kind of spiritual maturity that God has called us to. Traditional approaches to spiritual growth have proved ineffective in bringing about emotional healing. In the next Pocket Principle (“Healing from Emotional Problems“) we will discuss what approaches do lead to emotional healing.

Application Suggestions:
Meditate on Ephesians 4:17-23. What are some of the solutions to these root problems that God suggests in this passage?

• Think about the adult symptoms discussed in this lesson. Write down any evidences of these problems that you see in your life.

• Think about how these problems may be connected to root problems in your childhood. If thinking about these problems causes you distress, talk with a trusted friend about it.

 

Understanding Emotional Issues:
Root Causes of Emotional Problems (in childhood)
Addictions—An addiction is an external focus that enables a person to avoid the pain inside. A child can be addicted to anything: drugs, TV, computer games, sports, food, etc. Addictions can alter a mood (make a person feel better), dull pain or distract from the pain.

Unhealthy coping (defense) mechanisms—A child develops defense mechanisms to protect himself from getting hurt again. Typical defense mechanisms include: denial, people pleasing, isolation, conflict avoidance, etc.

Suppressed negative emotions—If a child is unable to process negative emotions and thereby resolve them, the emotions are stored inside in the form of stress. This internal stress may cause problems such as physical illness, emotional explosions, depression, etc. Some signs of suppression are lack of emotion, super-sensitivity, over-reaction, etc.

False belief system—As a child tries to make sense of things happening to him, he usually draws wrong conclusions about himself and the world such as “No one loves me”; “No one will protect me”; “I never do anything right”; “I cannot stop this.”

Shame-based identity (a common false belief)—If enough bad things happen to a child, without resolution or explanation, he begins to believe that there is something wrong with him. He believes that he is “broken and cannot be fixed”; he didn’t just make a mistake, he is a mistake.

Adult Symptoms of Emotional Problems

Relational problems—Damage from childhood hinders a person’s ability to relate to others in a healthy manner. For example, if there were abusive relationships in a person’s past, he may unwittingly seek out similar relationships as an adult because these kinds of relationships feel normal.

Poor relationship with God—Just as relationships with others can be affected, a person’s relationship with God can also be affected. For example, emotional issues may lead to a distorted view of God or negative feelings toward Him. As a result, a person may stop growing spiritually or even regress.

Poor decisions—Because of a person’s distorted thinking about life, he often makes unwise decisions that are detrimental to his life: financially, relationally, professionally, etc.

More serious addictions—Emotions that began in childhood usually intensify in adulthood as the pain worsens. In addition to possible childhood addictions, a person may be addicted to work, spending, shopping, sex, ministry, drugs, alcohol, etc. Some addictions may actually become life threatening.

Depression—As problems intensify, stress increases sometimes causing a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to a clinical depression. (This is not the same as a depression caused by a known loss such as the death of a spouse, loss of a job, divorce, etc.)

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Recently a woman came to my office for pastoral counseling. Within moments she was sobbing and could not even talk. Eventually she was able to tell me that she had just learned that her husband had had an affair. He wanted to work things out and try to save the marriage, but she was consumed with pain and anger. As she told her story, she vacillated between talking about wanting to kill her husband and wanting to kill herself. By the end of her visit, she was considerably calmer and ready to begin the hard work of determining whether her marriage could be saved.

emotions facialThis story brings up some questions. Was it acceptable for this woman to have these strong negative emotions? It is understandable that she would be terribly upset by what had happened. But wouldn’t a person who was trusting God have more control over her emotions? How could she talk about killing her husband or herself?

Sometimes the church sends out confusing messages about how Christians should handle their emotions. Some seem to say that negative emotions, like fear, anger and pain, are always sinful. Anger in particular is often considered sinful. Some say that righteous anger (anger concerning an injustice) is acceptable, but all other anger is wrong. For example, being angry about abortion is all right, but being angry that you made a mistake is not. On the other hand, most Christians think that positive emotions are good. In fact, some people believe that jubilant emotions are an indicator of God’s presence. But is God’s presence only marked by positive emotions? Can He be present when we have negative emotions as well?

These are important questions to answer. All of us experience a wide range of emotions, and learning their role and function in our lives is essential. We need to understand them and learn to deal with them correctly. Let’s look at three principles concerning emotions.

Negative emotions are not evil or sinful.
When God created man, He created him in His image, and this image included emotions, both positive and negative. Scripture tells us that all God created is good (Genesis 1:31), and therefore, all emotions must be good. Another reason we cannot say that emotions we consider negative (e.g. anger, jealousy, fear) are not good is because both God Himself
(note God’s anger in Psalm 78:31,38,49,50)

and Jesus, as a man, experienced these negative emotions. And we know that God did not and cannot sin. Therefore, we must conclude that it is possible to experience negative emotions and not sin. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus experiencing powerful negative emotions:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.
(Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus clearly felt the freedom to express his negative emotions to the Father without any fear of reprisal. In fact, the Father accepted these prayers and at one point, sent an angel to minister to Him (Luke 22:41-44).

It is important to understand that emotions, even negative ones, serve many positive roles in our lives. Emotions help us understand what is going on inside of us, and therefore, help us to identify our needs, likes, dislikes, and desires. They also help us experience intimacy. Intimacy occurs when two people connect on an emotional level. If we cannot identify and express our emotions, we cannot connect with someone else on a personal intimate level. We cannot share our life with a person without letting him know who we are or what is going on inside us.

Emotions also energize and motivate us to do whatever needs to be done. Without emotion we would live our lives without passion and conviction, like robots. For example, love compels me to sacrifice to meet the needs of those I love, while anger motivates me to fix something that is broken or energizes me to remove a blockage that is in the way.

Negative emotions serve the function of alerting us when something is wrong, telling us that something needs attention. Negative emotions are like the warning lights on the dashboard of a car. If the oil light goes on, we had better do something quickly to remedy the situation. Like the physical pain that warns us to take our hand off a hot burner, emotional pain is the warning system that sends us the message that there is a problem that we need to attend to.

We need to attend to our emotions and respond by taking appropriate action. The action may be corrective for negative emotions or repetitive for positive emotions. Our emotions may send us confusing messages, especially when we feel both positive and negative emotions at the same time. In this case, we need to sort out the positive from the negative.

Acting on our emotions may lead to sinful attitudes and behaviors.
A young man, who had a wife and small child, had a good job, but he felt he had been passed over for several promotions. He became increasingly angry and, without consulting anyone or having another job lined up, he quit his job in a fit of anger. Finding a new job was difficult, and while he was looking, he and his wife suffered financial hardships, and began fighting about his irresponsibility.

This example demonstrates that acting indiscriminately on emotions, positive or negative, may cause us to hurt others and ourselves. Though emotions are not bad or sinful in and of themselves, how we act based on our feelings may be sinful. For example, a person might feel like punching someone because he is angry. If he acts on his feelings, he may be arrested for assault. Another common mistake is to take out our frustration on a loved one who had nothing to do with the reason for the anger.

It is possible to have positive emotions when doing something wrong or have negative feelings when doing something right. A person who steals something may get a positive rush of adrenaline as a result. Or a mother who sets a limit by telling a child “no” may feel guilty even though she is acting wisely for the welfare of the child. Emotions cannot be trusted to always give a correct reflection of what is right (or wrong) in a situation.

It is wise to process our feelings before acting, to think before we act. There are many ways of processing our emotions. The simplest is to process emotions by choosing to continue feeling them until they go away. This may take quite some time— days or months with a big loss such as the death of someone close. Or it may only last for a short time when the loss is smaller.

In addition, for some people it may also be necessary for them to talk about their feelings with someone they are close to or with God. Talking with someone about our feelings tends to reduce the intensity of the feelings and allows us to make decisions and act in a calmer manner. It is important to talk about feelings and not make judgmental remarks about the person who hurt you.

Another helpful suggestion is to write about what happened and how it made you feel. Writing often enables us to sort out facts and feelings and make a wise decision about how to respond. All of these processing methods help us slow down, calm down and decide on an appropriate response.

Even though there are no emotions that are wrong, emotions can be expressed in unhealthy or sinful ways; and therefore, it is important for us to know how to process and handle them. When emotions are expressed in healthy ways the actions we take will be constructive and helpful to others.

Denying our emotions or suppressing them can lead to serious problems.
Denying or suppressing emotions are unhealthy ways of handling emotions. We often think that if we can avoid them, they will go away. They don’t. Instead, they get stored in our bodies in the form of stress. Then the emotions may be triggered (brought to the surface) by a situation similar to the original source of pain, hurt, etc. Thus, a person will overreact to a minor situation because of a past situation. After the overreaction (explosion, tirade, etc.) the person feels better, but has usually damaged his relationships significantly.

People deny their emotions by minimizing them or ignoring them. Many people seek to control their emotions by exerting their will power, but this only works temporarily. Others try to control their emotions by turning to addictions. Addictions involve exchanging an external focus (such as food, sex, work, shopping, exercise, gambling, etc. as well as drugs and alcohol) for an internal focus on the real problem (what is going on inside). Addictions also provide other functions besides distraction. They may make us feel better temporarily or they may numb our emotions.

No matter how hard we try to avoid our feelings they do not go away. They end up buried inside of us. Scripture warns us not to do this. It tells us to “not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26).” In other words, don’t suppress your anger. Rather, deal with it quickly. The same truth applies to all negative feelings.

Ephesians 4:27 states that when we do not deal with our anger in an appropriate and timely way, we give the devil a foothold in our lives. That is, we open ourselves up for attack and for provocation to act out our anger in the wrong way. Any time we allow emotions to build up inside of us we are in danger of becoming overwhelmed by the emotions and having our judgment clouded. Therefore, we need to learn how to deal with our emotions in appropriate and timely ways.

Summary
In another Pocket Principle we will discuss more about how failing to deal appropriately with negative emotions affects us. At this point, it is sufficient to understand that negative emotions are not bad or sinful. When we impulsively act on our negative emotions, without first processing them and thinking about what a godly response would be, then we are in danger of acting sinfully. If we deny or suppress our emotions we are only storing up trouble for later and opening ourselves to temptation.

Application Suggestions:
Read Psalm 13

How does David deal with his emotions: positive and negative?
• How have the ideas presented in this lesson caused you to reconsider how you think about and deal with emotions?

 

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Laurel & Hardy Broken LegWhat would you think of a medical doctor who tried to treat your illness without really knowing what was wrong with you? When you enter his office he doesn’t ask what your symptoms are, doesn’t order any tests, but instead, brings in his nurse and begins to put a cast on your leg even though there is nothing wrong with your leg. Undoubtedly you would think, “What a quack this guy is!” and quickly leave to find another doctor. Obviously what you really need is someone who takes the time to understand what your medical needs are and knows how to meet them. We need to take the same approach with all our needs whether they are physical, social, psychological, or spiritual.

God, unlike a doctor, understands all of our needs because He created us with them. He also has provided us with the means to get our needs met. Yet there seems to be confusion in the church today about how our needs are to be met. Some seem to imply (or state directly) that all we need to do is wait and trust God, and then He will, in some supernatural way, supply everything we need. It is true that God is the ultimate source who will meet all our needs. We should seek Him, laying our needs before Him. The Bible says He knows our needs and wants to meet them (Matthew 6:25-33).

But, will He meet our needs directly or indirectly through other means? The answer to that question depends on what the need is.

God created the world and its inhabitants, and it is through this world that He meets our needs. For instance, we all need air to breathe, and God created air, and He created our lungs to be able to receive and absorb it. He even created us so that we breathe involuntarily. So, God is involved by providing the air, our lungs and the mechanism of breathing, but we are the ones who breathe. I would posit that God is rarely the only one involved in meeting our needs.

One might say it was God alone who provided us with salvation. If that is true, then why isn’t everyone a Christian? The answer is that we need to receive the salvation that is offered in order for it to be ours. So, to get this need met we must do something: accept it by faith. A major need is for relationship both with God and with people. God has designed us so that some of our needs can only be met by other people, just as some of our needs can only be met by Him.

Some people believe that it is selfish to focus on our needs. This suggestion may lead a person to conclude that it is never right to think about our own needs. However, thinking about our own needs or even seeking to get them met is not selfish. Selfishness is focusing exclusively on our own needs and ignoring everyone else’s. It is being concerned only about oneself. The truth is that we should think about our needs. After all, they are “our” needs; they are not someone else’s. And because they are our needs, they are our responsibility, and it is our stewardship to get them met. We should consider our needs and develop a plan to meet them. There are several ingredients involved in getting our needs met.

Recognize and acknowledge your needs.
A need must be recognized before it can be addressed. In the last Pocket Principle we defined four of our primary needs: our need for God, worth, impact and relationship. But this is not a complete list of our needs. In fact, if one were to sit and brainstorm about the myriad needs that we have, there would be an amazingly long list which would include needs such as: safety, food, shelter, beauty, sexual intimacy, adventure and so on.

Because of concerns about appearing weak, some people have difficulty admitting that they have needs. Yet there is no weakness in admitting that we are just like other human beings! It is important to be honest with others and ourselves and admit our frail, human condition. Such an admission helps us to seek God as we should and to accept help from others when we need it. Many people have suffered needlessly in their lives because they will not admit their need for help.

Put yourself in a position to get needs met.
Getting needs met is not an automatic process. It often takes planning and hard work. It is like any other goal we set out to accomplish. It requires something of us. If I want to grow a garden, I cannot just snap my fingers and produce plants. I will need to find a good location, till the ground, plant the seeds, water, fertilize and weed the garden. It is time-consuming and hard work, but it brings a bountiful harvest. Getting our needs met works the same way. It is challenging work, but the benefits are tremendous.

When we are trying to get our relationship needs met, it is not enough to wait for someone else to initiate a friendship with us. We need to take the initiative. We need to go where people are; find people with common interests and needs; reach out and spend time with them; open up and be honest with them about who we are and what is going on in our lives; and be a friend to them.

It may take time to find others that we can feel close to, but in the end, the joy these efforts can bring into our lives is enormous. We need to be careful to seek to get our needs met in ways that please God. In order to meet our needs, we should not demand or pressure people or become involved in immorality or try to please and manipulate others.

Following is a list of healthy ways to get needs met:

1. God will meet many of our needs as we go to Him through spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are activities such as Bible study, prayer, fellowship and acts of service. As we build these disciplines into our lives, God ministers both to us and through us. He will guide us and give us the insight and wisdom about our needs, among other things.

2. Be willing to ask for and receive help during times of great need and crisis. There are times in our lives when the burdens of life are too heavy for one person to carry. It is at those times that we need to let others know our needs and be willing to let them help us. We also need to help others when they have needs.

3. When we seek help from others, we need to be careful to approach the right kind of people. We need to seek help from people who are willing to help without expecting anything in return and who have our best interest in mind. We also need to seek help from people who are able to help. For instance, we should seek help from a mature Christian when we are in a difficult situation or a counselor when we can’t solve a marriage problem.

4. Take action to do something that will lead to needs being met. For instance, we can join a support group to be with people who have gone through a crisis similar to ours. We can make a doctor’s appointment when we are physically ill.

Recognize that all your needs will not be met perfectly in this life.
Because we live in a fallen, broken world and because sin and temptation will always be with us, our needs will never be perfectly met. They can be substantially met, but never fully met. It is like the old saying, “If you ever find the perfect church, don’t join it because you will ruin it.” Perfect doesn’t exist in this world except in God Himself. So we must develop realistic expectations in this life.

For example, take our need for impact. This need can be met through a ministry or job situation where we are able to use our abilities to make a positive difference or contribution. But we will never do things perfectly or have a perfect result. We need to be satisfied with good enough and not expect perfection.

Ultimately, the perfect meeting of our needs will occur when we are with Christ (Philippians 3:20,21; I Corinthians 15:51-54).

When we die physically, we continue to live spiritually and go to be with Christ. What a day that will be! Eventually Jesus will return for His people and all those with Christ will be reunited with their bodies and those who are still alive will be changed in a twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality. Our new bodies will be perfect and will never wear out.

In the meantime, before Christ returns, we need to recognize needs in our lives that are not being met and develop a realistic plan designed to meet these needs in a healthy way. It is our responsibility and not anyone else’s to do this. We need to take responsibility for our own lives and needs, while not ignoring the needs of others.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on II Corinthians 1:3-5

• Write out a plan designed to meet your most pressing felt need in a healthy way. Share this plan with someone who can hold you accountable.

 

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worldAll of God’s creation is interdependent in some way: the food chain demonstrates interdependence for nourishment; the life cycles of plants and animals demonstrate interdependence for reproduction, and so on. Man, as a part of God’s creation, is interdependent with the rest of creation. We are dependent on air to survive; dependent on plants and animals for food; dependent on other people for companionship. God created us this way. In essence, He created us incomplete so that we would have needs!

One of the reasons God created us this way is to show us our need for Him and to move us toward Him as the One who can provide for all our needs. Everyone of us can probably point to specific felt needs in our lives that brought us to the point of pursuing God. And without any sense of our needs we would not have pursued Him.

Problems arise when man tries to get his needs met apart from God’s design, either through inappropriate relationships, substance abuse, materialism, or an endless list of activities which do not satisfy or nourish us but do, rather, hurt us. In order to avoid these destructive behaviors, Christians sometimes resort to denying or minimizing the fact that they have any needs. It is important that we accept the fact that we have needs and that we learn how to meet them appropriately.

Even if we deny our needs, they motivate us anyway. Through many of our activities (both good and bad) we are actually trying to get our needs met. For instance, women read romance novels and men look at pornography to create a fantasy world in their minds, rather than having the real relationships they crave. In fact, by focusing on these fantasies, they may develop expectations and ideas about relationships that are unrealistic and harmful. At the same time, they miss out on the better ways that God uses to meet their needs.

There are many kinds of needs: physical, spiritual, psychological, social, etc., with our physical needs being the most obvious. Without oxygen we would literally die within a few minutes. We can only survive a few days without water and a few weeks without food. Our spiritual, psychological, and social needs may not be as obvious but are also critically important to our overall well-being. We can get a better understanding of our primary needs by looking at the way God created man and how He has provided for these needs.

Created with a need for a personal relationship with God
One of our greatest needs is for a personal relationship with God. After God created man, He related to him on a personal basis (Genesis 2:19, 3:8-9)[Listen]. Both Adam and Eve were aware of God’s presence and conversed with Him. After the fall, man continued to seek a relationship with his Creator. This is seen in all cultures by man’s propensity to place gods in his life in an attempt to reach the true God he longs to know (Romans 1:21-23)[Listen]. This is also demonstrated by the fact that God has continued to pursue a relationship with man after the fall and has provided a way for mankind to come back into fellowship with Him (John 6:44, I Peter 3:18)[Listen].

There are certain needs that only God can meet. He is the only one who could provide a way of salvation for us (I Peter 3:18)[Listen]. He is the only one who could remove the barriers that prevented us from having a relationship with Him (Colossians 2:13-14)[Listen]. He is the only one who could draw us to Himself (John 6:44)[Listen]. Blaise Pascal, the famous French scientist and philosopher, said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man that can only be filled by Jesus Christ.”

Created with a need for value and worth
Another need we all share is the need to know that we have value and worth. Both theologians and psychologists agree that all people feel a deep desire to be valued by God, other people, and themselves. Because man was created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28)[Listen], he does have worth and value (Psalm 8:4-5)[Listen]. Even after the fall, all men (including non-Christians) continue to bear God’s image, even though it is marred (James 3:9)[Listen]. Therefore, man has value and worth whether he realizes it or not.

Unfortunately, many believers don’t realize that they have inherent value and worth and therefore, seek to be assured of their value and worth from people who can’t give assurance or give it inconsistently. Often they seek it from parents who may be overly critical or distant and who are unable to give them what they need. Understanding that God has created us in His image and the price He paid to reconcile us to Himself is the only consistent way to realize what tremendous value we have.

Created with a need for impact
An important need that is also identified by both religious leaders and psychologists is our deep desire for purpose in this life. Man needs to have significance and to know that he has the ability to impact his world. The Creator gave man a very important responsibility when he gave him the task of ruling over and maintaining His Creation! (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6-8)[Listen]. Man has done incredible things and made unbelievable advances as he has developed technology and processes to manipulate his environment. Unfortunately, he can use these powers for evil as well as for good.

After the Fall, man’s need to have an impact in the world is still a driving force in him, and God continues to offer us the means to meet it. As Christians, God has given us the additional opportunity to advance and build His Kingdom (Romans 10:13-15, Ephesians 4:11-16)[Listen] and help to restore what has been damaged and ruined by the fall (Isaiah 61:1-3)[Listen]. God’s provision for us to impact our world reinforces the fact that this is an important requirement for our well-being.

Created with a need for relationship
One of our most important needs is our requirement for human companionship. In the Garden of Eden, Adam had all his physical needs met and enjoyed close fellowship with God. In spite of this, it was God himself who said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God had made man in such a way that he needs other people.

God helped Adam see his longing for a companion by having him name the animals, and as Adam did this, he realized that there was no one like him (Genesis 2:19, 20)[Listen]. Then God created Eve, who had a body of bones and flesh like Adam’s, but with some important modifications (Genesis 2:18, 21-22)[Listen]. Adam was obviously pleased (Genesis 2:23)[Listen].

Many generations later we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, still need companions, and the Bible tells us that God has provided two institutions to help meet this need: the family and the church. Numerous Bible verses discuss the importance of having good, loving human relationships. We are even told that next to loving God, the greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40)[Listen].

Conclusion
In conclusion, God created us with needs. He has also provided us with the means to meet them. Our most important needs are to have close relationships with both God and our fellow man, to be able to impact our world for good and to have value and significance in this life. We should not deny these needs but should seek to satisfy them in ways that God intended.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Genesis 1:26-2:25 [Listen]. Consider how man was created and how God related to and provided for him.
• List some of the things you do to try to get these needs (mentioned above) met.

 

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Heart of StoneWe often hear about people whose lives hang in the balance because of their damaged hearts. They need a new heart to continue living and cling to life while waiting for a heart donor. All of mankind has a similar condition. Everyone needs a new spiritual heart because the one we have is not open to God or interested in Him.

By God’s grace He offers us a new heart. He sent His very own son, Jesus Christ, as a willing donor. Jesus wants to replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, a heart that is responsive to God (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Actually, He wants to do much more than this. He wants to give us salvation, make us a part of His family, bring about our healing, enable our spiritual growth and bring us to heaven.

All of these blessings are possible because Jesus Christ came to this earth and died for our sins on the cross. We deserved to die, but He died in our place. Peter said it very clearly, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (I Peter 3:18).” Christ’s death and resurrection from the dead created the possibility of the redemption of all mankind. Now it is up to us to respond and receive the gracious gift God offers. For those who repent by turning from their sins, turning to Christ and trusting Him for salvation, all that God offers will be theirs. Once a person has received God’s grace and enters into salvation, God begins the process of transforming that person into the likeness of Christ. In doing this, God is restoring His fallen image in man. He is reversing the effects of the Fall.

Man is now made alive spiritually.
Man, who was dead spiritually, is made alive through personal salvation. Paul describes what God has done in his letter to the Ephesians.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-4)

To be alive spiritually means that we are able to relate to God and experience a special relationship with Him as our loving Father. This new relationship with God saves us from His wrath and will last for eternity. God will never tire of us. And we will never tire of Him. This relationship, like any other, grows as we invest time in it. We have not only gained an eternal loving Father, but we have also become part of a whole new family, the family of God. He is the Father, and we who believe are His children (John 1:12).

Man can now choose to do what is right.
Man, who was enslaved to sin before being made alive spiritually, can now choose to do what is right. He did not lose the ability to choose at the Fall. Rather, he came under the negative influences of his sin nature, the world and the continuing deceptions of Satan. These influences confuse his mind so that he regularly chooses wrong and is blinded to his sinful human condition.

Christ has changed all that. We have been enlightened and delivered from enslavement to sin (Romans 6:6). Through our new relationship with Christ, we can now find wisdom and strength to choose to do what is right. God has given us the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, to live in us and to empower us to live for Him. The Holy Spirit together with the Bible and the people of God show us truth so we can make good choices in our lives, choices that are right and bring glory to God.

This is not to say that we will always make the right choices or do the right things. We can still choose to do what is wrong. In fact, all our old enemies (our sin nature, the world and Satan) are still trying to deceive us and blind us. We are in a spiritual battle in this world, and our enemies are formidable. But Christ is greater and stronger than they are. As we learn to depend on Him and mature spiritually, we will increasingly overcome these enemies, but this battle is an ongoing one, one that will continue throughout this life.

Man now has confidence before God.
Man, who was shamed when he was spiritually dead, can now have confidence before God. Since the Fall, man has had a problem with sin and the resulting guilt. He is not able to live up to his own standards, and deep in his heart, he knows it. There are many ways he tries to cover his guilt, but they are generally unsuccessful.

Jesus came to take that guilt away. His death was sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath against all sins: past, present and future. He removed the barrier of sin that was between God and man, and now, nothing separates the believer from God. Paul put it this way, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

The concept that we are fully and totally forgiven, even when we continue to sin, is a difficult concept to accept. Satan and our consciences continually condemn us and tell us that God certainly cannot love sinners like us. We need to focus on the truth: there is no sin too great to be forgiven, and Jesus has come to cleanse our guilty consciences. Therefore we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence. In fact, God tells us to do that very thing. He instructs us to approach Him with confidence in our times of need (Hebrews 4:16) and to pursue Him aggressively.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)

Man is now made one with other believers.
Man, who was at odds with his fellow man, is now made one with other believers. Needless to say, man’s treatment of his fellow man has generally been less than admirable. As cultures move farther and farther away from Christ they become increasingly ruthless (Romans 1:18-32). There have only been 144 years of recorded history when there hasn’t been some kind of a war going on.

Jesus came to reconcile us not only to God but also to one another. He has leveled the playing field and removed reasons for prejudice by dying for all people. Everyone comes to Him on the same terms; He makes no distinction between races, sexes or any other classes of people. All who come to Him join the same family of God and have equal access to the Father. Christians are a multinational group of people who find their commonality in Christ. The oneness they share implies intimacy, agreement, companionship and teamwork. Christians have shown over and over that they can demonstrate these qualities with other believers no matter what other differences may be present.

Revelation speaks of our common heritage and inheritance in Christ.

You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve God, and they will reign on the earth.

Summary
God, through Christ, reverses many of the effects of the Fall. He takes away our spiritual deadness, our slavery to sin, our shame and our hostility toward one another. He replaces them with spiritual aliveness, the ability to choose right, confidence before God and oneness with one another. The reversal of these effects begins at salvation and continues as we grow spiritually. Finally, when Christ returns for His people and sets up His Kingdom, all the effects of the Fall will be removed and replaced with something far better than we can imagine. We have a great hope and a great future!

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on the benefits of being God’s child as you read Ephesians 1:3-10.
• What changes have you seen God make in your relationship with yourself, with God and with others?

 

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