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James [4:1-3] asks the question, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Why do you fight? James does NOT say, “You are fighting because the other person is a blockhead; because your hormones are raging; because a demon of anger took up residence; because humans have an aggression gene hardwired in by our evolutionary history; because your father used to react in the same way; because core needs are not being met; because you woke up on the wrong side of the bed and had a bad day at work.”

Instead, James says, you fight because of “your desires that battle within you. You want something but don’t get it.” The biblical analysis is straightforward and cuts to the core. You fight for one reason: because you don’t get what you want. It does “take two to tango.” So why are you in the dance? You fight because your desire, what pleases or displeases you, what you long for and crave, is frustrated…

Our cravings rule our lives; they directly compete with God Himself for lordship. No problem is more profound and more pervasive…We would act as peacemakers if we obeyed the Lord instead of asserting our desires. But where you find quarrels and fights, you are witnessing people obeying the desires of a different lord.

~David Powlison in “Getting to the Heart of Conflict: Anger, Part 3,” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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We live in a day when airing my opinion matters more than listening intently in order to learn. But Christ wants listeners. He wants whole hearts, believing, poured out, engaged, given away. How does He gain such? He tells us about Himself and says, LISTEN…

With some people, conversation approximates sitting on a bus near a stranger with a boom box. You are compelled to hear, but it’s like being forced to overhear someone else’s music, being rendered speechless by voluminous speech.

Incessant talkers. Such people not only are a problem, they have a problem. A pungent Proverb notes, “Where words are many, sin is not absent.” Another Proverb comments, ironically, “Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is accounted wise.” A talker who never stops to listen is in trouble.

The Bible says repeatedly that we grow and change only by listening. We change by hearing, not by talking. With good reason Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

~David Powlison in “Talk Incessantly? Listen Intently!” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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What does Romans 12:18 teach about resolving conflicts? First, you are responsible to live at peace with others. The command is clear; the responsibility is yours. Jesus imposes the same duty in His teaching, and He commands you to take the initiative in reconciling relationships. Whether you are the offending party (Matt. 5:23-26) or the offended party (Matt. 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4), Christ calls you to go to the other person, to interface with him. The fact that these texts also call the other person to go to you must not excuse your delay (“he started it, let him come to me”). You are not responsible for his actions; you are responsible for yours—”as far as it depends on you.” Let nothing derail your pursuit of peace.

Second, remember that God does not guarantee the outcome. Here the Bible is utterly realistic: “If it is possible” means that it might not be possible, despite your best efforts. By prefacing his command with “As far as it depends on you,” Paul concedes, as the saying goes, that “it takes two to tango.” Since God does not promise you reconciliation in every situation, don’t live for it…It is entirely possible that you will do everything God wants you to do, and still have remaining conflicts. I’ve seen many sinned-against spouses make great efforts to reconcile with their mates, but to no avail. But rest assured; God is pleased.

~Robert D. Jones in “Resolving Conflict Christ’s Way,” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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I was talking recently with a close friend. Some very difficult things have happened to her. She was describing a series of painful experiences, and how she had become very discouraged, doing a lot of worrying, brooding, floundering. She couldn’t get traction in life. Life wasn’t working. She felt swept away with the tension and confusion. She was seeking God, but couldn’t seem to find Him.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, the thought came into her mind, “Your father…is God. Your father is God.” She described how her worries changed. They didn’t go away: the child with a disability, the husband with financial problems, uncertainties about her health, uncertainties and conflicts in other parts of her extended family life, miserable things from her past. But the promise weighed more: “Your father…is God.”

That supreme and simple promise came in and rearranged the furniture of her mind, of how she saw life and what she lived for. It drained the life out of worrying. Think about that. You can say, “My father is God. He is more than willing to give me His kingdom. It is His pleasure. He chooses gladly to love me.”

~David Powlison in “Don’t Worry,” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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In several places Scripture singles out the issue of beauty in a pointed way. Proverbs 31:10-31 portrays the true beauty of fearing, trusting, and loving the Lord our Redeemer. It comments on charm’s deceitfulness and beauty’s emptiness. The true and enduring beauty of character, peaceableness, wisdom, trust, and love breathes forth from those proverbs. First Peter 3:1-6 similarly redefines beauty. It contrasts the cultural image (“external adornment”) with the true and imperishable image of God in the heart.

True beauty is fearless; it can never be ravaged by time or affliction; it can never be made insecure. This is a kind of beauty that can be more radiant at ninety than at eighteen; it improves rather than deteriorates with age.

 ~David Powlison in “Your Looks: What the Voices Say and the Images Portray,” Journal of Biblical Counseling

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The desires of the heart are not unchangeable. God never promises to give you what you want, to meet your felt needs and longings. He tells you to be ruled by other, different desires. This is radical. God promises to change what you really want! God insists that He be first, and all lesser loves be radically subordinate…

God challenges the things that everybody, everywhere eagerly pursues (Matt. 6:32). What desires of body and mind (Eph. 2:3) do people naturally follow? Consider our characteristic passions: desires of the body include life itself, air, health, water, food, clothing, shelter, sexual pleasure, rest, and exercise. Desires of the mind include happiness, being loved, meaning, money and possessions, respect, status, accomplishment, self-esteem, success, control, power, self-righteousness, aesthetic pleasure, knowledge, marriage and family. Must these rule our lives? They did not rule Jesus’ life. Can these cravings really be changed? The Bible says Yes, and points us to the promises of God: to indwell us with power, to write truth on our hearts, to pour out His love in our hearts, to enable us to say “Abba, Father.”

As we have seen, many of these things are not bad in themselves. The evil in our desires does not lie in what we want, but in the fact that we want it too much. Our desires for good things seize the throne, becoming idols that replace the King. God refuses to serve our instinctive longings, but commands us to be ruled by other longings. What God commands, He provides the power to accomplish: He works in us both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

~David Powlison in “The Sufficiency of Scripture to Diagnose and Cure Souls,” Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2005)

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In elevating appearance as one of its highest values, Western culture has lost its heart. There has been a huge shift in the way that our culture thinks about the identity of people. In our obsession with all things physical, we have quit viewing people as being controlled by the content and character of their hearts. To deny the heart is to reject the true nature of our humanity. In essence, our true self is spiritual and when we deny this, we lose an accurate sense of our personhood and get reduced to a network of interacting and interrelated biochemical machines.

If there is no heart, then there is no inner self, and if there is no inner self then the real you is the physical you. So, the health, adornment, and pleasure of the physical self will, by necessity, become the highest of functional values.

But if there is in each of us a heart, as the Bible describes, then there is a spiritual inner self. This means that the essence of the true you is not to be found in your physical body. The essence of your true self is your heart. In reality, your body is just an earth-suit created by God, and therefore reflecting His glory, but designed to be a house for the real you, the heart. The motivational you, the thoughtful you, the emotional you, and the character that is you, is the heart. It is much more than our bodies that make us different from one another. The place where we are most profoundly different from one another and from the rest of the creation is the heart. What is essentially the most glorious and beautiful or sad and ugly about any human being is not the lines of her face or the profile of his body, but rather the condition of the heart. Your identity and mine was never meant to be rooted in the physical self. It was never meant to be attached to the size of your ears, the width of your nose, or the shape of your stomach.

True beauty has always been and will always be a matter of the heart. There is nothing ever made that is more gorgeous than a heart ruled by an active and joyful worship of God. And there is but one surgeon who can produce such beauty, the Messiah, the suffering Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

~Paul David Tripp in “Appearance is Everything: Reclaiming God’s Image in an Image-Obsessed Culture,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2005

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The Bible says everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). The old saying goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth. You should use your ears twice as much as your mouth.” Many of us would do well to heed this advice. James says that controlling the tongue is a mark of spiritual maturity (James 3:2). Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” Guard your mouth. Use the following guide questions as “gossip filters.”

  • Is what I’m going to say edifying? Is it instructive, encouraging and uplifting? Edifying words will improve others’ opinion of the person about whom you speak.
  • Do I have permission to share what I know? “I don’t think he would mind” is not permission. When in doubt, don’t!
  • Is it necessary? Gossip is sometimes defined as idle chatter. Be purposeful in your conversations. One verse to commit to memory is Proverbs 10:19, “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
  • Will someone be hurt by it? Often, we say, “I’m not telling you anything I wouldn’t tell him” Great! Go tell him directly! Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India gave her orphaned children a rule about resolving conflict: “Never about, always to.” She taught them never to speak about another but always face to face. We would do well to adopt her motto for ourselves. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). A friend talks to you; an enemy talks about you.
  • Will it glorify the Lord? This is the most important question of all! Can your closest friends see Christ living in and through you because of the focus of your conversations? Sadly, I feel that too many of us are indicted by our own words.

~Brenda Payne in “The Heart that Wags the Tongue: Gossip among God’s People,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2005

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In counseling we run across people who say, “I just don’t feel forgiven.” Well, that is a very strange way of putting it. The Bible never tells us to feel forgiven. The Bible says to “reckon it,” to acknowledge it, to think it, to know that we’re forgiven, but not to feel it. Sometimes we run across people who say, “Well, I can’t believe that I’m forgiven, because I just can’t forgive myself.” I don’t know anywhere in the Bible where it says we have to forgive ourselves. The important thing is not whether I forgive myself but rather whether God forgives me. That’s what I have to know. That’s what I have to consider-not whether I can forgive myself, but has God forgiven me. Now why is it that there are people like this? Why are there some people who, when shown all the passages about forgiveness and justification by faith, respond, “I know that, but I just can’t feel it. I just can’t experience it”?

One of the problems with people like this is that they only are thinking about it, telling themselves as they read it that, “God has forgiven me, isn’t that wonderful, God has forgiven me.” But they never get down to the hard business of living like one forgiven. And Paul is saying that we must not only consider ourselves dead to sin but get down to the hard work of living like those who are dead unto sin; the more we live like those who are dead unto sin, the more we will realize how wonderful that truth is. Then we will begin to experience the wonder of God’s forgiveness. Don’t just think; do something: live!

~John Bettler in “Gaining an Accurate Self-Image,” Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. VII, Number 3, 1984

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Failing to recognize that we live in relationships with sinners also means that we might put people in situations that are dangerous. I frequently talk to men who are addicted to pornography on the Internet. What strikes me most about these situations is how other people in their lives are surprised to learn they have this problem. These are men who spend hours and hours alone on the Internet, and yet no questions are asked. There is no accountability. Isn’t it understandable that a sinner in a room by himself with the ability to view pornography anonymously with the click of a button could give in to temptation? It is a growing problem, even in the church. Pastors are not immune from this temptation. Churches often feel they have a need for Internet access, but no one monitors its use. It is as if the church office has a pitfall in the middle of it, with no fences, barbed wire, or warning signs around it. Proverbs informs us about the enticement of the adulteress because of the power of seduction. Men go on business trips and stay in hotel rooms where, with a few clicks of the remote, they can view pornography with no record of it.

We can’t afford to be surprised by our sinfulness. We need to love our neighbors enough not to put them in positions where they will be sorely tempted. Wives need to have permission to say lovingly and respectfully, “You are spending a lot of time on the computer. Is this a temptation for you? How do you handle that?” A husband needs to be able to confess if it is a temptation, and have his activity monitored in some way, have his wife pray for him, and have some kind of accountability with other men. Part of being wise in relationships is understanding that people are sinners.

~Winston Smith in “Wisdom in Relationships,”
The Journal of Biblical Counseling • Volume 19 • Number 2 • Winter 2001

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God’s love is powerful and purposeful. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit made big sacrifices in Their relationship to bring us into Their fellowship. In the same way, the love of God at work in us is intended to expand the circle again, to bring more people in. The momentum is always there. But God’s love never stops being personal. Jesus commands us to love others also because it deepens our experience of God’s love in our own hearts and lives…

Still, many of us react to Jesus’ command to love one another by saying, “Let the other guy go first.” Love is scary and inconvenient. We have to trust and we are afraid we will be hurt. We have to depend and we like to be in control. We have to give and we are afraid we will be used. We have to forgive and we are afraid we will be blamed. We have to sacrifice and we are afraid we will miss out. Love asks for something that we are not sure we have and we are not sure we want to give. In many ways, these are the same reservations and objections we have about receiving God’s love. Maybe that’s not a coincidence. Whether we give love or receive it, love insists on breaking through the walls of self-trust, self-centeredness, pride, and fear that characterize all of us since sin entered the world. If we are going to love or be loved, those familiar walls come down.

~Susan Lutz in “Love One Another as I Have Loved You,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2003

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Why is it so hard for us to give words of praise? Why is it so hard for us to share good things with one another? You won’t lose anything; rather, you will gain something. I love sharing words of happiness with people. When I go through a grocery store line and the clerk is wearing the standard-issued supermarket apron (which I’m sure they love to wear) and the color accents her complexion, I simply say, “That color looks great on you!” (I went through the check-out line one time, and the clerk’s fingernail polish was pretty, so I complimented her on it. Now, every time I go through the line, she is wearing the same color!) Don’t be stingy with your words of affirmation or praise. Lavish them on others. Remember: Words are free!

Can I challenge you to try every day to express at least one genuine, uplifting comment of appreciation to every person you see? Say something joyful, something to encourage every single person you meet. That starts with loving words when you are with your husband in the morning; that means kind words to your kids; that means words of praise to your co-workers. Choose to dwell on other’s strengths, not their weaknesses (Phil. 4:8). Have you ever noticed how you have been affected by someone praising you publicly? Not only do you hear the compliment, but everyone else also hears the same words. And if you publicly praise an individual, you have given him encouragement and also caused others to think well of your friend, too! If we compliment and affirm one another more, do you know what we’re doing? We’re raising the bar. We’re setting the standard higher. We’re setting an example and asking others to rise to the standard; we’re encouraging one another to be more godly. Are you sharing words of commendation and affirmation?

~Cindy Patten in “Becoming a Barnabas,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Spring 2003

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