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COUNSELING THE ADDICTED

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COUNSELING THE ADDICTED How To Know Who Will Succeed

You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve even said it. “You’ll never succeed until you really want it.” But is this statement biblical?

The short answer is, “Yes”. But do you remember how Jesus phrased it?

 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt. 5:6)

In an addictions context, Jesus appears to be saying that if someone whose starting point is a real desire to be free, He promises He’ll be on the other end of that desire—but that’s not necessarily correct. Let’s unpack the key terms.

  • “Righteousness”. Simply put, righteousness is living rightly, to be in a right relationship with God.
  • “Hunger”. While the word can mean literal hunger, here it means to desire intensely to do what God desires.
  • “Thirst”. While the word can mean literal thirst, here it means a passionate longing to do good.

Both hunger and thirst are present tense verbs, action words, so the idea is doing something now.  That active “doing” is a sincere and intense “right now” desire to do something—and that something is to live righteously. Therefore, a paraphrase of the verse could read, “Blessed are those who are [right now, actively] hungering and thirsting for right living”.

What is important to note here is that the verse is not talking about an attitude. It’s talking about a sincere and intense “right now” desire to do something—and that something is to live righteously. It is extremely helpful when we are able to determine when someone has an attitude versus a desire.

I know this sounds technical, but it’s actually very important if we don’t want to waste time trying to help those who are only giving mental assent to an idea (see Matt. 7:6). Merriam Webster* defines attitude as “a mental position with regard to a fact or state”. An attitude. From a biblical perspective, earnestly wanting to stop addictive behavior is not sufficient. Earnestly wanting to live righteously is. The goal is not to stop. The goal is, as always, to be like Christ.

Here we have a difference in emphasis. Earnestly wanting to stop is seeking to arrive at a passive state. It’s no longer doing something, the addictive behavior. Earnestly wanting to live righteously is seeking to arrive at an active state. It is doing something, living righteously. There is considerably more emphasis given in the Bible about what “to do” rather than what “not to do”.

Wanting to stop is seeking a passive state. Wanting to live righteously is seeking an active state. Matt. 5:6 #addiction Click To Tweet

So, how can we determine who will succeed?

  1. Look for actions. In marriage counseling, when discussing love, I tell couples that “love is as love does”. Love is a verb, an action word. So it is with hunger and thirst. We need to see it happening, not just expressed.
  2. Does the person keep appointments?
  3. Are they completing assignments (homework) on time?
  4. Ask them if they not only understand what it means to be free in Christ, but are they actually living that way.
  5. Do they seem to be dragging out the counseling experience without any sign of progress stemming from active desire?

Desire is as desire does. If the hunger and thirst are invisible, it’s probably best to tell the person to come back when they really want it. This isn’t being insensitive. It’s stepping aside to allow the Holy Spirit to continue working to bring the person to a place of repentance.

What suggestions would you add to this list? Please comment below and let me know how you counsel the addicted.

Counseling The Addicted: How To Know Who Will Succeed. How Matt 5:6 relates to counseling #addiction Click To Tweet

*MW Collegiate Dict. (11th Ed.)

By | 2017-02-28T11:01:07+00:00 February 20th, 2017|Addiction, Counseling|2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Albert Muraya March 17, 2017 at 12:41 AM - Reply

    I am truly grateful to you Paul and this resource you have created by the grace of our Lord. I couldn’t put it better, wanting change is evidenced by earnestness. However as a counselor I realize that there is a process of coming to earnestness just as there is a process of coming to believe. Would you comment on that?
    I have been taught that the four types of soil (hearts) that Jesus Christ spoke of in the gospels (Mt.13; Mk.8) were really the same person at different points in their path of transformation.

    • Paul Stark March 17, 2017 at 12:11 PM - Reply

      Hi Albert. Thank you for your kind remarks.

      “The emphasis in the story is on the results of the sowing. The four results of sowing are compared to four responses to the kingdom message. This was the message preached by John, Jesus, and the apostles.

      “The difference in these results was not in the seed but in the soil on which the seed fell. As the gospel of the kingdom was presented, the good news was the same. The difference was in the individuals who heard that Word. The Lord was not saying that an exact 25 percent of those who heard the message would believe. But He was saying that a majority would not respond positively to the good news.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures).

      It seems unlikely that the four soils are the same person on a progressive path. If that were the case, every person who hears “the Word” would come to repentance. We know that is not the case. However, we do know, even intuitively, that different people respond differently to the Gospel. Hence, the four responses are fitting for what we see every day when the Gospel is presented. Some get it. Some do not.

      Regarding “a process of coming to earnestness”, I think it depends. Some are already in such a state of desperation that they respond immediately. We could infer that they have already gone down a path leading to earnestness, but it is hard to discern how long the process was in time and experience.

      I know this. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). Divine help is always a necessary component in faith and repentance. Perhaps it’s best to see those Christians held captive in spiritual strongholds who arrive at a place of “earnestness” as having been led there by God. God always wants what’s best for His children (Rom. 8:28) and He disciplines them because He loves them (Heb. 12:5-11).

      The Hebrews passage demonstrates that God’s discipline is designed to lead to repentance (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9-10), and the outcome is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (v.11). So, it’s not simply earnestness alone, it is earnestness for righteousness. Interestingly, a sincere hunger and thirst for righteousness is the desire and it is precisely that, righteousness, that is the outcome.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for checking in.

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