Throughout all of Scripture, God promises He will meet our needs for value, security, acceptance and connection
Throughout all of Scripture, God promises He will meet our needs. In the second chapter of Genesis, God says that it is not good for the man to be alone. That’s because when God formed the man from the dust and blew His breath into him, He blew in the needs for value, security, acceptance and connection. And by creating a woman for the man, God was meeting those needs. He was at once revealing Himself to the man and drawing the man close to Him.
When I was a kid, my family lived in Dallas, Texas. It so happens that Dallas is the hometown of the famous department store, Neiman Marcus. In the 1950’s, Neiman Marcus was THE place to shop in Dallas. There was only one location, and it was downtown, since the shopping mall had yet to be invented. A visit to Neiman Marcus was a special adventure.
My daddy, who was a family-oriented kind of guy, was pretty involved in my life, especially for activities that were outside the home. So, around the age of 5, when I needed new “dress shoes”, my daddy took me to Neiman Marcus downtown to get them. The only details I remember about that outing were actually being in the shoe department of the store and spying THE shoes. They were soft black suede Mary Janes with rhinestones all around the front edge. I instantly fell in love with them and saw no need to look at any other shoes. I remember trying them on and my daddy saying, “Now are you SURE those are the ones you want?” They were indeed the ones, so he bought them for me. Although I don’t remember many details of the outing, I DO remember the feeling of being loved by my daddy. He wanted me to have the shoes I liked and was taking the time to make sure I was satisfied. And not only that, he was glad to be with me as I picked out something he otherwise would have no interest in at all. He wanted to be with me and he wanted me to be pleased.
In just that one simple outing to buy new shoes, my daddy met my needs for value, security, acceptance and connection.
Why do I remember that one random outing with my daddy?
When that memory plays back in my head, I instantly feel valued, secure, accepted and connected. Since those are the emotional needs that God Himself created within me, when I remember that day, not only do I feel all those things from my daddy, I also feel them from God. Remembering makes me smile.
When we are children, our parents (or other caregivers) don’t always adequately meet our emotional needs. When they don’t, we as children will figure out some way to get them met, and it usually won’t be a very healthy choice. When our needs aren’t validated by an adult, we might assume that our needs are wrong, or that there is something wrong with us for even having needs.
The beauty of the RYH process is that it helps us understand and accept those needs. We learn to look to God and also to healthy relationships with people in order to get our needs met. In the process, God reveals Himself to us and draws us close.
The story is told of a group of tourists who were touring a village. An old man was seated on a park bench, and one of the tourists asked him if any great men had been born in the small town. “No,” the man replied after a moment’s thought. “Only babies.” Just as no man or woman is born “great”, no Christian is “mature” immediately upon being born into the family of God. Each believer starts this new life as a babe in Christ. However, it is God’s plan for every believer to grow from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. He gives us the resources we need and provides a model for us to follow. We can understand the process of spiritual growth by examining principles seen in the life of Jesus.
The Goal of Spiritual Growth Is Christlike Character.
It is natural for the new believer to ask: “What does spiritual maturity look like?” The answer is that it looks like Jesus Christ. He not only is the object of our faith, but He is the object of our growth. From the beginning, God’s desire has been for those who believe in Christ to be conformed to His likeness (Romans 8:29). As we grow in Christ and become more like Him, those around us should be able to see His image reflected in us (2 Corinthians 3:18). This does not mean that we will become physically like Him with the same appearance, mannerisms, or manner of speaking. Rather, it means that we will become like Him in our attitudes and in our actions.
This is a lofty goal indeed and can be intimidating, especially to the new believer. However, it is important to remember that God provides us with more than the minimum daily requirements for our spiritual growth. In fact, 2 Peter 1:3 says that God’s divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness. Some Christians find this hard to believe, especially when they begin to experience challenges or frustration in their spiritual lives. And, sadly, there are sometimes people who mistakenly tell them that they don’t have everything they need⎜that to really grow they need something more. This “something more” may be a mystical experience, a special anointing from the Holy Spirit, a special degree of wisdom or knowledge, or something else. Regardless of how well intended this advice may be, it is a form of spiritual intimidation and should be rejected as such. Just as a healthy baby is born with all the parts it needs to grow and develop normally, so we are born spiritually with all we need to grow in Christ.
Spiritual Growth Occurs Gradually, in Phases
One error to avoid is thinking that God has not given us everything we need to grow. An equally dangerous wrong belief is that growth will occur overnight. Just as a newborn baby develops gradually and only after much nourishment and the proper care, so it is with the “babe” in Christ — the new Christian. We should expect to drink milk before we can eat meat, and to crawl before we can walk. God understands this better than we do, and He patiently works with us as He conforms us to the image of His Son. We see this principle illustrated in the approach Christ took with His disciples.
A careful study of the life and ministry of Christ will show that He was deliberate in the way that He related to and worked with His disciples. Because each of the Gospel writers recorded the life of Christ from his own perspective, it can be difficult to see a pattern simply by reading through the New Testament. However, when the Gospel accounts are combined into a chronological narrative, it is clear that Jesus taught His disciples things that were appropriate for each phase of growth, and that He moved them through successive phases. It is also clear that Jesus intended this pattern to be repeated as, before His return to heaven, He commanded His followers to make disciples in all nations, teaching the same things He had taught.
While people may label these phases differently, they can be described as follows:
1) Establishing Faith ⎜The necessary first step for anyone to become a disciple of Christ is to repent of his sins and former way of life and to trust in Christ as his savior. This event is referred to in Scripture as being born again (John 3). Regardless of whether a person comes to faith at age eight or eighty-eight, he becomes a newborn “babe” in Christ.
2) Laying Foundations ⎜The focus of this early phase in the life of the believer is gaining a better understanding of who Christ is and how to follow Him. As the new Christian learns more of Christ’s nature and character, He learns to trust Him not only for salvation but for other things as well. During this phase, Jesus invited his disciples to spend more time with Him so that He could reveal Himself more fully to them.
3) Equipping for Ministry ⎜In this phase, the disciple learns to serve others and engages in ministry opportunities under the guidance of more mature believers. Jesus’ call to His disciples, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men,” indicates that He was moving them to the next phase of growth. Jesus took His disciples with Him as He went about teaching and ministering to people.
4) Developing New Leaders ⎜As the believer progresses to this phase, he is ready to take responsibility for the spiritual well being of others. Jesus’ time during this phase with His disciples was characterized by teaching about how to live in His Kingdom. Also, He designated twelve of His closest disciples as apostles and sent them out on their own to preach the Kingdom of God and to minister to people’s needs.
There Are Two Dimensions to Spiritual Growth ⎜Equipping and Restoring.
Not only does spiritual growth occur in phases, but it also involves two dimensions⎜equipping and restoring. The equipping dimension includes building knowledge, skills, and abilities into peoples’ lives, while the restoring dimension refers to regaining the image of God by developing emotional and relational health. The phases discussed above relate primarily to the equipping dimension, which is characterized by growth in such areas as personal knowledge of Christ and His ways, the ability to trust God, and the ability to minister to others.
The second dimension relates to our emotional and relational well being. This aspect is necessary because, when a person comes to faith in Christ, he brings all of his baggage along with him. Some of us bring little baggage and some of us bring a lot, but none of us has the emotional and relational health necessary to grow to full maturity in Christ. As can be seen in the way Christ worked with His disciples, God does not wait to complete the equipping dimension before He begins to work on the restoring dimension. Rather, the two are interrelated and He works on them at the same time. In fact, it must be so because one’s spiritual growth is limited if emotional and relational issues are not addressed.
Because of our own sin nature and because we live in a fallen world, we develop unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving as we make our way through life. Many of these patterns develop as we try to protect ourselves from the inevitable hurts that come our way. God wants to restore us to emotional health, not just so we can minister effectively for Him, but also primarily so that we can enjoy our relationship with Him and with others. There is no relational health without emotional health.
As in all other areas, Jesus is our model of emotional and relational well being. It is an understatement to say that not everyone liked Him, but the way He related to friends and foes alike was healthy. His words and actions were characterized by integrity, purity, and honesty. And His emotions betrayed integrity as well. As G. Walter Hansenin writes in Christianity Today, “I am spellbound by the intensity of Jesus’ emotions: Not a twinge of pity, but heartbroken compassion; not a passing irritation, but terrifying anger; not a silent tear, but groans of anguish; not a weak smile, but ecstatic celebration. Jesus’ emotions are like a mountain river cascading with clear water. My emotions are more like a muddy foam or a feeble trickle.” Because of the hurts in our past and the resulting protective behaviors we have engaged in, many of us can probably identify more closely with the description of Mr. Hansenin’s emotions than we can with those of Jesus.
The Christian life is all about relationships. When we place our faith in Christ, we enter into relationship with Him. We also become part of the family of God. The Bible speaks of believers as members of the “body of Christ.” Much of the teaching of the New Testament revolves around how we are to relate to one another. If we have not developed emotional and relational health, these new relationships can be very challenging. The good news is that these new relationships provide a wonderful opportunity for us to grow. Believers should make up a restoring community, where we demonstrate unconditional acceptance and speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15).
In light of these teachings, our primary concern should be that we see consistent progress over time in our spiritual growth and that this growth is evident in all areas of our lives. We should imitate the Apostle Paul’s mindset as reflected when he wrote, “…I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14) The picture Paul paints is of an athlete who is straining every muscle as he pushes toward the goal. We should exhibit the same determination in our spiritual lives.
However, we should not become preoccupied with growth for growth’s sake. We should not become like the anxious six-year-old boy who every morning jumps out of bed and runs over to the growth chart taped to the back of his door to see if he has grown any taller over night. If we continue to press toward the mark, growth will come. And, each day we can rejoice in the confidence that He who has begun this good work in us will carry it through to completion (Philippians 1:6).
• What evidences of change in attitudes/actions/beliefs have you seen in your life since you became a Christian that indicate you are progressing toward Christlikeness?
• Meditate on Philippians 1:6, thanking God that He is at work in your life and will continue to work.
Get this series Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone from the WDA Store
Scientists marvel at the interconnected nature of all living organisms. Though many stubbornly refuse to recognize the fingerprints of God in creation, they still speak in awe of the complex design of things they observe and refer to the delicate balance of nature.
A simple flower provides a prime example. The plant is comprised of many parts, each playing an important role in its overall health. Damage to any one of these parts affects the well-being of the flower. If a rodent eats away at the roots, the plant doesn’t get the minerals and water it needs. If the stem is damaged, food cannot be delivered where it is needed. If insects strip away the leaves, photosynthesis (the conversion of sunlight and carbon dioxide to food) does not take place. If the stigmas are damaged, the necessary pollination cannot occur. To have a healthy plant capable of growth and reproduction, each critical part must be healthy.
In the same way, humans are very complex organisms with highly interdependent parts. And it is not just the inter-connected nature of our physical organs and body parts that is important. The various dimensions of our being also have a strong impact on one another. For example, our physical health affects, and is affected by, our emotional health. Proverbs 17:22 says that, “A cheerful heart is good medicine but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Along similar lines, Proverbs 14:30 states, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.”
Historically, the church has focused primarily on the spiritual dimension of the believer’s life and has not always recognized the need to minister to the whole person. This limited perspective of the church’s calling is a tragic misunderstanding that has hindered not only the growth of individual believers but also the ability of the church to impact the world for Christ. Until a person develops emotional health and healthy relationships, he will only be able to advance so far in his own spiritual walk and will be limited in his ability to minister to others.
Because we are complex beings, understanding spiritual growth demands that we understand many components of our lives. One of the primary connections that we need to understand is between the emotional and relational facets of our lives (what we are calling the restorative dimension) and the spiritual aspect. It is critical that we give attention to the restoring dimension of a believer’s life as well as the spiritual dimension. Spiritual growth will not occur in many areas unless there is maturity in the restorative areas discussed below.
We need to develop emotional health.
Developing emotional health begins with learning to think correctly because emotions are a natural response to our thinking about, or interpretation of, the things that happen around us or to us. Thinking correctly involves both what we think (content) and how we think (process). Incorrect thinking is often based on an incorrect or inadequate view of ourselves, of others, or of God. These viewpoints or perspectives are largely formed in childhood and are influenced by the people and events closest to us. It is critical that we learn to counter falsehood with truth.
Consider the following example: A student receives a “B” on a test and feels worthless. The “worthless” feeling is the content of his thinking. He arrived at this content or conclusion by the following thought process (beliefs that led to the student’s conclusion). First, “I must always be perfect in order to be valuable.” Second, “I made a mistake, and therefore I am not perfect.” Third, “Therefore, I am not valuable. I am worthless.” Both the content and the process need to be corrected. The key is to be able to identify where one’s thinking goes wrong or, to put it another way, to identify which proposition is not true. In the example above, the second phrase is true (he did make mistakes; he is not perfect), while the first and third are not. The student’s thought process starts on a false premise and inevitably ends with a false conclusion.
The experiences of the prophet Elijah as recorded in I Kings chapters 18 and 19 provide a good illustration of the principles we have been discussing. On the heights of Mount Carmel, Elijah enjoyed two great spiritual victories⎜the defeat of the prophets of Baal and answered prayer for long-awaited rain. However, the enormous expenditure of physical and emotional energy left Elijah discouraged and despondent, and he descended into self-pity.
God, knowing the interdependence of the various dimensions of Elijah’s being, first provided food and rest. Then He confronted Elijah with the truth he needed to hear to correct his wrong thinking. In verse 10 of chapter 19, Elijah said to God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty (a true statement). The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword (also true statements). I am the only one left (a false statement), and now they are trying to kill me too” (again, a true statement). Essentially, Elijah was accusing God of giving him a raw deal, and it was an incorrect premise that led him to this faulty conclusion. In His response, God didn’t waste time affirming the parts of Elijah’s argument that were correct; he simply charged him to carry on the work and informed him that there were 7,000 other faithful servants who had not bowed the knee to false gods.
Along with learning to develop right thinking, we need to develop certain emotional skills if we are to achieve emotional health. These skills include learning to process emotions in the present and learning to process emotions that have been buried.
We learn to process emotions in the present by being able to identify how we feel and express those feelings, even if they are unpleasant. It is often helpful to talk about your emotions with a trusted friend. Use words that describe how you feel. Say “I feel . . . angry, sad, anxious, confused, embarrassed, secure, happy, relieved, daring.” Be as specific as you can and don’t use a “weaker” or “safer” word when a “stronger” one is appropriate. If someone has offended you, you may need to talk about your emotions in a controlled way with that person. Once you have processed your emotions, you need to release those that are negative. This release may mean choosing to forgive, if someone has offended or wronged you.
Consider the example of King David of Israel as someone who knew how to process emotions. David was “a man’s man,” feared by his enemies and respected by his friends. His resume included such feats as the slaying of the giant Goliath, killing a lion and a bear with his hands and a club, and winning victories in numerous battles. Yet David was a man who was able to express his emotions. If he was happy, he freely and unashamedly expressed joy. If he was angry, he called down curses on his enemies. If he was despondent, he cried out in anguish to God.
Some of us may be uncomfortable with the force of David’s emotions (or of other’s emotions expressed in Scripture, including God’s). While it is important to remember that David often used figurative language, including hyperbole, metaphor, and simile, this does not lessen the reality of what he was expressing. In fact, poetic language is a gift from God to be used in just this way. The same can be true of music, dance, painting, and even play. (Note the successful use of “play therapy” to help children express their emotions.)
Another necessary skill is learning how to process emotions that have been buried. “Burials” often take place when we don’t know how to or don’t feel the freedom to process emotions in the present. To deal with buried emotions, remember the unresolved, painful situations and allow the related emotions to surface. If emotions do not surface, you may need to seek help from someone who understands emotional issues (for example, a counselor or members of a recovery group). Once buried emotions surface, they can be dealt with as “emotions in the present” (using the suggestions above).
Some people may get stuck at some point in the attempt to deal with buried emotions and need to seek outside help to complete the process. Just as the Holy Spirit gifts individuals within the body of Christ as teachers, preachers, and missionaries, so He gifts some believers to minister to emotional needs. Ideally, a believer would look first within the church for help. Sadly, that help is not always present or the person needing it doesn’t know where to find it. However, even non-believing counselors can be used by God to accomplish His purposes in the lives of His children.
We need to develop relational health.
Developing emotional health rightly precedes a discussion of developing relational health, because relational health is impossible for a person who has not achieved at least some measure of emotional health. In order to be able to relate to another person in a mature, healthy way, you must first understand and be able to manage your own emotions. Or, to put it another way, until you are comfortable in your own skin, you are unlikely to feel comfortable around other people or to make them feel comfortable around you.
Skills necessary for relational health include the following:
• Developing intimacy. Intimacy is the ability to connect with another person at a deep level. This involves sharing thoughts and feelings about you.
• Setting boundaries. Boundaries are limits, or markers, that define a person as separate from others and what is unique about that person. Boundaries define what a person is, what he chooses, what he feels, what he likes, what he wants, and so on. A person needs to set his own boundaries and not allow others to set them for him.
• Developing good communication skills. These skills include speaking clearly, listening carefully, and giving constructive feedback.
Just as Jesus is a model for spiritual growth, He is a model for emotional and relational health. He developed intimate relationships, even at the cost of breaking social barriers of His day. He set appropriate boundaries. Although He made Himself available to people and their needs, He had a strong sense of “who He was” and did not allow others to deter Him from His mission. Also, Jesus communicated effectively, both with individuals and in group settings. Because He was emotionally healthy, He was able to develop strong, healthy relationships with others.
It is critical to a person’s spiritual growth that he develop emotional and relational health. Just as spiritual growth is a life-long process, so developing emotional and relational health are life-long processes. The important thing is to stay on the path and continue the journey. The good news is that these various dimensions of our being have a positive relationship to one another. As we grow spiritually, it will help us to grow emotionally and relationally. As we grow emotionally and relationally, it will help us to grow spiritually. When discouragement comes, recognize and process that emotion in the moment and practice right thinking by remembering this truth⎜”He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)
• Read Psalm 73
List the emotions described by the Psalmist. Describe how the Psalmist dealt with his emotions in this Psalm.
• Read Matthew 12:9-15. How is Jesus’ ability to set boundaries tested in this situation?
Get this Pocket Principle in Growing Spiritually, part of Cornerstone from the WDA Store
Have you ever wondered why you do things “against your better judgment”? Why you “know it’s not a good idea but you are going to do it anyway”? Do you ever wonder why you keep “picking the wrong guy (or girl)”? Why you keep making bad decisions?
All of us have these problems from time to time. Some of us have them more than others. And some of us, well, it’s just our way of life.
Have you ever met someone who could quote scripture from both the Old and New Testament, talk about it as though the principles set forth were second nature to her and… was living with her boyfriend? Or cheating on tests at school? Or stealing items from the local Wal-Mart?
Does it seem like sometimes people have two conflicting belief systems?
Does any of this apply to someone you know? And love? Or to yourself?
In the course of counseling with others, and in my own personal growth, I have discovered an interesting principle. I believe that what I am about to share with you now is a critical aspect of healing emotionally and growing spiritually.
It goes like this…
God created us as whole beings with many facets. We are physical, emotional, thinking, relational, spiritual creatures. God created all of these facets of us to work together and be closely integrated, interwoven, connected and intertwined.
Unfortunately, in this crazy, sinful, imperfect world, our parts are usually not too well integrated. The way I see this most clearly in counseling with others is the large gap between people’s thinking and people’s feelings.
Many people have been hurt emotionally, have not had their feelings validated, have shut down their feelings, have been abused, mistreated, rejected or ignored. When this happens to us in childhood, we are not equipped to deal with what is happening nor do we know how to protect ourselves. (For a more detailed explanation of this see How Emotional Problems Develop, WDA.)
As we grow into adulthood, our feelings and our thinking become miles apart. Because we don’t understand our feelings or even know exactly what we are feeling, we are unable to think about our feelings and make sense of them. When “thinking” and “feeling” are far apart, or not integrated, feelings will almost always win out over thinking. The result is we act on our feelings, making important decisions based on feelings, acting impulsively and irrationally, and so forth.
We are frustrated and confused because we don’t know why we are doing what we are doing.
As we begin to learn more about our feelings, experience feelings that have been long shut down, and start thinking about our feelings, we can merge these two aspects of ourselves (thinking and feeling) and begin to have one healthy belief system resulting in better decisions and better relationships. We will also be more aware of who God created us to be and will grow in our relationship with God.
This learning process can be started by participating in a WDA Restoring Your Heart group. One of the workbooks we have developed at WDA, Identifying and Grieving Our Losses, is used in these groups and is an excellent tool to aid in the process of learning about ourselves and discovering the person God designed.
If you or someone you know could benefit from this type of help, contact the WDA Restorative Team to learn more about starting a WDA Restoring Your Heart Ministry in your church.
When will you take the steps to begin healing your heart and become more connected to God and others?