This article is by Betty-Anne Van Rees and published by BCC
When people reach out to us for help, they have an agenda. So often, that agenda has to do with a troubling behavior—they unleash anger destructively, can be paralyzed by fear, are addicted to a substance, or they sin sexually. More often than not, they know their choices and experiences are less than God’s good purposes for them; that God sees their behavior as sin or doubt-fueled suffering, and they feel guilt, shame, or burden, and want relief. And we want it for them. This is where we can go so desperately wrong.
We tend to make the sin or the suffering the center of the conversation. Those seeking care feel it is the center of the conversation; they will tug the conversation in that direction at every opportunity. But there is a greater truth than their earth-bound struggle, and we will do well to continually turn the conversation to the true center—the glory of God.
Paul saw it this way: “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Beholding: Who is This God Who Calls Us Up?
Our most important role in the lives of those we serve lies here. Do we have an understanding of what they know about God? Do we see their misbeliefs; their misinterpretations of Him? Do they think Him exacting, harsh, lenient, detached, or mean? Or do they know that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end (Lam. 3:22); that He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6)? Do they know that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in creation, will be able to separate (them) from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38)? Have they grown to know Him in His holiness and tremble, as Isaiah did (Isa. 6:5)? Have they learned to see His majestic power and creative genius in created things (Ps. 19:1)? Do they know the wonder of who God is, what He’s done, and what He’s promised? If change doesn’t grow out of knowing God in these kinds of ways, it will be little more than behavior modification and will result in pharisaical, self-righteous independence rather than the glory of God.
Believing: It Doesn’t Grow in a Vacuum
While beholding is the starting place, it is essential that as we share in helping conversations, we are mindful that information is not transformation. Growing to know God is like learning a new language. We might listen without comprehending for some time; occasionally, in our listening, we interpret incorrectly. But the longer we listen, the longer we pursue intimate knowledge of this Holy One, and the clearer our “hearing” becomes. Out of our beholding, belief can grow, but Paul points us to the ultimate power that takes the knowledge produced in beholding and uses it for growing glory.
A sovereign God who longs to be known is working all things together for good, and He is so very often using carefully crafted life experiences in the process. There is no more poignant biblical illustration of this than Job. God’s evaluation of Job in chapter one is striking: ‘There is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). And yet, Job’s catastrophic life circumstances and pursuit of God brought him to new places in his relationship with God. The growth in his awe of God is evident in Job’s response after meeting God intimately: “Before I knew about you. Now I know you” (paraphrase of Job 42:5).
God brought Job to this intimate knowing. His means of moving Job to this place was a pathway of deep suffering, including profound loss, painful “support,” and prolonged searching. It is invaluable for us to note that, in His extended discourse to Job, God did not correct Job’s understanding of His law or Job’s behavior. Instead, God opened his eyes and heart to the reality of who He is. The deep trials Job navigated were the perfect backdrop for growing faith as he began to know God in ways he had never needed before. Unquestionably, Job’s life after this dark season would have overflowed with a faith that would move him to even greater submission to God’s laws.
Change: A Natural Outcome
Paul makes the pattern clear: we turn our faces toward God and behold Him, and the Lord, who is the Spirit, will bring about the needed transformation in our lives, one degree at a time. It may be almost imperceptible because His most important work is done on the inside as He transforms our thoughts, desires, and wills, but beholding God will bring about inevitable change. Rather than being the goal, we will grow to recognize that the change counselees long for is the natural by-product of growing intimacy with God. The sin or suffering struggle was useful medicine, designed by God to increase a hunger that God knows only He can satisfy.
Questions for Reflection
- How do you facilitate in growing a counselee’s capacity to “see,” “hear,” and know God with greater clarity?
- Are you growing in awe of God? How can you encourage those you serve to grow in their awe of God?