Handled, Part II image

Handled, Part II

I have had the enormous privilege of spending the past few days with PJ Smyth and the Godfirst posse in Johannesburg. Being with PJ is always an experience of ‘data dump’ – watching how he leads, and chatting with him, and the actual tangible information download of a bunch of files passed over on a memory stick.

One of the initiatives that PJ has been running with since returning to action post-cancer is the excellent 3DL leadership course. While in Johannesburg I have been looking through some of this material and found particularly juicy the module on gospel-centric counseling. In this material PJ puts the emphasis upon how we respond to the stuff life throws at us – it is about winning the battle for our hearts:

Even in situations where external pressures (such as sickness, bereavement, abuse, abandonment etc.) come to bear on us, God holds us responsible for how our heart responds during the experience (e.g. anger towards God, harbouring fear etc.) and for how our heart responds after the experience (e.g. withdrawal, resentment, self-pity, greed etc.).

This battle for the heart is very practical. It means that we are not excused responsibility when something bad happens to us, but are held responsible for how we respond.

For example, a person may act angry or grumpy in response to lack of sleep. Even if the lack of sleep was external (e.g. side effect of a medication, a crying baby, inconsiderate neighbours etc.) God still holds us accountable for our heart response and any sin that occurs through that anger or grumpiness. While empathy is given and the plans made for the external pressures to be minimized, the responsibility rests firmly at our feet and the person must be counselled to take responsibility for their response to the external pressure.

Of course, this message is easier to take from someone who has demonstrated it with integrity in their own life – and this PJ has certainly done. PJ’s response to cancer (during and after) has been exemplary. He has come through it stronger and more grace-filled, and with a keener edge to his ministry. (If you have not heard it, PJ’s message about his experience of cancer at this year’s TOAM conference is a must listen).
If I am handled badly, or if something bad happens to me, what do I do? My natural response is to fight back, or get into self-pity. A godly response is to lean into Jesus and in him find the grace I need – to win the battle for the heart.
Sometimes this heart battle is huge – when someone you thought you could trust does something terribly betraying, or when cancer is suddenly diagnosed. But all of us face multiple smaller-issue scenarios every week. And every time, the question is the same – not so much “Why did this happen?” That question is often unanswerable, and usually un-fixable – but, “How am I going to respond?” Or, put another way, how are you going to handle your heart?

This is the second article of the Handled Series.

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