The Difficulties of Life Are Often More Simple Than We May Think
More often than not, when I begin a counseling process with a new counselee I feel overwhelmed by the apparent complexities of the issues. “Where do I begin? Do I talk about this, or that? What do I need to focus on? There’s so much to address!”
It is easy to feel overwhelmed, but good biblical counselors understand the importance of going beneath the presenting problems and addressing the underlying heart cravings that are often the cause of the sense of complexity in any given situation. I have found that most of our heart cravings can be placed into one (or a combination) of three categories: a craving for significance, security, and/or rest (SSR). It’s not enough to simply identify some of the common cravings of the heart; it is best to push even deeper so that we might have a fuller explanation for why we do what we do and then repent and apply the promises of Scripture on that level.
Tracing the Biblical Storyline
There are two massive promises God gives to His people as the story of redemption unfolds: a promise of dominion and a promise of dynasty. These two promises flow from the greatest promise God could possibly give: the promise of God to be God to His people and to possess them as His own. The diagram below illustrates this idea.
Genesis 2 is a picture of what it looks like for God to be God to His people and for His people to be His people. From that reality, they experienced true SSR. They were the pinnacle of creation and valued by God above the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26-27), giving them true significance. Moreover, they experienced the security of the garden with its inherent boundaries (Gen. 2:10-14) and God’s uninhibited presence provided them safety from outside threat. Finally, they had real rest in the place of God’s presence. They could be satisfied with food (Gen. 2:16), they experienced no pain in death (Gen. 2:17), and there was only relational peace (Gen. 2:23-25).
All of this changed, however, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. But have you ever asked, “Why did they disobey? What did they want that they thought they lacked in God being their God and they being His people in His presence?” Satan’s deceptive words in Genesis 3:4 give us a hint: “But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (emphasis added). Satan held out to them at least two promises: a promise of security (“you won’t die”), but even more, a promise of significance (“you will be like God”).
Because these promises were so enticing, the couple ate and, as is always the case when we disobey God, they received the opposite of what they were seeking. When they bit into the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7). And then, when they heard the sound of God’s presence, what did they do? “The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8). They sought significance in something other than their relationship with God; now they feel shame. They sought security; but now they’re insecure. They sought comfort; but now all peace is gone.
It’s not difficult to see the themes of SSR traced across the canon in the covenants with Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 7; 15:5, 18; 17:4-8), Israel (Ex. 6:7; 19:7; Deut. 12:10), David (2 Sam. 7:9-24), and in the New Covenant (Jer. 30:18-22; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; Gal. 3:29; Luke 21:18; Matt. 11:28-30). Each, in different ways, highlights the promises of dominion (security and rest) and dynasty (significance), rooted in the greatest promise (“I will be your God”).
These promises ultimately find their fulfillment in the New Heavens and New Earth where God dwells with His people (Rev. 21:3). In the new creation, God promises rest when “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev. 21:4). His promise of security is clear, as well: “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:25-27). And finally, our significance is found in the greatness of the people depicted in Revelation 7:9-10, which describes a people so great they cannot be numbered. God’s people are caught up in something much bigger than themselves, providing a sense of true significance.
This discovery began to unfold the more counseling I did. On one occasion I was counseling a couple who was experiencing conflict in their marriage. The wife worked two days per week and was home the rest of the time. She experienced severe pain in her feet because of a birth defect that required several surgeries. The husband worked long hours and was a valued employee. When he would come home, his wife wanted to talk, but he had difficulty staying engaged due to fatigue. She would get upset, he would try to comfort her, and the cycle continued.
After pressing into their hearts, she admitted she craved being valued and cherished. I pressed in and asked her why she wanted this from him. What did she fear? Ultimately, because of her disability, she feared he might leave. I asked her why, then, does she want to feel valued and cherished by him. She concluded that having deep conversations after being away from him all day gave her a sense of security in their relationship.
And there it was! When we pressed deep enough, it became evident that the experience of her heart could be summarized as a desire for security. And one problem (though not the only problem) was that she was seeking her ultimate security in her relationship with her husband—more specifically, how he felt about her.
Then I asked him why he failed to give his wife attention after work. His response was revealing: “I just want to take it easy. It’s hard to have an extended conversation after a long day of work.” He craved rest!
This unveiling set us on a journey of discovery together. Certainly, such awareness of the deeper cravings of their hearts didn’t solve all of their problems, but it was a necessary step towards greater love and understanding in their marriage.
Tomorrow we will explore 5 diagnostic questions that will help us find true significance, security, and rest in the covenantal formula.
Questions for Reflection
Have you tried to categorize the heart cravings of counselees? If so, what categories have you found helpful for assessing some of the most common cravings of the heart?
Josh earned a M.Div. in Biblical Counseling from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and currently serves as the Associate Pastor for Biblical Counseling and Family Discipleship at High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. Josh and his wife have been married eleven years and they have three sons, one daughter, and a child on the way.