In order to have any kind of stable and successful walk in Christ, every person must first experience God’s unconditional love. I was driving home this week and God was showing me how when Jesus tore the veil, that was exciting for God… We think it’s about us having access to the Father, and it is, but even more than that, it’s about the Father having access to us. He can come to your sinful self and not have to condemn you because of your sin, but he can come in his intense unconditional love.
Until you are really receiving this love, you will always be up and down. Therefore, as counselor, your goal is to help the person discover and experience it. One of the most common blockages is some kind of religious attitude — what the New Testament would call works. Any attitude which tries to get God’s love by doing something, anything, is works. The number one first thing that every person needs is to receive the love of God deep in their heart.
I often explain this in terms of the prodigal son. He wandered way off into sin, far away from God, but God still loved him. We can see this because the father saw him while he was “still a long way off.” Furthermore, we can see it because the father lavished love on him before he had any way of knowing if the son were repentant or not. This is how God’s love is. He loves you regardless of what you are or are not doing. Until that’s a deep and present reality, the person will be unstable, because their relationship depends on them, instead of on God. When they do well they will feel good, and when they do poorly they will feel bad. What is needed instead is to abide in the love of Christ continually.
Practically speaking this may mean you need to coach them to stop all of their religious duties such as Bible reading, fasting, witnessing, and even reorient their prayer time. If the person is doing those things to get God’s love instead of because they feel God’s love, it’s all a dead letter. Get them to reorient their prayer time around imagining God loving them, instead of asking him for stuff.
I find that one of the hardest groups to minister to in this way are people who have been abandoned or rejected by parents. This person has a hard time understanding what love could possibly look like, and has imported onto God those deeply wounded feelings. Dad rejecting me looks so much like God rejecting me that it’s hard to tell the difference. These people will need extended work in this area. I like to help the person reinterpret their life events in light of God’s love. A person like this will often interpret every negative event as God not loving them, and ignore every positive even where He does show them love. I want them to actually see how is love is active and always has been in their lives. You might need to invent some exercises, for example have them close their eyes and try to imagine God’s love and see what comes to mind. Or ask them to think of a time when God didn’t love them. Be creative and know that nothing else really matters until you crack this false belief at the deepest level. In order to receive from God you must believe so strongly in his character that no human event can shake that belief.
This leads to the other foundational ministry: getting the person to take responsibility and expose their sin to God. God’s grace has power as it transforms your sinful self. This means coaching people to bring their stuff into the light and presence of God. Just as Adam and Eve had to get naked before God before they could be healed and transformed, the goal is for the individual to bring all of their pain, negative emotions, sin, confessions, etc, into the presence of God. Sometimes I lean back in my chair close my eyes, look up and demonstrate this, so that they can get a picture. Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. His love will cleanse you as you bring these things continually into his presence. This is the cross. The place where sin meets God’s love and forgiveness. Your goal is to bring every person to the cross. On the one side of the cross is all of your sin, and onthe other side of the cross is conviction of sin.
Because of popular teachings, there are many people who talk a lot about God’s grace or their identity in Christ, but actually are not changing. They have the one side of the cross — God’s love but not the other — sin. This leads to abusing God’s grace and love. They are justifying their sin because “God loves me.” In this case talking about God’s love has no effect on them, it’s just a cover. What they need is responsibility. This persona is like a child who has never been disciplined. They do not respect or fear God in their hearts and are looking for a cover. Alternatively, they may be so afraid to “go there” with God because of all of the pain, that they keep clinging to this false doctrine to keep them from needing to change. Until a person really surrenders and takes responsibility the grace and love of God will have no effect. It will just be some doctrine that gets tossed around.
The sign of a person like this is that they have a very messed up life and keep talking all the time about God’s grace, or their identity in Christ, etc. They do not show signs that they are surrendered to God’s will for their lives, convicted of sin, etc. For this person, the first goal of your counseling is to cause them to see their sin. Only when a person sees their sin will the love of God actually mean anything. Jesus says that “He who is forgiven much, loves much”, but if you don’t really think you need to be forgiven of anything, then you aren’t going to love much either.
These are the fundamental dynamics which underlie every pastoral relationship. You are helping the person to see their sin, to receive God’s love, and to bring their sin out into the open where God’s unconditional love can cleans them from it and lead them into deeper relationship. For some people a lot of heavy lifting will need to be done to really get them to surrender to God and get open about their sin. For others, the focus is really on getting them to have the “love breakthrough” so that they can be freed for the horrible burden of guilt they are carrying.