Yesterday we discussed how 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” for short). We looked at God’s promise, “I will be your God and you will be my people” and how this promise culminates in the fulfillment of the believer’s longings for SSR.
Finding True Significance, Security, and Rest in the Covenantal Formula
What does it look like to root these longings for SSR in whom God promises to be for us? Let me offer five diagnostic questions that will help us toward that end.
Question #1: What, in my life, is too important to me?
First, it’s important to identify those things in our lives that we find too much value in. The answer to this question will determine what we might call the overt idol. It could be money, a car, my job, my kids, my wife, sports, or even a golden calf (Ex. 32). What’s common in all these examples is that they’re external to us—they’re outside of us. It is helpful to first identify those things that are external to you that are more important than they should be because they are normally easy to spot. Ask yourself, “What is it that is too important to me?” Or, put differently, “What am I willing to sin to get or sin if I don’t get? What do I dwell upon? What consumes my thinking? What do I love so much that, if threatened to be taken from me, I would respond in sin?”
Let’s use the example from yesterday of the wife who wants to have a meaningful conversation with her husband when he gets home from work and the husband who just wants to eat dinner and watch TV. What is too important to her? We could probably conclude something like: her husband, or even talking to her husband. What about him? Perhaps something like TV, or dinner, or even silence. But this still doesn’t go deep enough, does it?
Question #2: What do I really want?
Answering this question will help us determine what we might call the “covert idol,” or the idol of the heart. To identify the covert idol, we can ask a very simple question: What do I hope the overt idol will give me? What am I looking for it to provide?
In the case of the wife mentioned above, it is evident that she wants to feel valued and cherished. She believes having a long, meaningful conversation will fulfill that desire. Now we’re getting somewhere. His silence and lack of engagement with her is a threat to the fulfillment of these desires.
What about the husband? What does he want from TV, dinner, or silence? It’s pretty obvious—comfort of some kind. His heart is set on taking it easy and he sees it as work to engage in meaningful discussion with his wife.
Question #3: Which common craving is dominant?
The covert idol of the wife is a craving to feel cherished or loved. However, there’s a layer beneath this desire. She would do well to ask herself the simple question: “Why do I want to feel loved?” Or, put negatively, “What upsets me most about the fact that I don’t feel loved? What do I fear most?” It became evident that her real concern was one of security. She does not want to feel valued for the sake of feeling valued. She wants to feel valued so that she feels secure. And when her husband does not engage in conversation in the way she desires and she responds sinfully, what she really wants is security in the relationship. It is important to keep pressing into the cravings of the heart because you might come to find that underneath the first layer of craving lies a deeper one that needs to be addressed.
Question #4: What self-focused demands am I making?
After considering unearthing the dominate craving of the heart (SSR), it is necessary to become aware of the inherent self-focus of such desires. It is one thing to admit such desires are idolatrous and sinful, but you will begin to see the weightiness of your sin on a whole new level when you begin to see the utter selfishness of it.
Using the imagery of kingdom, we can ask: what are some of the rules/standards/ expectations/demands the husband has set up for his kingdom? Here are some possibilities: “In my kingdom…
- “I deserve rest after a long day of work.”
- “I need others to acknowledge my hard work by giving me space.”
- “It’s too much work to talk to my wife, so I don’t need to engage with her.”
- “My desires are more important than my wife’s desires.”
- “I’m permitted to slack on my responsibilities as a husband in certain areas.”
How about the wife? Here are some likely prospects: “In my kingdom…
- “I need my husband to engage with me when he gets home to have true security.”
- “After a long day of being away from him, I have a right to his attention.”
- “My husband should consider my interests before his own.”
- “I’m permitted to feel anxious or despair if he doesn’t fulfill my desires.”
Question #5: What cravings do I need to repent of and what promises do I need to trust?
At this point, it is vital that we embrace specific promises of Scripture that speak directly to the experience of our hearts. While it is important for the husband who craves rest to the neglect of caring for his wife to be reminded of passages like, “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way” (1 Pet. 3:7), if he’s not addressing the matters of the heart that keep him from obeying this verse, he’ll continue to disobey it. Therefore, along with passages like this one, it is important that he rehearses promises like, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary… He gives power to the faint, and to him who has not might he increases strength” (Is. 40:29, emphasis added). This promise speaks directly to the struggle of his heart. This is the kind of promise he needs to cling to so that he is able to obey commandments like 1 Peter 3:7!
The same is true for the wife. Sure, she can rehearse passages like Philippians 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others.” But if she is neglecting the deeper matters of the heart—like a craving for security—that keeps her from obeying this verse, then she will continue to disobey. But when she runs to promises like, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Josh. 1:5; c.f. Heb. 13:5) or “[God] is [my] stronghold in the time of trouble” (Ps. 37:39), then she is able to consider her husband’s interests before her own because she is rooting her security in the only place that is truly secure—God himself!
The examples given above relate primarily to relational conflict. But the principles of SSR can be applied to a single man who works too much, a teenage girl who cuts herself for relief, a church member who isolates himself from the body, a student who falls into despair over an “A-”, and the list could go on. When we press into the hearts of each of these people, we will often find a craving for significance, security, rest, or a combination of them.
A large part of the process of sanctification for Christians is to root our SSR in our identity in Christ, specifically in the promise from God: “I will be your God and you will be my people.” There is no greater promise than this. Here we find true significance, true security, and true rest.
Questions for Reflection
What does it look like to root longings for significance, security, and rest in whom God promises to be for us? How can you integrate these 5 steps to finding true significance, security, and rest in the covenantal formula into your counseling?
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, TX. Josh and his wife have been married eleven years and they have three sons, one daughter, and a child on the way.