When You Send Your Child to Residential Treatment

Handing the care and nurture of your child over to a residential facility is not easy. When the reason for placement is because the child has become too difficult for you to parent, more factors come into play. Depending on the individual and the situation, parents of a child in a residential treatment program can experience any or all of a wide range of emotions.

What Parents Might Experience Personally

Parents may experience confusion. How did it come to this? Or anger–why couldn’t it have worked? If only the child had cooperated with the plan!

When the constant contentions are gone from the home they may feel relief. They don’t have to be perpetually on alert for trouble or grappling with manipulations all day long. Peace has returned to the home. Or if the child had been succeeding in dividing the parents, they find that now they are able to think through issues again and restore peace and unity in their marriage.

They can feel happiness that the child has new opportunities and sadness at the realization of the child losing out on many blessings he could enjoy that his parents wanted to supply. Greater sadness is felt over the fact that his behavior indicates that he is probably not saved and definitely not right with God.

They might have doubts, wondering where they went wrong. How did they fail? Doubts lead easily to guilt feelings and regrets, such as if they perceive themselves to have “failed” the child or the siblings. They were too strict. They were too permissive. Maybe they didn’t believe the siblings’ complaints when they should have. Maybe they poured so many resources into the one child that the siblings lost out on opportunities. They are wrong to enjoy relief now. Reasons for feeling guilt and regrets can be many, some legitimate and others not.

There may be grief. Parents who move a beloved child out of the home and into residential care experience losses. They lose the daily contact with the child. They lose a sense of relational closeness. The child’s bedroom is uninhabited and eerily quiet. His place at the table is empty, his seat in the car vacant. They lose a part of their family. They also lose a dream. This isn’t how family is supposed to work. It becomes undeniable that they will never experience the particular joys they’d anticipated from “family” or this particular relationship. Missing their beloved child, parents endure a constant if fluctuating longing for his return or for connection with him.

New uncertainties lead to wondering, prudent concern, or even worry. How do we love the child from a distance? What does that look like? What plan do we have if the child is sent back home prematurely?

In relation to others, parents might be hypervigilant. They may be processing what to tell those who ask where the child is. Will someone ask a question too awkward to answer? In the past, family or friends questioned their parenting, “You’re too strict.” “You don’t understand how sweet your child is.” They may be wary of telling much to others for risk of criticism.

What Siblings Might Experience

If there are siblings, parents have to address their concerns wisely with grace. Sibling responses will vary according to many factors like age, emotional closeness to the rebellious child, and intensity of either the positive interactions or the anger- or fear-inducing provocations received. There may be relief. As one sibling said, “The black cloud is gone.” No longer are there daily, hourly, conflicts raging in the home. They no longer have the worry of watching or hearing a parent be verbally attacked by the rebellious child. Finally, Dad and Mom have time for them. Finally they are free of tension, provocations, and fear. They are also free to tell Dad and Mom about maltreatment by the offending sibling that they had kept secret; they disclose more.

There may be anxiety and/or confusion. What will Dad and Mom do if told the secret offenses of the absent sibling? What do I do with the offenses I am now free to expose and face? What was wrong in the family? Why would Dad and Mom send a sibling away? Was I part of the problem? Will Dad and Mom bring the provocateur back or can I relax?

Anger feelings rise to the surface because they can now express it without threat of the bully’s retaliation, so they release pent-up frustrations over unresolved perceived injustices. There may be brooding from a desire for revenge for the many injustices and sins the sibling endured at the hands of the absent child, leading to bitterness. If the children want to never have that sibling return to the family, they resist reconciliation. They want to cut him out of their lives. These responses will have to be evaluated biblically as to whether they are prudent or sinful.

What You Can Do

Hope. It is inevitable that relationships have difficulties. God is both in control and loving. This situation is under His supervision and He will use it for your welfare. By the power of His Spirit, you can trust Him. – 1 Cor. 10:13

Pray. God has chosen to work out His sovereign plan in part through the prayers of His people. Pray for repentance and subsequent growth in love for Christ, for salvation and subsequent sanctification. Pray for the staff and the child and your family. – 1 Thess. 5:17

Determine. Hopefully, you have no problem dealing with the situation. But if find it difficult and emotions threaten to overwhelm you, don’t live by feelings. Evaluate what emotions are based in truth, find out what God says to do about them, and then do what He says no matter how you feel. – Gal. 6:16

Restrain. I’ve been asked what a parent can say when someone asks about such as delightful charming child being sent to residential treatment. There isn’t much you can say without gossiping about the child and that would be sin. Develop a one-sentence, discreet answer. Better to be misunderstood than to sin with gossip. – Prov. 10:19

Confide. Choose a trusted person as a confidante who will counsel wisely for comfort and solutions. – Prov. 17:17

Assess. Did you parent like the Bible says regarding instruction, discipline, grace, communication, and gentleness? Where you obeyed God, give thanks for the work of His Spirit in you. Where you disobeyed, plan how to change and implement the plan. – Prov. 28:13

Change. Take this opportunity to make needed changes in your marriage and parenting. Use this time to grow in Christ, including your heart desires and attitudes and your ways of communicating. – Eph. 4

Love. Plan and carry out ways to love the child now. Depending on what is allowed and in the best interest of the child, ideas include phone calls, letters, cards, visits, and gifts. Ponder ways to speak words of blessing, like Paul did with the wayward Corinthians. Speak well of the child to others. Commit to continued love for the difficult child. – 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 11:11

Restore. Work with the other children in the home to help them take a biblical view of their absent sibling and the situation. Help them assess their own hearts, put off sinful responses and put on godly desires, thoughts, words, and actions. – Matt. 22:39; Luke 6:20-37

Support. Be supportive of the staff at the facility where your child is. If you don’t understand or think you disagree, be slow to criticize and quick to ask questions for more understanding. Give benefit of the doubt. Thank them. – Prov. 18:13

Prepare. Prepare for your child’s return or for future interactions. – Prov. 20:18

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Experience Intimacy with God

Ancient or modern, God’s children have always wanted intimacy with Him. Rightly so. Man was made for close knowledge and familiarity with God. God walked with Adam in the Garden (Gen. 3). Intimacy is all over the psalms. “I love You, O Lord” (Ps. 18:1). “My soul thirsts for You” (Ps 63:1). “Hear my cry, O God” (Ps. 61:1). “I will give You thanks with all my heart” (Ps. 138:1). Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you…if you abide in Me and My words abide in you…”(John 15:4, 7). What a delight it is to know Jesus!

In this post, I talked about experiencing intimacy with God through prayer. It is part of a series on hearing God “in the heart.” Now I’d like to broaden to other means God has given for enjoying Him, for enjoying the relationship a person can have with Him.

First though, it is essential to distinguish between the state of being in an intimate relationship with God and the experience of that intimacy. A personal familial relationship with God must be obtained before it can be experienced. Yet as I listen to many Christian women in the country I conclude that in general they are so focused on the experience that they actually limit the breadth and depth of their relationship.

How do we obtain a familial (intimate) relationship with God?

The Bible says that all people are born separated from God. What separates is our sin. To remove the separation and obtain peace with God we need forgiveness. Forgiveness can’t be earned; it is given by God’s grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9). The particular faith is belief that Jesus is the Son of God who died to pay for sins, rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father. Upon trust in Christ for forgiveness, the person enters a relationship of peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Once an enemy, he is reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10-11). He is granted full rights as a son in God’s family, is united with Christ, and has the indwelling Holy Spirit (Eph. 1). This close relationship, this intimate state in God’s family, is a position. It is given through trust, trust in Christ and Christ alone.

How do we experience intimacy in relationship?

To achieve a sense of intimacy with God (as opposed to the positional state), people suggest all kinds of methods. In a google search, I found that some suggest singing God a (romantic) love song–not wrong unless it is the pursuit of sensations because we like how they feel. Some suggest saying a breath prayer, but there is no biblical basis for such a concept. You might breathe deeply or take a walk–those two seem to go together well, though how they generate feelings of intimacy with God I don’t see. There are many options invented by men.

God Himself tells us how we can enjoy intimacy with Him. Fear the Lord.

The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him
And He will make them know His covenant. ~ Prov. 25:14

A study of the word “secret” shows that the idea of this verse is friendship, intimate communion. The Lord is holy, unapproachable, and not to be understood on a whim, but He confides in those who fear Him. Fear of the Lord is a right response to knowledge of Him, a response of mingled dread, awe, veneration, wonder, pleasure, and joy which motivates love for and obedience to God. If it doesn’t result in obedience, it may be a feeling of awe but it isn’t fear of the Lord.

What does God confide? His covenant, which reveals Himself. He enables those who fear Him to understand the covenant’s revelation of His glorious character, its gracious provisions, the way to salvation and reconciliation with Him.

Where can we find such a wonderful covenant? In the Bible. It certainly can’t be discovered anywhere else in all creation nor in religious stories handed down or all the books that have ever been written. The New Covenant given in the Bible is where Christ Himself is revealed.

What does the Bible show as to the means of enjoying intimate friendship with this otherwise unapproachable, holy God? As we relate to Him in the following ways, our relationship with Him is strengthened and intimate communion will increase and deepen.

  • Faith
    • Believe God when He says “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Ps. 145:18). God remains in close proximity to one who trusts Him, and that closeness is not dependent upon the person’s feelings but upon the God who promised. He calls His children to trust Him for it.
  • Bible reading and study to hear from God
    • The Bible is where God has hidden the “secret” He reveals to those who fear Him (Prov. 25:14).
    • The Bible is God’s self-revelation. No wonder “Your testimonies also are my delight; They are my counselors” (Ps. 119:124).
    • “He who has my commandments and keeps them he it is who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” ( John 14:21). If we don’t study His commandments we can’t expect know them in order to express our love to Jesus in a way that pleases Him (2 Tim. 2:15).
  • Obedience
    • “He who has my commandments and keeps them he it is who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).
      There’s nothing about feelings here. Feelings come and go. Though obedience results in positive feelings, it is the obedience that is reliable evidence that the child is lovingly close to his father

      • Obedience to what? It is through obedience to the “commandments,” not to impressions, that children express their love.
      • Jesus promises to disclose Himself (intimacy). How? Again, there is nothing here about impressions. He discloses Himself where He has spoken–in His Word, illumined by His Spirit. Obedience increases disclosure because practice enhances experiential understanding.
  • Prayer to talk to God
    • Jesus communed with His Father in prayer and still intercedes for Christians (John 17).
    • By prayer, we talk to God. (See this post.)
  • Call Him “Father.”
    • Christians are children of God (John 3:1-2). Jesus told the children of God to call Him “Father” (Matt. 6:9). If you are His child, come to Him as a godly child, adoringly affectionate.
  • Daily confession of and repentance from sins
    • “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:5). When David confessed, his joy in fellowship with the Lord was restored (Ps. 32:10-11; Ps. 51:4, 12).
  • Singing hymns and spiritual songs
    • “Singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 1:16).
  • Thanking God
    • When you thank God you are in His presence delighting in the good, loving character of the God who gives gifts to you. (1 Thess. 5:18)
  • Rejoicing
    • “Rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 4:4). We are commanded to choose joy. Joy is a logical reaction of a forgiven person to being close to his wonderful Savior. Joy also engenders a sense of delight and closeness to Him.
  • Thinking about who God is and what God has done for you
    • “On the glorious splendor of Your majesty, and on Thy wonderful works I will meditate” (Ps. 145:5). Meditating on a loved one–who he/she is and what he/she has done for us–is an exercise intimacy. It also increases intimate connection.
  • Thinking God’s thoughts
    • “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17). Knowing the thoughts of another is intimate. Of the one in close fellowship with God David says, “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:3).In the Bible, God has handed His thoughts to us in an open book, so to speak, providing we actually open it.
  • Being active in your local church.
    • Worshiping together, we have fellowship with Christ also (1 John 1:3).
    • The church gathered sings lovingly to the Lord together, “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Eph. 5:19).
    • Service to one another builds the body of Christ to know and love Him (Eph 4:12).
  • Communion (with others in your local church).
    • In communion, we commune. That cultivates intimacy. We give thanks to Christ as we remember His nature, character, and what He did for us. Sharing the Lord’s Supper is part of fellowshipping with the Lord (1 Cor. 11:23-24, 33).

Obviously, God wants His children to enjoy intimacy with Him. It should be apparent that God has provided no lack of ways to be intimate with Him. What should also be apparent is that these godly disciplines focus on the practice of intimacy, not the feeling of it. Rather than try to generate feelings or a sense of union with God, faith acts on the knowledge that one is already in close relation to God who is always present.

I am so glad God gave us emotions so we can enjoy feelings of closeness and affection for Him! I am also glad that relating intimately to God does not depend upon feelings, which are so fickle. Rather, we can enjoy relating intimately with God by means He told us to use. Thanks be to God for giving us so many ways to enjoy Him!

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Before You Choose Residential Treatment for Your Child

Sending a child to residential treatment is not something parents take lightly. They love their children and want them in the home. But some who have obstinately obstreperous children sometimes perceive they have no option left but a residential program.

This post will not argue for or against residential treatment. In fact, group homes and facilities help many to get their feet on solid ground for functioning well in society. All I want to do here is to comment on a few aspects that Christian parents might question or consider alongside the broad scope of other data in their decision-making process.

Ethics and Timing

Christian parents live under the mandate in Ephesians 6:4. God places the primary responsibility for instruction and discipline in godly living upon parents, specifically fathers. Therefore, some parents might conclude that residential treatment is not an ethical option. I here proceed upon the understanding that residential treatment does not categorically violate Ephesians 6:4.

Timing can add pressure to an already difficult and emotion-charged situation. Anger in the child that escalates into mild aggression raises the question, is the child bluffing or is he building up to violence? Parents don’t want to send the child away. Neither do they want anyone in the family harmed because they failed to take action soon enough. Civil authorities will not take action until there is an actual assault. Yet many facilities will not accept a child who has been physically violent, so waiting until the police have to be called will sabotage a residential option. Therefore, parents might feel pressure to choose residential treatment (or boarding school) before they have evidence that the child will truly try to harm someone. What a heavy burden!

Two Possible Benefits

Some children endanger others, such as by bringing drugs into the home, harming others, sexually molesting the siblings, or repeatedly damaging property. Sending an aggressive child out of the home to another residence is one way to protect family members.

Programs appeal to difficult, troubled children in ways which families sometimes cannot, such as through the daily structure, the consistent system of rewards and consequences, the responsibilities they can assign and the rewards they can offer. Centers have the personnel for constant supervision, private tutoring, or counseling that parents cannot provide. The staff are there because they really care about kids. It may be that having a non-parent authority reduces the emotional pressure on the child. Since he isn’t expected to love this person with a close familial love, he relaxes his hypervigilance enough to hear the beneficial counsel being given. Many adults are living productive lives today due in part to the positive influence of a boarding school or residential treatment facility. I am thankful for the people who give of themselves to help children in residential programs.

Two Possible Disadvantages

Residential programs may expose the child to unbiblical ideas without the counter-balance of parental teaching, so be diligent about research ahead of time. There are a few programs that are well-grounded in a biblical approach to counseling. Most programs are built on philosophies and theories of psychology. While the staff almost certainly love the children and desire the best for them, along with any biblical views held they unwittingly incorporate teachings and methods which contradict the Bible, e.g. encouraging self-esteem. This does not mean that such a program cannot be helpful, just that parents need to be aware and plan accordingly. They are at a disadvantage in correcting the child’s thinking because overriding the counsel of the child’s teachers or therapists will undermine their authority and sabotage what help they might provide.

Parents risk permanent separation. With the child away from home, parents and siblings grow used to a more peaceful way of life and may not want the child to return and inject conflict back into the family.

Guard Expectations

Programs can be helpful even if they aren’t completely biblical. I believe that a family environment closely supported by the local church with biblical counseling is best, but non-Christian services of many types can be helpful. Some parents cannot afford the expense of the place they prefer and so a less biblical option is all they can swing. I am very thankful for all who devote themselves to children in group residential homes and programs. Even if it is not a solidly biblical facility, time there can promote helpful changes in perceptions and thoughts or promote some helpful habits that might be beneficial influences God will use as part of drawing the child to Himself in the future.

Residential programs cannot fix your child. Generally speaking, parents of a persistently defiant child want the child fixed (as defined by the particular parent). If he would just behave, they can have a happy family.

No one but God can “fix” your child. Your child can choose willful ways no matter how skilled the residential staff is, just like he did even if you parented well. Therefore, you need to evaluate your own goals, give up your dream of what your family “should” be, and choose biblical expectations. Bowing to the sovereignty of God, respect your child as he exercises his God-given personal responsibility for his own choices. Avoiding blaming the staff; hold the child accountable for his own behavior and attitudes.

Facility or home, behaviorism is deceptive. Cognitive-behavioral therapies commonly applied at facilities tend to have a degree of success at improving behavior because the child finds that good behavior earns rewards and privileges. This is a good result, just not the final goal. It gives the impression that methods of behavioral change “work.” While improved behavior is a fine (secondary) goal, it can be deceptive. The child who improves apart from dependence on Christ might conclude that he can be good without God. Then he is less likely to see how sinful he still is at heart.

In Christian contexts, home or residential facility, a manipulative child can falsely profess faith in order to fool others and feel good about himself. He might “get saved” several times at different church events like VBS and church camp. He might even think he is sincere each time. He can appear morally upright to himself and others and speak Christian lingo while still unsaved. This manipulation is less likely to succeed in those programs and families which emphasize repentance, insist on changed behavior over time, and are willing to challenge the child’s profession of faith when behavior contradicts profession.

Your child will carry significant differences from the rest of your family. Hopefully, your child will return home. Allow that fitting into your family would be difficult for any child who has spent a long period of time away from it because the child will not have been home to share your household habits or events that build memories in common. He won’t have been molded by your particular family culture. He will carry a different “home” and church culture with him and he will be aware that there is a part of him you can’t understand because you didn’t live it at the facility with him.

Ask yourself

  • What am I most wanting to accomplish by sending my child to residential treatment? Am I looking for relief from my despair or a quick fix of the child? Or is this the best for the child and family?
  • Have I sought help from my church leaders? Have I sought biblical counseling? Have I made use of every resource that a local church can provide? Does my church agree that I have done everything I can?
  • What is my exit strategy? On what basis will I bring the child home? What can be done to prepare for success?

If You Send Your Child

If you send your child to a residential program, among other actions you take don’t forget to:

  • Stay in close contact with personnel there. Develop good rapport with the staff. Stay aware of your child’s situation and staff beliefs and actions.
  • Refrain from interfering. Allow your child to suffer consequences without your pity. Let him benefit from the principle of sowing and reaping. This is one important way to love him.
  • Be as supportive of the staff as you can be. They care about children. Do not be an oppositional parent even if you disagree with them. They have reasons for how they do what they do, especially in a group facility as opposed to a home. Support them and speak well of them to others and especially to your child so as to affirm their authority over him. Seek to understand their point of view.
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Intimacy with God Through Prayer

Christians often associate prayer with intimacy because it is interaction in close, personal communication. I believe that the desire to feel close to God is perhaps the strongest motivation driving women to invest themselves in the practice of hearing God extrabiblically “in the heart.” We want feelings of intimacy. There are other means of enjoying intimacy with God. For this post, I’d like to focus on prayer, specifically on one way to increase intimacy with God in prayer time.

Who’s talking how?

First we have to distinguish between hearing God and talking to God–a distinction rather essential to good conversation. It isn’t hard to find someone teaching that prayer is a two-way conversation. Ask God for what you want and then get quiet and listen. It is even suggested that you journal the thoughts He (supposedly) brings to mind. This method is actually a practice of mysticism. [1] Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are “deceitful more than all else.” If we truly believe Jeremiah then it should be obvious that listening in one’s heart means listening to someone you can’t trust.

Prayer is not two-way communication. Jesus never taught His disciples that in prayer they should listen to God. Nowhere does the Bible instruct people to listen to God in prayer. In prayer, people do the speaking. We have the privilege of telling God our most intimate thoughts and desires.

Where do we hear God? We hear where His words are–in the written, objective Word of God.

So how can we enjoy a two-way conversation? We listen to God in His Word and talk to Him in prayer.

Do you read the Bible and pray but it still seems disconnected? One reason may be that you are changing the subject. You and God are not talking about the same things.

Two-way communication

A few weeks ago, in the church nursery, I was playing pitch and catch with a toddler, sort of. I tossed the ball to the child. As long as she tossed the ball back my way, we were playing. When she held the ball or threw it in the opposite direction and ran after it herself, she was playing. We weren’t really playing together. I was pitching, she was off in her own game disconnected from me. Not until she again tossed the ball my way were we truly interacting. In the same way, good communication requires reciprocity.

A sense of intimacy is also significantly enhanced when there is awareness of a familial relationship. Interaction would have felt different had the child been my own. Christians are children of the God who, though holy and just, also tenderly urges them to call Him “Father” (Matt. 6:9). [2]

Typically, Christians spend prayer time with God like the toddler played ball with me. We let God pitch, but we don’t throw back. We read the Bible to hear from God. Then we pray about topics unrelated to what God told us. Like the toddler, we hold the ball and throw the conversation in a different direction. In essence, we ignore what God said, change the subject of the conversation, and talk about what we want. It disconnects communication. This kind of interaction among people is considered rude.

Intimacy in communication with anyone is built when there is reciprocity, when each party pitches the ball back to the other. With our Father, here is how that can be practiced. Listen first to your Father by reading and meditating on His Word. Then stay on topic. Talk to the Father first about what He said. There may be praise for an attribute revealed, giving of thanks for a promise or a blessing that the passage mentioned, requests for understanding the passage, or requests for wisdom on how to implement a command or principle in the passage. Only after discussing God’s Word with Him, then say or request what is on your agenda.

This is a reciprocal conversation with God. It can be carried on all day as you meditate on a verse and then talk to your Father about it. As you put His lovingly written Word into your memory, verses or truths from Scripture should come to mind to guide you. You can talk to Him about how they apply in the decisional moments of your  day.

This kind of interchange can also work in reverse. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask…” (John 15:7). If His words abide in your mind, you will know the will of your Father and can form your requests in accord with it. Say you have a particular decision to make or problem to solve. Ask God for wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas. 1:5). Asking for wisdom expresses trustful dependence on God, which delights Him.

Then, consult His wisdom. Where? The Word of God is certainly wisdom given “to all generously and without reproach.” The Word is “wisdom from above,” “a lamp to my feet” so you can know what to do (Jas. 3:17; Pr. 119:105). Trust the Holy Spirit to guide your study so that you find Scriptures that provide His solutions. Ask Him to illumine your mind to understand His Word and how it applies. During that process, you can be talking to the Father about His wisdom as it relates to your need. This is two-way communication for resolving a problem in your life.

Note: We tend to assume that we naturally interpret correctly. Sin in your life can affect your interpretation. Consider confessing sins to God before reading.

The next post in this series will say more about experiencing intimacy with God.

~~~~~~~~

(Thanks to The Navigators and to Abner Chou for certain concepts.) 

[1] “Mysticism is the search for unio mystica, personal union with God.” http://tottministries.org/mysticism-part-1/
Union is pursued by non-intellectual experiences apart from the Bible such as inner voices, impressions, visions, and feelings of ecstasy.

[2] God is the father of all people only in the sense that He created all. He is familially, intimately “Father” to only Christians because only they are His children by blood.

Resources:

Morning Devotions & Meeting with God: An Open Bible, An Open Hymnal and an Open Heart  |  Listen

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Living by the Word seems like cold, dry logic.

This post is part of a series on listening to God “in the heart” through impressions, nudges, or other subjective experiences believed to be the voice of God. My position, very simply put, is that in our day God speaks to us through propositional truths in his Word and only his Word. We can learn scientific truths and common sense from other sources, but God himself conveys his voice only through his Word. Each post has fielded one or two challenges to that proposition, such as:

But I have impressions…
So if my impression isn’t from God, then where is it from?
But isn’t Scripture a filter?
But the impression was to do something good.
God spoke, just less authoritatively.
But experiences persuade when Scripture doesn’t.

The next challenge continues the series. In protest against taking only the Bible as the voice of God we hear and in defense of taking subjective impressions as divine personal guidance in addition to God’s Word it says,

But, living by just the Word (and not subjective impressions) seems like cold, dry logic.

“Living by” means implementing. Implementation first requires the work, the cold, dry tedium(?), of study to learn what applies. It certainly is harder to study the Word than to just feel God and engage in an imaginary conversation. But, the logic being studied is the very words of God and for a purpose of changing your life. Study time can be filled with talking to about what God is saying in what you are studying. Time in the Word and prayer brings joy.

Implementation can be hard, especially when we don’t feel like it. It requires taking the dry logic of a command or principle and applying it with warm energy in thought, word, or deed. It certainly will be cold if it is done just to perform or in one’s own strength. Rather, living by the Word requires walking in the Spirit, in dependence upon His strength, praying “according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). It is life transforming!

I want intimacy and I want to feel it. On a different note, I believe that underlying this view of God’s Word may be a sincere and good desire for a sense of intimacy. Why desire the feeling? There are at least two reasons, of which one or both may be the case. One, women tend to depend on feelings for guidance and security if not simply enjoyment. Two, the feeling is taken as validation, evidence of something. It validates oneness with God.

I believe that desire to feel intimate oneness with God is perhaps the most pressing motivation driving the common pursuit of listening to God “in the heart.” This person rightly wants a relationship with God that is not just an impersonal reading of print on a page and praying to the ceiling (which I don’t grant is an accurate view). The trouble is, she relies on feelings to verify reality. She trusts in her sense of intimacy to validate that she actually has intimacy. This is faith in feelings, not in the promises of God.

It is also mysticism, the pursuit of personal, unmediated union with God. [1] The person seeks oneness with God through non-rational experiences that seem to provide illumination beyond the propositional truth in the Bible. Mystics believe that spiritual truth cannot be found rationally or through conventional means, cannot be known through the intellect. It comes through inner voices and visions. Mystics use the word “ecstasy” to describe the oneness with God that happens when one gives himself fully to God. [2]

Many Christians who practice mysticism (but wouldn’t agree with that assessment) still believe that God speaks rationally in the Bible, but its propositional truth is not enough. Illumination of the really deep things of God, including His hidden will for what decision he wants the person to make, come through the illumination of impressions. Mental impressions are the voice of God.

Having a private source of revelation is very attractive. God meets you, personally, right in your core. God communicates to you things not found in the Bible, special directions just for you. [3] No Scripture teaches this kind of privatized spirituality.

Can we have intimacy if we don’t feel it? Of course! This happens all the time in loving familial relationships.

Feeling warmth and joy in an intimate fellowship with God is right and good. We should want and enjoy it. However, there is a difference between God’s nearness to us and our sensation of that nearness.

Intimacy may be defined as close familiarity, close knowledge. Galatians 4:7 and 9 say that a Christian is “…no longer a slave, but a son” and “you have come to know God” and “be known by God.” Sonship, knowing and being known are statements of intimate relationship. Christians are one with God as a matter of position. They have been placed into union with Christ. You can’t get closer than that regardless of whether you sense it.

Are feelings part of the Christian life? Yes! The psalms are loaded with expressions of the whole range of emotions in a believer’s walk with God–gladness, anger, joy, sorrow, fear, loneliness, peacefulness, etc. God even commands joy: “Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4). But affectionate feelings are a result of truth and obedience, not guides to truth, signs of divine guidance, proofs of right relationship, or a measure of intimacy. One example is this promise of intimacy with Jesus:

“He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me, and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21).

It doesn’t say, “He who feels warm affection toward Me, he it is who loves Me.” Rather, obedience to the “dry logic” of commandments is evidence of love and oneness. Jesus discloses himself in the commandments, not in impressions, so when we believe and obey we are showing him our love because we’re showing that we believe him.

We don’t always feel like obeying. If we think feelings are necessary for obedience then we are dependent upon feelings, not the Lord. When we value pleasing God by obedience to the Word more than, or in place of, feelings of connection with God, we are pursuing God as He directs rather than pursuing feelings.

Good feelings often don’t precede obedience; they follow it. When we value pleasing God by obedience to the Word, when we value His glory no matter our feelings, and then we obey, we achieve the goal of pleasing Him and that results in joy and a sense of closeness to Him. Then the feeling of intimacy is delightful, but it wasn’t the goal for the obedience. Loving Him was.

What is God’s assessment of his written Word? Unlike all other books the Bible is more than just print on a page. It is not cold and dry but “living and active,” at least, that’s God’s analysis in Hebrew 4:12. He also describes it as:

  • “piercing,”
  • sharper than a sword,
  • “wonderful,”
  • where “wonderful things” are,
  • a “lamp,”
  • a “path” of delight,
  • wisdom,
  • giving “understanding,”
  • “pure milk,”
  • “truth” that sets free,
  • truth going out from God’s mouth “accomplishing what I desire,”
  • “like fire” and “like a hammer which shatters a rock,”
  • “more desirable than gold” and “sweeter…than honey,”
  • “the joy of my heart” to be loved “exceedingly” [4]

Based on this small sample of God’s assessment, I can’t quite hear him calling his Word “cold, dry logic.”

Can we have two-way intimate communication with God? Living by the Word of God is not dry, but is walking with Jesus the Word incarnate. The Holy Spirit speaks to the believer through his Word by illuminating the meaning of it and giving the child of God faith to believe it. When the Word speaks, God speaks. That means that you and I can hear from God every time we read his Word or rehearse it in memorization, meditation, and song. That can be many times a day!

In prayer, we talk to God. As we listen to what God says through Scripture and then talk to him in prayer, we have an ongoing, personal, intimate conversation with God. Praying his own Word in praise, thanks, and requests exercises close communion. In a careful study of his Word regarding questions we have we will “hear” His counsel for decisions, that is to say, read his own words on the matter. If we want to hear audibly we can read them aloud. With that counsel we can by prayer consider and conform our will to his. Obedient application of his commands deepens the relationship. In all, we by faith rely on the Holy Spirit to be guiding our understanding and enabling our obedience. Our hearts can overflow with joy and delight in relationship with him through the Word of God, prayer, and obedient living.

The Bible holds far more words of God than any man could know and master in a lifetime. We should be joyfully content with the abundant treasure trove God has given in the written Word.

The next post in this series will provide a plan for experiencing intimacy with God in prayer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[1] “Mysticism is the search for unio mystica, personal union with God.” Gary Gilley, “Mysticism, a Way of the Past, the Wave of the Future,” (January 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 1), Posted under “Mysticism – Part 1,” 14 January 2009, http://tottministries.org/mysticism-part-1/

[2] Ibid.

[3] Gary Gilley, “Contemplative Prayer, the Heart of Mysticism,” (March 2005 – Volume 11, Issue 3), Posted under  “Mysticism – Part 3,” 14 January 2009, http://tottministries.org/mysticism-part-3/

[4] (Ps. 119:105, 18, 35, 129, 130; Proverbs; Is. 55:11; Jer. 23:29; 1 Pet. 2:2; John 8:31-32; Ps. 19:10; 119:111).

Resources:

 

The Living and Active Word of God
Why Do We Say, ‘God Told Me’?
http://tottministries.org/contemplative-prayer/ (contemplative prayer and spiritual disciplines)

Posted in Christian Living, Discernment | Tagged , , ,

Top Ten Posts for 2017

Please accept my thanks for reading this blog in 2017. I hope that the posts have been encouraging and edifying to you. I added two links to the blogroll that I thought might provide more resources for you: bc4women (https://bc4women.org/blog-2/) and my pastor’s blog (Vassal of the King). Both offer good stuff!

I’d like to thank D.K. who edited some of my posts, making some needed improvements. Below are the top ten posts that you read in 2017, listed from least to most read.

10. Rejoice in the Lord – How to Put On Joy. I’m glad to see this made the top ten again this year because God desires that His children experience great joy. Joy demonstrates how delightful the glory of Christ is and how delightful it is to know Christ intimately. Christians want to rejoice. But how do we go about it?

9. An Unloved Woman  What does Proverbs 30 tells us about a woman who has experienced significant rejection? What is likely to happen if she marries? Is there hope for change?

8. God Still Speaks – Discussion After Josiah’s Fire. What began as a book review turned into a series, answering rebuttals to the review. This is the first of the series, a good place to start for an introduction.

7. They Say He Has No Conscience. This post examines the popular idea that some people lack a conscience. We hear of some extreme evil and that the perpetrator carries no remorse for what he has done. From our perspective, lack of remorse seems unreasonable. Surely, normal people would feel remorse for such acts. Since the perpetrator does not, he must be mentally ill or not even have a conscience. But is this what the Bible teaches? This post goes best read with its partner post, How can they be so remorseless?.

6. No Trust, No Love. Really? It is a popular notion that a person cannot love another unless they first trust him or her. Trust is, in certain relationships, extremely important and enhances love, but trust is false to believe that you must trust before you can love another. This post is one of a series. The related posts will set it in a broader context.

5. Josiah’s Fire. This is a book review that, due to pushback, led to a series on hearing from God subjectively. Serving up the attraction of warm, fuzzy sentiments and titillating claims that a little autistic boy visited heaven, talked with the dead, and heard from God frequently, this book promotes trusting one’s subjective experiences and undermines the doctrines of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and the person and work of Christ.

4. Marriage: Procreation is Important, But Not Primary This is one of a series on God’s purposes for marriage.

3. Parenting the Difficult Child  This page introduces my book and gives some background on it that is not in the book. The book is being used by parents whose children are often disobedient and oppositional. Additionally, it appeals to adoptive parents and parents whose children behave according to the psychological label Reactive Attachment Disorder. While psychologists have helpfully categorized behaviors under a label, their views and solutions are not biblical. Part of this book contrasts this man-made view with the Word of God and, in doing so, sets the Christian moving into biblical thinking about other psychology-constructed models.

2. A Purpose for Marriage: Oneness

1. The Secondary Primary Purpose of Marriage: Companionship  Everyone who marries does so for a reason, often not realizing that God has purposes for marriage far more important than ours. Our purposes, if they are not in agreement with God’s, lead to problems because we are basically selfish. Knowing God’s purpose helps us to set daily interactions with our spouses into an eternal context. Living for God’s purposes rather than our own transforms how we view our communication, decision-making, sex, child-rearing, finances, socializing, and relational conflicts. Taking God’s view for our own will change our behaviors, which usually results in a more satisfying relationship with one’s spouse. The pleasure and glory of God is more important that our satisfaction, so I recommend: The Ultimate Purpose of Marriage: Image-Bearing.

I wish you a 2018 full of God’s grace and peace!

Posted in Top Ten