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    Nov 02, 2014

    Week 2: Getting at the Heart

    Series: Biblical Counseling

    Category: Core Seminars, Biblical Counseling, Idolatry, Nature of Sin


    Jane struggles with anxiety and bitterness towards her parents. She’s anxious about finances and her marriage. Though her husband has done nothing to indicate he would ever be unfaithful, she can’t help but be suspicious of him. She also wishes that he would romance her more and take her out on more dates. She is tired of feeling anxious and suspicious and she just wants to feel better so that she can do a better job of loving God and others.

    The counselor at her last church had her memorize Philippians 4:6 about not being anxious and Psalm 56:3 about trusting God. She is reading through a book on Christian communication and writing short summaries of each chapter a week for her counselor to help her learn how to communicate better with her husband. And her small group leader helps to keep her accountable in following through on what these passages say she needs to do.

    What do you think of this counsel? It seems biblical since she has to memorize scripture and is reading a book on biblical communication, doesn’t it? Paul says in Ephesians 6 that we should “take…the sword of the spirit which is the word of God.” On top of that, she has a counselor to help her work through how to do the things better that she is failing to do, and someone to hold her accountable to do those things. What do you think . . . ?

    We would argue that this counsel actually falls short of true biblical counseling. It seems to be reliant on God’s word with scripture memorization, but from what we can tell, it’s being used as another self-help book and the message to Jane seems to boil down to, “Here are the rules. Just follow them.” Or worse, “just stop”. Or “just start”.

    Is this kind of approach the way to help someone change that we see in the Bible? Have you ever tried this approach? Where you just tried to stop doing or feeling a certain way? Or you tried to start feeling or doing a certain thing? It doesn’t work very well does it? Why not? Do you just need more accountability? Or stronger boundaries? Or maybe it’s just about developing the habit to do or not do something. If you can just go long enough that it becomes a habit, then you’ll be fine, right?

    As we read the Bible, we do not believe what it teaches about us and our sinful states. It informs of who we are as sinners and the true nature of what or who we need to change. If Anthropology is the study of human beings, what we want to seek to understand is a “biblical ahtropology”.

    The Bible reveals that the heart is the primary target as we seek God glorifying, Christ exalting change! We don’t want to just seek superficial or external changes. We want to help lead a counselee to have new tastes and new desires. Now why is it God glorifying and Christ exalting? Because it is only through the gospel of Christ’s death on our behalf and his resurrection that we can even have any hope to change. And ultimately, we are totally depending on God to change us. So that if change does take place? We can be sure of its source and give him all the glory.

    Let’s take a moment and define the heart. By this, we are not referring to our physical heart that pumps blood through our bodies, but to our spiritual heart.

    The heart is the central or most core part of who we are. In several places in Scripture, the Hebrew or Greek words for heart describe “being at the center of something” (Jonah 2:3; Matt 12:40).

    Or another way to describe our hearts is our inner person. “Scripture often divides human beings into two parts, the outer and inner being. The outer person is your physical self; the inner person is your spiritual self (Eph. 3:16). When the biblical authors want to describe our inner being, it uses the term heart.”

    We come to know humanity’s deepest struggles by looking at their hearts.

    We begin to see the central importance of the heart when we look at verses like Proverbs 4:23. Solomon writes: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.” Just as a well spring is a source of water, (and water was a crucial commodity for daily living and survival) so also the heart was the source or fountain from which our life springs forth. Solomon wants his son to protect his heart because his heart is the fountainhead from which life springs forth.

    The heart is an all-encompassing term. The different parts of a biblical anthropology—the mind, the will, the emotions, the spirit or soul—are all parts of or functions of the biblical heart. These are not all separate entities, describing something different from the heart. Rather, they are all aspects of or parts of our biblical heart.

    Christians understand that the heart is the “real” you. It is the essential core of who you are. Solomon writes, “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19). Much like water that reflects back the image of one’s face, to really get to know someone (their character and who they are), you need to know their heart.

    So think about your own experience in relationships. When you get to know someone, you only feel like you are really getting to know someone when you go beyond the basic mundane facts about them and you get to know them at the level of their desires, purposes, and motives. There is a big difference between statements like “I was born in 1977 in California” or “I am 6 foot 6 and you are not” versus “I struggle with pride” or “I am always tempted to put money and what it gets me before everything and everyone else in my life.”

    To be clear, facts are not useless and some facts are more useful than others. So knowing the fact that someone was abused is more important than their favorite color. But at best, facts (similar to the fruit we’ll be talking about in a moment) are just the beginning of a bread crumb trail we can use as we seek to draw out the desires, purposes and motives of the heart.

    How do we know that our actions, thoughts, and words are a result of the heart? We’ll look now at a few passages that help us to see that.

    In gospel of Luke, we find Jesus talking about trees:

    “43No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evils things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (6:43-45).

    Okay, verse 45 shows us that Jesus’ primary point here is to give us a botany lesson, so let’s see if we can break down this passage to see what it says about us. And I think there are a couple of things that we see.

    1. First, you can learn a lot about a person by looking at the fruit of his life.
    Verses 43 and 44 seem to be setting us up with a pattern of thought for how we should be thinking. So if a tree is a good and healthy tree, it won’t bear bad fruit. And if a tree is bad and unhealthy, it will not be able to produce good fruit. And verse 44 begins be restating on this point more pithily by telling us that we can actually recognize the health of the tree by it’s fruit. The bottom line, Jesus tells us is that there is a relationship between the quality of the fruit and the quality of the tree.

    In verse 45, Jesus tells his audience and us what he is driving at, which is us. You come to understand a person by looking at overall “fruit” of the person’s life. What is this fruit? It can be a wide variety of things:
    • The example Jesus uses, which is our words;
    • But other things include our thoughts or plans;
    • Feelings;
    • Choices or Actions;
    • Relational interactions;
    • Hopes and Dreams.
    Or to get more specific, it can be our:
    • Financial choices;
    • Parenting;
    • Quality or state of our marriage;
    • Quality or state of other relationships;
    • Feelings of sorrow, confusion, anger, or joy;
    • Our discipline or lack of discipline in doing devotionals;
    • Our attendance or lack of attendance in church; etc.
    • Our prayer life;

    2. So where does all that fruit come from? “Overflow of his HEART…”
    Jesus, who made us and knows us perfectly, says it comes from what’s in our heart: “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” We might tend to think that we have control over our words and actions and it’s that it’s purely cognitive. Your words and your choice of words or your instinctual words have a root and that root is your heart. Have you ever said or heard someone say that something they said or did, just “came out of nowhere”? Or they didn’t really “mean what they said”? Well Jesus is saying her that nothing just comes out of “nowhere” and you did in fact “mean what you said”.

    We know from the Bible that we are born into sin and nobody is righteous not even one. And as we noted earlier, only God can finally change our hearts.

    But this passage does seem to indicate that just as we are culpable for what is currently in our hearts, we can play a part in seeking change. In verse 45, did you notice that good is “stored” up in the good man’s heart? Good seems to be accumulating in this heart. By this verse alone, we don’t know how or how, but somehow there is an accumulation or storing taking place. Jesus also indicate our participation Matthew 26, when he rebukes the Pharisees, he says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matt. 26:25-26)

    So what might it look like to “store” up things in our heart? Positive example could be your spiritual disciplines. As we mentioned before, the consistency, or lack thereof, of your spiritual disciplines itself shows the fruit of your heart, if you are consistent in reading and understanding and applying God’s word, you are trusting God to store up good in your heart. The Psalmist in 119, verse 11 writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” If you’ve spent your life pursuing comfort and ease, what will the overflow be? Everything you do, say and think will go through that filter: Your words, how you spend your time, your thoughts, and schedule all will reflect the primacy of ease and comfort in your heart.

    As in the example we thought about at the beginning of the class, often times we’re tempted to address the fruit. I still can fall into that trap. But when you do that, you’re only addressing the symptoms and at best, you’ll only help the person overcome that particular symptom. But other symptoms will continue to come out when the root hasn’t been addressed. [Use example of bamboo as word picture.]

    Okay, so if we can’t address the fruit what does the root look like and how do we find it?
    Before we move on though…


    Our most fundamental problem is simultaneously our only solution. Who or what are we worshipping? We are never worship neutral. In the Bible, if you are worshipping anything but the one true God, the object of worship is most commonly referred to as an idol. And the first and second commandments explicitly forbid the worship of anyone or anything else but Him. In the Old Testament in particular, we see that the objects of idol worship are inanimate objects made of metal or wood that were created explicitly for that purpose. However, it is not the objects themselves that God is concerned about. He created the materials. He gave the skills of carving or molding. A golden calf? It may or may not be his exact taste to put on your front lawn, just don’t worship it. What he cares about is why they were created in the first place. He cares about what the hearts of his people are worshipping.

    Turn to Ezekiel 14. It makes this clear for us as there is no reference to a particular object and that the “idol” actually resides in our heart.

    1 Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the LORD came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? 4 Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the LORD will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. 5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’
    6 “Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

    7 “‘When any of the Israelites or any foreigner residing in Israel separate themselves from me and set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet to inquire of me, I the LORD will answer them myself.” (Ezekiel 14:1-7 ESV)

    So, are we in danger of worshipping idols, like the Israelites? Calvin once said that the human heart is an idol factory. What he is getting at is that our hearts are constantly churning out new idols. As Christians, God is to be our first and foremost priority in all things. Idols are anything that stands in the place of God. Any good gift that God has given us—money, work, relationships, material possession, plans, hopes, and dreams—any of these things can be turned into an idol. Everything in life has its own proper “weight” and influence on our life. Idols are things that have grown to a place where they have too much influence. Idols are dangerous because they can control our life, and more specifically, can control our hearts. And did you notice in the passage the phrase, “put a wicked stumbling block before their faces.” They are also blinding. They blind us from seeing that they exist. And they blind us as we make decisions, set our priorities, speak to others.

    Psalm 135 shows us that the active worship and pursuit of our idols actually deaden our spiritual senses. Parsing out the influence of idols in our heart can be one of the single most important things you do to help those who you are ministering to.

    Just like any other form of sin, a believer can and should not tolerate the idolatry in his or her life, but should repent of it and turn to Christ in faith. And yet, some idolatry is so well-ingrained in a person’s life, there will be an on-going battle to fight it off and reduce its influence. But we can’t repent like God calls the people to do in Ezekiel 14:6 of what we are oblivious to and that is where you as the Christian counselor comes in.

    How do we know what is going on inside of our hearts?

    Ideally, at least from our limited vantage point, we would have a spiritual x-ray machine that could show us the root of someone’s struggle. Or short of that, at least a chart that shows us that if you see X fruit, then you know that the root is Y.

    What we learned from Luke 6 and Jesus’ word picture of trees is that you can learn a lot about a person by watching the “fruit” of their life. While you can learn a lot by watching their life, another way to “see” and “know” a person’s heart is to draw them out with questions. Solomon writes in Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” The superficial data about a person’s life is not all that hard to get at, but the matters of the heart—the purposes, desires, and motivations of a person—take a bit more work. To get to a person’s heart, you have to ask questions that go after a level of depth of understanding that is not a normal part of our everyday conversation.

    Consider an example of a Christian who struggles with lying. You can start by asking fact finding questions to understand the circumstances that surround the sin—When did this problem start? How often do you lie to others? In what situations are you more likely to say a lie? But to go deeper, you have to ask more penetrating questions—What are you trying to cover up by your lying? What self-centered motives make you lie to others? What’s the “pay-off” for lying and do you really think it is worth it? How do you plan to give an account to God when you have to explain your lying habits?

    Just to give you a sense of some other heart-oriented questions might look like, I’ve included a few below:
    • What do you love and hate?
    • What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?
    • What do you seek, aim for, pursue? What are your goals and expectations?
    • What makes you tick? What foundation of life, hope, and delight do you drink from? What really matters to you?
    • What do you fear? What do you tend to worry about?
    • Around what do you organize your life?
    • Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?
    • What or who do you trust?
    • Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest?

    The heart provides a level of depth in understanding human beings. We will find much greater success in counseling others if we spend less time on superficial things and focus our energy on getting to know a person’s heart.

    When a person comes to us for counseling, what we usually get is a host of details and facts about their problem: they describe the person’s involved, their emotions, the background factors, their interpretation of the situation, their own desires and hopes, their interpretation of why other people do the things they do, details about the setting, and many other things.

    Typically, when we talk with our friends about their problems, we are focused on the circumstances of the situation. We answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? And How? We look at the circumstances in our friend’s situation because we want to understand what is going on.

    Many people work towards trying to understand the circumstances because they erroneously believe that circumstances actually control that situation. Thus, they think, “If I understand the circumstances, then I can change the circumstances, and thus, fix the problem.”

    Circumstances don’t ultimately change a situation. Your heart does. Addressing circumstances can help some, but it is a more superficial remedy for any problem. Addressing the heart will produce deeper and more lasting change.

    You might come away from this discussion thinking that circumstances don’t really matter. Please don’t think that. Don’t ignore circumstances. In order for you to get to know a person, you have to understand some of their circumstances. Just be sure to give the circumstances their proper “weight” and importance in any given situation. For example: A person’s suffering can be so great that a quick change in circumstances can cause immediate relief. If that is the case, then temporarily put aside your pursuit of heart issues, and make that change quickly!

    In Conclusion –
    • Biblical counseling defines humanity with a biblical anthropology.
    • The heart is the core of who we are and the control center for our life. When we care for people, we must understand their hearts and help them to pursue a change of heart.
    • Idolatry compromises our ability to live faithfully as believers.
    • Do not put too much weight and importance in circumstances. Define your life according to your heart.