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Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
Proverbs 27:19 As in water face reflects face, So a man's heart reveals the man.
Therapeutic Approach of Scripture for our Heart Condition
Increasingly, the church seems to be turning over healing issues to psychology. There are a number of reasons for this trend. Psychology has developed clear therapeutic approaches for developmental deficits and wounding in life. These approaches can be studied, mastered and applied with certain results.
Another key element is that much of our healing calls for more than 3 to 6 meetings, and most pastors do not feel they have the time to invest in long-term counseling, which is largely true. Therefore referring to someone who is set up for more extensive time commitments seems to be an advantage.
The drawback to this understandable logic in referring people who are seeking healing in their lives is that most secular therapies are carried out without the Lord’s active involvement. Therapeutic approaches that are licensed by the State Board of Behavioral Sciences are secular therapies based on psychological concepts of what human beings need in order to be healthy. Generally speaking, there are two primary approaches. One is a psychoanalytic approach. It focuses on areas of unconscious material, and holds that when they are made conscious and reinterpreted healing is produced. The other area is a cognitive behavioral approach, which focuses on relearning. It sees brokenness as an outcome of faulty learning or lack of it. If we learn new ways of dealing with the dilemmas of life, and apply that healthy learning, it will produce healing. The advantage of either approach is that they provide clear therapeutic methodologies for pursuing healing. We can learn those methods, exercise them, and with them impact lives.
What we are finding with more regularity, however, is that for Christians something seems to be missing from both approaches. It would be difficult to count the number of people who have come for counsel, having been through several or numerous years of one or another of the psychological therapeutic approaches. They often feel incomplete in their healing and still at a distance from the Lord. What is the problem?
It is that we don’t work the way we are designed to without close communion with the One who made us.
If we cannot find our way all the way back home with the Lord, we have the sense that something is missing. Indeed it is! Fellowship with the Lord is the key to scriptural healing, and it is the means by which His Kingdom comes into our hearts and therefore manifests around us. The part that psychology can play is to help identify certain natural conditions that tend to interrupt and/or block that fellowship, but we cannot be brought to wholeness outside of union with God. That is the problem.
A word used in Scripture for "healing" is the root of our word "therapy" or therapeutics. The Greek word used in Matthew 10:1 and elsewhere is therapeuo. It means to wait upon menially. Figuratively it means to adore God or specifically to relieve disease—to cure, heal, worship. The link to adoration and worship reflects the Scriptural means of healing. It is a partnership with God, an outcome of worship, adoration, and willingly preparing oneself to attend the healing work of God in lives. It takes that kind of commitment to God to get us to "wait upon menially." The other, closely associated word, is therapon, which has a similar meaning: a menial attendant (as if cherishing)—servant.
1 Th. 2:8 So, affectionately longing for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
We are involved in a partnership with the Lord in His commitment to heal and restore His children. He is the saving, healing Lord, and we are the attendant, the menial servant joining Him in that work. It is His active involvement in it that supplies it with the power to heal, and healing also implies restoration of relationship and union with Him, as we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). Restoring connection and the ability to unite with and receive from the Lord is both the means and goal of healing.
So the question presents itself: How does one identify and pursue the therapeutic approach in Scripture? Is there a therapeutic approach that is as complete and effective as our psychological therapies? People get saved, but that does not automatically free and heal and bring them to the wholeness and empowering reflected in the lives of the disciples. In fact, we rarely see that. Even less rarely do we see the purity and simplicity of devotion to which they ultimately came. That is still the goal, but most believers are quite unaware of how to get there. Some do not actually want their lives changed that dramatically and choose not to inquire further.
If there is a scriptural approach to healing that is as systematic as those presented by psychology, what is it and where is it to be found? It runs throughout Scripture, but we are not able to put it together without the involvement of the Spirit of God, revealing and lighting up His way. In other words, we cannot master it on our own, with our own intellect. A central structure in Scripture is heart—the center of our being. The only One who looks on the heart and understands it fully is the Lord. To us it is a mystery or confusing mixture of threads, knit together with such complexity that we cannot unravel it. He knows exactly how all the breaking happened; He knows the progression that will be necessary to put things back together; He is the One in whom we find the security with which to engage in healing, and He is the only One from whom we can find out the nature and purpose for our being. Therefore, the scriptural approach first and foremost depends upon an active partnership with Him. Its outcome is that of living life in partnership, no longer plagued by what was missing. Throughout Scripture there are prophetic exhortations, offers to return, and character vignettes of this reality being restored. He describes the nature of His therapy over and over and over, in a great variety of ways: Ex. 19:4; Deut. 5:29; 6:5-7; 10:16; 30:6; Is. 42:16; 55:1-3; Lu. 6:46-49; 1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 3:18-22; 22:17 are but a few of the glimpses of it.
However, the place where the promise and progression and goal are most clear and complete is in Isaiah 61. The first part of the chapter is a very familiar portion of Scripture. It is referred to by most people called to healing ministries in the church because it announces the purpose and work of God in relationship to healing. The remainder of the chapter identifies what it will look like to respond to that work of healing with the Lord and the outcomes it will produce in the body of Christ and therefore in the world. It is a clear presentation of how the Lord deals with our brokenness and sin, and where we arrive with Him on the other side of them.
The Lord’s way is not knowledge based in the way psychology is. It is relational, focused on uncovering our heart with and to Him and letting Him make exchanges—what we have for what He has. This is not the way we want to do it, as it is very uncomfortable at times. Therefore, most people try numerous other means that are knowledge based (remember the serpent’s offer of "knowing" by our own faculties) in order to avoid the level of vulnerability and risk of exposing our heart called for by His approach. However, since restoring us to intimacy and oneness with Him is the goal of His approach, it marks the whole progression of it.
With this perspective in mind, let us look at what the Lord says in Isaiah 61. This chapter is the prophetic announcement of what Jesus referred to in the synagogue in Nazareth. In Luke 4:18, when Jesus read this passage, He both reminded them of the prophecy and said, in effect: I sent word about this outcome, and now it is happening before your eyes. It is possible for things to happen before our eyes and we still do not get it. (I once heard Iverna Tompkins say: "Some of you will be praying for the next move of God all the way through it.") They had only to watch the ministry of Jesus to see Isaiah 61 being carried out in lives. But they and we do not see that simply. We are not very good at investigating what He says, seeing the meaning and hearing all the way through. He can get us there, as He did Peter in relationship to bringing in the Gentiles, but His word bumped into very strong beliefs first. It takes a powerful exercise of partnership with Him to get us all the way through to understanding (Acts 10:9-14,17,19,20,23,33,34,47; 11:17).
We miss much of what the Lord says because we are looking for something else and can only expect our outcomes. Nevertheless, He lays it out in advance and proceeds to carry it out. After the Lord performed the vision He sent, Peter understood. He saw that God is no respecter of persons and moved in that direction himself. Then he had to face the leadership of the church in Jerusalem. They were still lodged in the same belief structure he was when the Lord sent the vision that shook his world. It shook theirs, too, but many of us are in the church because they heard that word from the Lord.
The Progression of Isaiah 61
The first thing it says is that God anoints Jesus for a particular set of purposes. The first is to preach the gospel to the poor. Whether that is the poor in spirit, as He speaks of in Matthew 5 and elsewhere, or the poor economically or both (it is as hard for a rich man to come into the kingdom as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle), the first thing is the good news that God has good will toward us and has made a way to cover our sin and save us to Himself. We have to start there. We have to hear that and have the hope and security it brings before we can move to the next stage. Facing our brokenhearted condition, and the captivity it produces, requires the security and hope of the gospel. It is hard enough with them firmly in place.
He is sent to heal the brokenhearted. The literal meaning of "heal" here is bind up, which is interesting in light of the definitions of broken—broken down, off, in pieces. Does everyone in that condition freely acknowledge their need for healing? Do we realize that we are brokenhearted and call it that, so opening the door to the Lord in this great work He holds out to us? How many people in the synagogue were waving their hands, saying, "Me, Lord; that is me, over here, Lord, that is the great desire of my heart!" Probably most of them, like most of us have the brokenness hidden away and so are not in touch with it. We tend to believe that it does not impact our lives, though we continue to experience disrupting and painful behaviors that mysteriously persist, impairing life, relationship, and ministry.
In the last chapter we talked about the meaning of "broken" in relationship to our heart. If we combine those meanings, the statement is that we have been closely united with things that worked breaking, gnawing away or crushing to some more or less severe degree. We were first in close connection with the serpent, and had our priorities diverted, working separation from God—the most serious breaking. Then in our broken condition we do and say things to one another that produce various levels of breaking—broken down, broken off, or broken in pieces. The Lord comes to address both our sin and brokenness in life, to heal all of it.
In and because of the breaking of our heart, we come to a number of conclusions about God, others, and ourselves. How true are our conclusions and how do we find out? Believing the conclusions, we devise certain protective behaviors and apply them uniformly to a variety of situations, including our interaction with God. We often call these constructs being "safe." The Lord calls them prisons. Who is right? I know that I have hung onto my prisons, calling them safety as long as possible, until the Lord got across to me that the very thing I am calling safety separates me from Him and therefore cannot be life giving. It is a very difficult and humbling truth to accept, yet tremendously freeing when it occurs. That is His goal. For quite some time our goal seems to be to get Him to make the prisons work better. I have worked with a lot of people, including myself, who are quite upset with the Lord because He won’t do it that way. He is God, He could, if He would. For example, we want to be able to hide our tender feelings away for safety and still have meaningful intimacy and richness of relationship with those around us. He would free us and give us the security to participate in such relationships, but we will have to exchange security in Him for our protections, which tend to prevent or block the very thing we desire.
I find it interesting that the root word in the phrase "opening of the prison" means to open the senses, especially the eyes. We started to know by our sight back in Gen. 3. Here is the Lord in Isaiah 61 saying: I haven’t forgotten the problem, and am committed to recovering sight. He’s not talking about physical sight, however, as it is our physical sight that plays a huge part in the captivity and blindness—the trusting of our sight and experience and ability to judge by our faculties. There is the strong implication that spiritual sight, which restores our awareness of God and enables us to join with Him is a key to wholeness. The aspect that has to do with restoring sight is apparently why the King James version translates this passage: "to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…". Our condition is presented as a combination of brokenhearted, the captivity it produces, and blindness to our plight. Is that really a fair description of me and thee?
The shift from hearing the gospel preached into the process of healing our broken hearts is a significant juncture in our walk with the Lord. We may or may not know how to recognize or address that juncture willingly. We may or may not acknowledge the need for it. I hear a lot of teaching in the church that sounds like we might be able to skip the process of preparation of heart, and go directly to empowered new creature. We would certainly like it to work that way, though there does not seem to be an abundance of evidence for that perspective. It did not work that way even with the disciples. They spent 24/7 with the Lord for three years, and they were still having their hearts prepared when He left. Apparently there is this work of healing and preparing our hearts to do before we are ready to experience the events of Acts 2.
I am not sure we deal with this juncture as well and completely as the Lord might like. Sometimes when the events of life pry off our protective lid, and we bump into aspects of our prison, we say: "What are You doing to me? Why is this happening?" We do not perceive it as opening the prison and tend to fight it simply because it is uncomfortable. When we are in the midst of this, we do not think anything wonderful is going on. Or we experience it as a desperate place and find it very scary. I have told a number of people who feel desperate that desperate is not always bad. Sometimes we do not really move short of desperation. Getting to a point of desperation may say that whatever accommodation we have made has become as uncomfortable, maybe even more uncomfortable, than it would be to let the Lord uncover and truly free our heart. It is not the end; it could be the beginning of newness.
So in Verse 3 Isaiah talks about what restoration will look like, and how it will proceed. It starts with consoling and comforting those who mourn. Let me ask you this: Do we move into mourning easily? Do we have much to mourn? Any contemplation of our sin, our losses in life and/or our separation from God turns up quite a bit of material for mourning. But do we actually mourn and receive the Lord’s comfort. I have ministered to people who have been mourning within most of their lives, but cannot get through to receiving the comfort that has power to heal. I have said to a number of people when they are struggling with the pain of great loss, that sometimes it is well for us to call it loss, admit that we can do nothing about it; it is lost and quite painful. At some point we need to go ahead and grieve, call it what it is, mourn the loss, and let the Lord comfort and put us back together.
Can He console us while we are not yet grieving? What do we do with the pain otherwise? We tend to rationalize, minimize the cause, explain it away and go on. The heaviness, and pain, and sorrow may be buried away, but they are still weighing us down. The Lord is not talking about a partial work that denies deeper heart realms, but a more complete healing and the peace with Him that it restores.
Saying, ‘Peace, peace!’
When there is no peace."
That Scripture is in the context of His complaint against Israel in going through certain motions, but not having sincere hearts toward Him, and not hearing the word He sent to them through Jeremiah about that condition. "Slightly" means superficially.
"To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes." The first exchange is consolation and comfort for our mourning. The second exchange is beauty for ashes. Think for a moment of how difficult it is to call something in our life ashes, especially something we had called truth, or believe to be the way life should work! I remember one face of this having to do with the loss of my marriage. I was lamenting certain things, and the Lord began to show me that in several instances I more needed to be calling them "ashes." This Scripture came to mind, along with another one I will share with you shortly. That idea hit like a blow. I said: "Lord, that is so harsh. Ashes?!" As I sat with it, however, I had to admit that it was true. He identified many things that did not contain nourishment. It was ultimately freeing, though very difficult to look at head on. If we do not look more closely with Him, we may try to salvage something that needs to be called into question so we can let it go.
Look with me at Isaiah 44:20, where this difficult work of calling things into question is stated in another way. In that passage the Lord is talking about all the things that Israel has looked to instead of Him. Metaphorically, He calls them feeding on ashes:
He feeds on ashes;
Beauty for ashes. When we can get what we are counting on over to Him and see His perspective on it, it will be lit up for what it is: whether it is true, not so true, calls for adjustment, or needs to be thrown out altogether. However, we cannot just set aside what we believe. We cannot just stop believing it and have nothing. We seem to have to exchange it for something we realize holds more truth. That would be the Lord’s perspective and priorities. Then He can give us beauty in exchange for our ashes, and we will move over into agreement with and embrace His view, taking it into our heart and letting it replace the other structure. THAT can work! The Lord Himself is beautiful—His heart and attitudes and grace are all beautiful! Agreeing with Him, taking on His attitudes in exchange for ours, produces a reflected beauty.
The oil of joy for mourning. When we are in a mourning process, we can scarcely conceive of joy coming out of it. But on the other side of letting the Lord join and comfort and put us back together, is there joy? Yes, it is very exciting. There is a lifting. I have heard a lot of people say: "I feel like a huge weight has been lifted." That is very exciting because until it is lifted, we don’t fully appreciate how hard it has been to keep walking under the weight of it.
A garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness is offered next. Heaviness means depression. Depression is very de-energizing, and it impacts our ability to concentrate. The reason we do not experience these exchanges more fully is because it is so difficult for us to get the ashes, or mourning, or heaviness identified and over to the Lord, so we can see the alternative He offers and be able to make the exchange.
Most of us talk to quite a few people who are suffering from depression. Very often a couple of factors influence depression. One is trying to get a value structure to work that does not work. The second is thinking that unless we get that structure to work, we are not worth much ourselves. Very depressing! It is depressing because it is hopeless—you cannot get either facet of it to work. What will work is to begin questioning the completeness and value of the structure itself, finding out if the Lord agrees with its demands, and looking at the work of abandoning it if He does not agree. It is going to take the Lord’s light for us to be able to do that. Inherited structures that we have invested faith in are difficult to question without His light. But I can tell you this: ALL value structures based on performance need to be questioned in this way—ALL, ALL! The Lord does not base our worth on our performance—obviously! If He did, we would all be "done for." So if our worth has been based on performance, we will need to question that with the Lord.
This is a process we could also call an aspect of "the work of the ministry" (Ephesians 4:12), or "preparing our hearts"—unclogging, being joined with the Lord, clearing away the lies, and replacing them. He says that He is doing this work
The planting of the Lord,
That He may be glorified.
We start to reflect Him as those exchanges are made; we look more like Him and less like our life legacies; and we act more like Him. We share His heart; we believe the things He believes; we’ll even say them! And then it says:
THEY shall raise up the former desolations,
And THEY shall repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations.
These folks that allow the Lord to do this work in their hearts will be the ones He will use to extend the freeing and restoration to others. They will be in a condition to do the rebuilding. There are a lot of ruins around due to our condition. We don’t like to say that, but really we are in a rather ruined condition, compared to what He intends for us!
The desolations of many generations. When things are handed down generation after generation, there is nothing else to see. That is all that is available; that is all that is in the storehouse. But they are going to be interrupted and the desolations are going to be changed, even those that have gone on for many generations.
Verse 6 says a very interesting thing—that the people who have had their hearts healed and are effectively turning around the old desolations, THEY
They shall call you the servants of our God.
They will be called that because of the fruit of their labor, because it is evident from it that they are in partnership with the Lord and are bringing about that relationship in others. They are in that partnership because their hearts have been healed, prepared, and are united with His. This is a good description of biblical credentials. It is repeated in Acts 6:3, but somehow we continue to focus more on academic training than heart purity.
Instead of your shame you shall have double honor,
How many times have you asked questions of the Lord about your calling, maybe with underlying feelings of shame or undeserving that disqualify you. This says He is going to get us to a place of clarity, where we can rejoice in our portion. I think I am on the verge of rejoicing in my calling. I have said for years: "Lord would You give me something else; something that is more feasible, more workable, with quicker turnaround." That’s my idea, based on my faculties, based on the different level of ease I would like to have in my life. Well, I don’t know if I would now. I see it and say, "I don’t know Lord; ease doesn’t look so good after all."
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
Well, that is very different from a spirit of heaviness! There has been a raising up and releasing, which causes us to delight in the Lord and flow with Him. It goes on to say that He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. "Salvation" (soteria) is a very extensive work. "Specifically, soteria is salvation from physical illness (Matt 9:21; Luke 8:36), from lostness (Matt 18:11; Luke 19:10), from sin (Matt 1:21), from wrath (Rom 5:9)." (From The Zondevan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible.)
As the earth causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
A natural process we can relate to is being compared to a spiritual process to which we are learning to relate. If you put seed in the earth and water it, it is going to spring forth. The seed will grow. The Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth just as a garden causes seed to grow. If we let Him make these exchanges and rebuild our hearts, righteousness and praise for the One who did that mighty work will naturally spring forth. And they will spring forth BEFORE ALL THE NATIONS! The last verse in this chapter I see as a description of the Lord’s kids out there being the church, declaring it and personally manifesting it. That’s what it looks like for us to be living in the kingdom with the Lord, and to BE His kingdom of priests! And it will happen before all the nations!
As this chapter ends I hope that a certain distinction stands out plainly. It is the huge difference between our forms of healing ourselves, based on understandings we come to and apply to ourselves, and the Lord Himself joining, actively lighting, offering the exchange of His comfort and beauty and joy and praise and honor and empowering for our brokenness.
The chapter began with us in a quite broken and bound condition. It ends with us freed, out there with Him, reflecting the work and glory of God, and effectively dismantling the bondages in the lives of our brothers and sisters. The righteousness and praise released by such outcomes are of a quality to impact nations!
Connecting Hearts to God