Changing Negative Thinking

Thoughts are interesting things. They have no material value. They have no physical weight, no measurable space, and no visible presence. They come from inside us with little to no effort from us. And although they are innumerable[1] they are invisible. Or are they?

In 1952 author Norman Vincent Peale brought the importance of this subject to center stage when he wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. Shining a spotlight on our thoughts, the book went on to be a New York Times best seller. Apparently, our thoughts, tucked away in the privacy of our minds and imperceptible to the external world have a significant impact on us. Thoughts are formative to our very lives. But we don’t need a self-help book form the 50’s to tell us that. The Bible states clearly that “as a man thinks in his heart so he is” (Prov. 23:7). Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.

Our thoughts determine what we do, develop how we live, and define our identity.

Eliza Huie– Changing Negative Thinking

Think about the truth.

We need to fill our minds with what is accurate and factual regarding ourselves. Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth. In light of this, it underscores the importance that our thoughts be true.

Not so good truth.

What if the truth is not good? What if the truth is that we really messed up or we failed in this or that area? What should we do with true thoughts that remind us we say or do things that are unkind, wrong, and sinful? What if the truth is that our lives our filled with bad news and very real troubles? When this is the case, we can find ourselves stuck in patterns of destructive thinking. Similarly to the self-help book title, we also know the power in negative thinking is very significant.

What else is true?

We cannot deny that some true things are not good. In fact, some truth is just awful. Mistakes cannot be undone, and harsh words can’t be unsaid. Painful realities we have endured cannot be wished away and our minds can be flooded with not-so-good thoughts. When this is the case, we have a choice to make. When the negative thoughts come, acknowledge their truth but then ask yourself; What else is true? What other truth do you need to be thinking about right then and there? Let me make this practical with an exercise.

And What Else

I can’t remember where I first learned this exercise, but I find it very helpful. When negative truths dominate your thinking, when you can only call to mind the bad you have done, or when reminders of the wrong done to you feel as though they are on continual recall, use the three letters A-W-E to help guide you toward a change in your thinking. These three simple letters can change the barrage of negative thinking. They simply stand for And What Else. Yes—you have said and done some regretful things but what else is true of you? Yes—You had a terrible experience but what else is true? Yes—it was truly awful what happened but what else is also true? The awful things that happened really did happen and they were terribly bad, but what else is true? And what else: A.W.E. Allow yourself space to think about what else is true. As a Christian there is so much more that is true of you. Here are some examples. Read them slowly, thinking about each one.

  • You are a child of God. (Jn. 1:12)
  • You are a friend of Jesus. (Jn. 15:15)
  • You are loved and not condemned (Jn. 3:16-17)
  • You are forgiven. (Col. 1:13-14)
  • You are justified. (Rom. 5:1)
  • You are a saint. (Eph. 1:1)
  • You are free of condemnation now and forever. (Rom. 8:1-2)
  • You can find grace and mercy when you need it. (Heb. 4:16)
  • You have full access to God. (Eph. 3:12)
  • You are protected from the evil one. (1 Jn. 5:18)

When negative thoughts fill your mind pause and intentionally think or, as the Scripture says, meditate on what else is true. When you do this, the simplicity of the acrostic comes to life as it moves you to stand in awe (A.W.E) of the amazing truth of who you are in Christ and how much God loves you.

Practice makes _________.

This exercise is exactly what Paul was instructing us to do in Philippians chapter four verse eight when he wrote:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 

Most Christians know that verse well. Maybe you have even memorized it. But did you know what comes right after that? Verse nine says this:

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Did you catch that? Paul says these things take practice! Negative thinking comes easy. Right thinking takes practice. This takes intentional focus, but it is life changing. We have all heard it said that practice makes _______ (fill in the blank). “Perfect!” I actually think it is more accurate to say that “practice makes permanent.” When our thoughts accurately reflect the truth of Scripture and we practice meditating on what it says regarding who we are, it changes us permanently.

I hope this motivates you to practice the A.W.E exercise the next time you feel yourself spiraling downward in negative thinking. The more you practice, the more permanent the truth of God’s word will become the dominant source of your thoughts.

Since our thoughts shape who we are, we must be concerned with thinking about the truth.

Eliza Huie– Changing Negative Thinking


[1] A recent research project concluded that the average person has approximately 6200 thoughts a day. It is likely this will change the more research is conducted. https://www.newsweek.com/humans-6000-thoughts-every-day-1517963

Responding to Someone Hurt by Biblical Counseling

Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart.  Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.

As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess

I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.

What to do.

Listen

As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.

Empathize

As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.

Self-reflect

Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?

What not to do.

Gossip

It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.

Defend

As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).

Dismiss

You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.

Conclusion

We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

What is a Biblical Counselor?

What is biblical counseling? That question has been asked, defined, debated, and reconsidered many times. The mere fact that the question continues to be asked speaks to the reality that words are not easily contained within the constructs we give them. They are often more fluid that we prefer, with adjectives being the most frequent to shape-shift. Biblical counseling has not been something that easily fits into one definition as evidenced in the alphabet soup of acronyms that identify the various equipping ministries and models.

In seeking to answering the question, “What is biblical counseling?”, looking at modality or method of care is not sufficient. Why? Because the application of the model or method allows for a significant amount of subjectivity. For example, if we say biblical counseling must be rooted in Scripture, promoting sanctification, or grounded in love, fleshing out what that looks like will be unique to the circumstance and people in the room. I do believe these descriptions are useful and helpful. However, there is a far better way to answer “What is biblical counseling?”

Seeking to sketch out what biblical counseling is must start with the counselors themselves rather than the modality. Biblical counseling will not happen unless there is a biblical counselor. Am I saying that if the person doing the counseling is a Christian they are automatically a biblical counselor? No. If that were the case, then I would have to call my lawyer friend a biblical lawyer because she is a Christian who practices law. We don’t call the nurse who is a Christian a biblical nurse, a professor who is a Christian a biblical professor, or a waiter who is a Christian a biblical waiter.

Defining biblical counseling should be directly tied to the counselor. Biblical counseling will mean the counselor is a Christian, but it will mean more than that. The letters after their name or the acronym of modality they follow do tell us something. They give hints of the emphasis that will flavor the counseling process. They point to who has influenced or mentored the counselor. They give credibility to equipping that has taken place. However the litmus test to defining biblical counseling ought to go beyond these things. Defining biblical counseling must describe the counselor.

Is the counselor anchored to the Word? Are they attune to the Holy Spirit and yielded to the Father? Do they live with biblical perspective? Has their own life been one of humble alignment to the Scripture? Is their commitment in counseling an avenue to love God and others? Have they been open to correction or receptive to their views being challenged? Can they discerningly engage resources, tools, methods of care in a way that aligns with Scripture?

These questions are key if we are seeking to answer what is biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is something done by a biblical counsleor.

So in essence the question we should be asking is “What is a biblical counselor?” When we start there we are in a better place to confirm whether something is biblical counseling or not. The methods may vary but confirmations must be found in the the life of the one bringing care. Asking the question, “What is a biblical counselor?” leads us to explore what essential qualities a counselor must possess in order to determine whether or not what is happening is “biblical counseling”.

This focus emphasizes the counselor rather than the method or approach. With specific qualities affirmed in their life, the biblical counselor will be able to look at every practice, method, resource, training, skill, tool, description, and prescription discerningly, and determine how to engage, adapt, or, if needed, refute it. They will love and care for people as they have been loved and cared for by Jesus. They will walk with others, beggar to beggar, yet with confidence in where to find bread. What is a biblical counselor? This is the questions to be asked. Answering happens by looking at the person’s life.

I rub shoulders with many amazing biblical counselors and there are times when I walk away from a conversation with them and say to myself, “That is someone who I would go see when I need counseling.” What makes me say that is not their degree, certificate, or license, but their life. They model, often without even knowing it, a life captivated by Jesus, a heart compassionate toward others, and a wisdom drawn from a dependence on the Scripture. “What is a biblical counselor?”, may we strive for living a life that answers this question well.

God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison- Video Review

This excellent resource brings compassionate wisdom to those facing trials and suffering. Author, David Powlison offers hope on every single page of this very readable book. Check out my review here and then go order it from Crossway today!