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Book Review: The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women

Biblical Counseling Guide for WomenIn the forward to The Biblical Counseling Guide for Women, Martha Peace says, “John and Janie Street have made it abundantly clear that there is great hope no matter the kinds of problems women struggle with. They have laid out clear, biblical plans of action for issues women face today.” (pg. 9)

I honestly could not say it any better. This is exactly what they have done!

The authors describe the purpose of the book in this way:

“This book is written to assist Christian women who possess a high view of the sufficiency of God’s Word and its ability to adequately address the most serious personal struggles women will face. Women who trust His Word will benefit greatly from its narrative.” (pg. 11, emphasis mine)

A high view of the sufficiency of Scripture, and a desire to understand what God’s Word says about our sin, our struggles, and our suffering is essential to fully appreciate, understand, and benefit from the wisdom this book has to offer.

In this book, John and Janie Street address issues that most women have probably struggled with, to some degree, at one time or another: anger, anxiety, appearance, depression, grief. But, it also deals with much harder, perhaps more “hot button” topics that, by the grace of God, many of us may not have experienced: abuse, chemical dependency, eating disorders, panic attacks, PTSD, and transgenderism.

Each topic is introduced with a fictional account of a woman who is struggling with a particular issue…whether as a result of her own sinful choices, or those of someone close to her. Although the scenarios presented are fictional, that can be difficult to remember at times, because they come from years of counseling and pastoral experience, and are written in such a way that they could easily be factual. In my limited counseling experiences, I have rarely seen women, even professing believers, recognize their sin so quickly, or so completely, and respond so humbly to biblical counsel and correction. But, in each case, is assumed that each of these (fictional) women have a high view of God’s Word.

“The truth of God’s Word slices and dices your behavior and peers into the most shameful recesses of your heart (see Hebrews 4:12-13). Our hearts are resistant to this type of spiritual heart surgery. Thus we must pray that God will help us to humbly repent of this sin (Psalm 51:10).” (pg. 30)

This is what makes their quick, humble, repentant responses not only realistic, but a helpful example to follow when we find ourselves in similar situations. Because, without that perspective, many of these issues could easily be, and often are addressed indefinitely, without any sort of real hope or resolution.

“Too often we use the term hope carelessly because it is used to express uncertainty….However, when your concept of hope is anchored in biblical promises, all ambiguity and doubt is removed. Biblical hope is backed up by the very character of God. Unlike ‘I hope so’ hope, it is absolute and full confident assurance.” (pg. 161)

I have taken several biblical counseling classes (in college, at the graduate level, and for “personal enrichment”), I have read numerous books on biblical counseling, and I am currently, albeit slowly, pursuing certification in Biblical Counseling. So, I consider myself to be fairly well-acquainted with the philosophy and procedures behind biblical counseling. And, as a pastor’s wife, I am also familiar with the great need for this type of counseling in the church. And, because of my background, I assumed this would be an “easy read.”

This book is not, nor is it intended to be, a cold, comprehensive, clinical textbook. It is interesting and engaging. And, it accomplishes its stated purpose of pointing the reader to the insightful, practical, and authoritative answers in God’s Word in a compassionate, personal, thought-provoking way.

I am not a naturally empathetic person. But, as the authors unpacked each chapter, I was able to put myself in the place of both the counselor and the counselee. Whether the situation was one that I had personally experienced, or not, there were many characteristics, struggles, and habits that made it surprisingly easy to identify with, and genuinely empathize with both sides of each story.

But, this book goes far beyond these relevant and relatable introductions to each topic.

“When a true Christian goes through such a traumatic event and asks the hard questions….her search for answers should drive her toward greater faithfulness to study God’s Word. It is in the pages of the Bible that she will learn God’s character: that He is good and without sin (Psalm 119:68), that He never tempts His children to sin (James 1:13), and that He is the protector and refuge of all who call upon His name in saving faith (Psalm 125:4-5).” (pgs. 255-256)

After each topic is introduced, the authors then go on to identify the problematic thoughts, patterns, behaviors, and lifestyles, pointing the reader back to the truths of Scripture in a practical, realistic way. I have not personally experienced the pain of a pornography-tainted marriage, or the betrayal of adultery. But, I have experienced the pain of being sinned against in other ways by people I love and care about. I have not struggled through post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, or battled an eating disorder. But, I have reacted to my circumstances in sinful anger, anxiety, pride, and self-sufficiency.

At the very beginning, the authors suggest having a Bible close at hand as you read, to consult the many Scripture references found throughout its pages. So, I found myself taking much longer than I had originally intended to read this book. I took time to reflect on, and answer, the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. And, I tried to implement the authors’ suggestions to write down lists of my own fears, worries, and sinful behaviors or attitudes that needed to be “put off.” At the same time, I created corresponding lists of things to “put on” in place of sinful thoughts and attitudes.

The very first chapter, on Anger, immediately caught my attention. I do not like to think of myself as an angry person. (Who does?) But, as I read, I could see myself in many of the sinful attitudes and (re)actions described. Specifically in this:

“Listening is hard to do when you’re angry, because true listening involves submission…. To listen carefully, you must not continue to speak. This is difficult for angry people to do, as they are continually engaged in spewing out their opinions and attacks. Oftentimes angry people say they are listening, but at the same time, they persist in defending their viewpoint, often pointing out how another person also perceives the situation as unfair, jaded, or misconstrued – and it is clear that they are not really listening.” (pgs. 31-32)

That was a not-so-pleasant, but much needed, moment of conviction for me. And, it was what caused me to choose to slow down, and read this less as a “textbook” for my dealings with “other people,” and to treat it as more of a personal improvement project.

Elisabeth Elliot often said, “The difference is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” And, this book can help to turn our eyes off of the temporary circumstances and solutions of this world, and back to the lasting hope that can be found only in obedience to God’s Word.

“The goal is not simply a short-sighted attempt to get a woman out of her problems, even though, when a person follows Christ’s admonitions, her problems will often eventually be resolved. However, some problems will not go away, even after you have faithfully obeyed Christ. Some of life’s difficulties may even get worse….How can you, as a godly woman, learn to please God in the midst of your problems? This must be the pursuit of a woman who is a committed Christian.” (pg. 15)

The genuine compassion, biblical wisdom, and practical suggestions presented in this book make it an invaluable resource for the church today. This book is for women who want to live a life of obedience and faith, as they learn to please God in the midst of their struggles and problems. It is for women who wish to grow in their ability to disciple and counsel other women in their church, in the model of Titus 2. It is for mothers who are teaching and training their children to love and serve the Lord in spite of their own sin and failures. And, men, do not be dissuaded by the title! As a pastor’s wife, I can confidently say that this book should be in every pastor’s library as well.

I will add that I have had the privilege of knowing John and Janie Street for close to 18 years. So, I may not be seen as the most unbiased reviewer. But, I do not believe that should be considered a negative. My husband and I have personally benefited from their teaching, their biblical counsel, their godly example, and their faithful ministry in so many ways. And, because of that, I could not be more thrilled that this resource, and the wisdom and experience of its authors, is now available to so many!

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More

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“…I cannot read the Bible without desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more single-eyed, more heavenly-minded, more wholehearted than they are in the nineteenth century.  I want to see among believers more of a pilgrim spirit, a more decided separation from the world, a conversation more evidently in heaven, a closer walk with God….”  ~J.C. Ryle, Holiness

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Although these words were originally written about the church in nineteenth century England, this is my prayer for the Christians of twenty-first century America.

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Overlooked

“I have had a deep conviction for many years that practical holiness and entire self-consecration to God are not sufficiently attended to by modern Christians in this country.  Politics, or controversy, or party spirit, or worldliness have eaten out the heart of lively piety in too many of us.  The subject of personal godliness has fallen sadly into the background.  The standard of living has become painfully low in many quarters.  The immense importance of ‘adorning the doctrine of God our Savior’ (Titus 2:10), and making it lovely and beautiful by our daily habits and tempers, has been far too much overlooked.  Worldly people sometimes complain with reason that ‘religious’ persons, so-called, are not so amiable, and unselfish, and good-natured, as others who make no profession of religion.  Yet sanctification, in its place and proportion, is quite as important as justification.  Sound Protestant and evangelical doctrine is useless if it is not accompanied by a holy life.”

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~J.C. Ryle, Holiness (from the Introduction, pg. XVI)

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Online Speech

 

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Social media/networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer users a measure of isolation and anonymity, while still allowing them to “connect” with other people.  Behind the virtual wall of the computer screen, the restraints of civility and polite conversation are removed.  People feel free to share intimate, personal, and private details – about their own lives, and others’ lives as well.  Disagreements quickly become hostile and antagonistic.  Some use the opportunity to vent their complaints and frustrations.  Discouragement and despair are common themes.  Gossip and slander are offered without remorse, as tasty morsels to faithful followers.  Snarky and sarcastic comments flow freely.  And, let’s not forget the “what illicit drug are you?” quiz results, the daily horoscopes, quotes from movies with questionable, sensual, or vulgar themes, the scantily-clad, suggestively posed pictures, and the “I hate the president” fan clubs.

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But, perhaps because you labeled yourself a “Christian” in your profile, you occasionally feel compelled to share a Bible verse, or a semi-“Christian” platitude, or motivational quote. 

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“…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. ~James 3:8-10

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If we believe that who we are online is in any way removed from who we are in “real life,” I’m sorry, but we are sadly mistaken.  If your online “persona” is in complete opposition to who you claim to be in real life – one of them is lying.

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“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” ~1 John 2:15-16

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“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” ~John 15:18-19

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Please understand what I am not saying.  I am not saying that you should not have unbelieving friends or followers. I am not saying that each and every post you make online must be some form of gospel presentation.  I am not saying that each comment must somehow reference Christ and salvation.

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I am saying that if you claim the name of Christ any and all communication that originates with you – verbal or virtual – must without exception honor and glorify our Lord.

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“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” ~2 Corinthians 2:15

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How?

 

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” ~Ephesians 4:29

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But, what would be classified as “corrupting talk”?  Well…

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” ~Galatians 5:19-21

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I think that pretty well sums it up, don’t you?  But, I’ll put a more positive spin on it for you:

“…likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” ~1 Timothy 2:9-10

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Which one describes your online communication – your posts, pictures, comments, updates? 
Are “the works of the flesh evident” in your online speech?
Or, is your online presence adorned “with what is proper for women who profess godliness”?

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Over the next few days we’ll look at some of the ways the works of the flesh specifically – though perhaps unintentionally – manifest themselves in our various online conversations…And, a few guidelines to ensure that our speech gives off “the aroma of Christ,” online, as well as off.

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Please stay tuned!!

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**In the interest of full disclosure, I use both Facebook and Twitter frequently.**

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The Delight of My Heart

(photo credit: wazoo75)

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When people begin to talk about their relationship with the Lord, and their time in the Word and in prayer with excitement and passion, do you find yourself eagerly nodding in understanding and agreement? 

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Or…do you cross your arms and roll your eyes, assuming it must be forced, and phony.  After all, no one is that passionate about spiritual things…at least, no normal person. 

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“Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.” ~Jeremiah 15:16 (ESV)

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Sounds like another happy-all-the-time, too-good-to-be-true, super-spiritual Christian, right?

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Or does it?

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Jeremiah, if you will remember, was known as “the weeping prophet.”  This is the same man who wrote Lamentations.  Not exactly a happy book.  And, if you look closely at the chapter surrounding the verse above, you will quickly realize that at the time he penned these words, Jeremiah’s life was far from perfect.  Only a few verses earlier, he was wishing that he had never been born!

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But, even in the midst of utter discouragement, he was able to find not just solace, but joy and delight in the Word of God. 

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While “those people” may sometimes seem like a figment of the pastor’s imagination, or like they are putting on a super-spiritual act, they just might be very much for real.  Not because they, or their lives, are perfect…but, precisely because they are not.  They struggle with heartache, disappointment, trials, pain, sin, and discouragement…just like everyone else.  In other words, they are normal.

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God does not require perfection before we are allowed the privilege of sitting at His feet through His Word.  We can come as we are.  “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of should and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:12-13)  Ready or not, when we come to the Word of God, our heart and our thoughts, our motives and intents – in other words, our sin – will be exposed.

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God’s Word is not a list of do’s and don’ts for “good” Christians.  His Word does offer instruction on how we are to live in this world – and correction and rebuke when necessary.  But, it also offers comfort, encouragement, wisdom, joy…nourishment and refreshment – even, no, especially when our souls are dry, parched, and weary from the various trials and battles of life.  That is part of the joy.

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But, it does not become a joy and a delight, and it cannot nourish and revive our hearts sitting on a bookshelf getting dusty.  We must open it.  We must read it.  Only then will we be able to declare with the psalmist “Oh how I love your law! How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” ~Psalm 119:97 & 103

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