If you’ve been in my counseling office for any length of time, you’ve heard me explain the “Three-Fold Test”. For those who haven’t heard it, let me give it to you and then spend the rest of this article explaining its significance.
With any bothersome thought pattern, a three-step test will guide you to determine whether you want to spend any more time considering that thought. This test goes like this. (Note: If the thought pattern fails at any point in the test, you immediately stop and move onto a different focus for your thoughts). These are ranked in order of most common to least common. This means, most people’s bothersome thoughts will fail the first test, the second most will fail the second test, and the third most will fail the third test. Hence, this is the order you consider them.
No more explanation; here is the test.
- Do I have any control over this thing I am spending time thinking about? If you don’t have any control over it, change your focus to something else.
- If I do have control over this thing I’m thinking about, am I responsible for this thing? If you don’t have any responsibility for it, change your focus to something else.
- If I do have control over this, and I am at least partially responsible, do I have time right now to do anything about it? If you don’t, then schedule a time to take care of it, and move on to another focus.
For those who are wondering, I did develop this test about 15 years ago, but the concepts are not original with me. I am sure I borrowed these concepts from many sources, but I can name two very quickly if you want to study more of the background. First, I gleaned the overall concept from Dr. William Glasser, the founder of the Choice Theory/Reality Therapy school. The concept of working this through like a series of filters I got from Dr. Ed Smith, the founder of the Transformation Prayer therapy method. Read any of their books and you’ll see how their models became the basis for this test.
To show the importance of using this test frequently, I must explain some of the underlying presuppositions to strengthen your resolve to use it. There are several of these and I will try to be brief in explaining them.
First, let’s address the overall concept of choice. For roughly 50 years, psychology got mired in the idea that we are simply the product of our biology and that this prevents us from getting rid of anxiety and depression. This Behaviorist model assumed that you were “wired” a particular way and nothing could change that. Even though we describe everything else we do in life as a verb—that is, we learn, we love, we hate, we eat, we watch a movie, we travel, we hit someone, we voice our opinions, etc.—we describe our most troublesome thoughts as a noun. We don’t say “I am depressing myself”, we say “I have depression.” We don’t say “I am anxieting” we say, “I have anxiety”. We find it easier to see our depression and anxiety as things outside of us over which we have little control.
Dr. Glasser proposed in 1968 for the first time that other than a few hormonal situations and traumatic brain injury, most people choose to depress themselves. They do this for the most part to deal with anger. He also noticed people choose to anxiety, for the most part to deal with fear. His assumption was that if we can choose something, we can choose something else.
But he also noted, most of us will not. Depressing and anxieting produce things we want in our lives, even if we don’t want the results that come from depressing and anxieting. We want to worry. Yes we do. We want to anticipate what is coming so we can be ready for it or be prepared in some way. To do this, we anxiety.
Therefore, the focus of anxiety or depression is often on things we cannot control. This comes into play in a moment.
Next, it is important to know what we actually do control in life. Get ready for this list. The only things we control can be boiled down to three things:
- We control what we will focus on next.
- We control what action we will take next
- We control whatever other people allow us to control.
You do not control the past. We cannot change it, so we do not control it. Any time spent looking at the past with a focus on regret, shame, bitterness, revenge, blame, or fear is useless. The only focus on the past which yields results is how it affects the present. If you look back to learn or to process past beliefs, you can find good results.
You do not control the future. That is an illusion. Your planning does not control the future, it simply places you where you think you need to be. But we forget how many thousands of times we planned and we were wrong. Any time spent on worrying or depressing about the future is wasted thought.
You cannot control other people unless they allow you to. And the problem with controlling other people is that you become responsible for them. This is the basis of all co-dependency, but that’s another article.
Most people who depress themselves or anxiety themselves are convinced they cannot really control their own thoughts. But Dr. Glasser and many others in the Brain Plasticity movement (i.e. Daniel Amen, Norman Doidge, etc.) have shown in countless studies this is not true. What is true is we have convinced ourselves we cannot control our thoughts because we don’t really want to. As badly as it feels to depress ourselves, it is our choice and we are doing it for a reason. We think we can control things which we actually can’t control. The same is true with anxiety.
This is where the three-fold test comes in. Here is a short commentary on each step so you can see why they are important questions.
- “Do I have control over this thing I am spending time thinking about?” If you are thinking about the past or the future, you are putting mental energy into something which you can never change. Even if you believe you can, you cannot. Come to grips with that and leave it behind. Stop telling yourself you have no control over these thoughts. They are actually one of the only things in life you do have control over. For instance, I spent years thinking about how people reacted to some of the things I teach. When I applied this test to that thought pattern I realized I could not control their reactions, nor their attitude toward me, nor their choices for how they would treat me. Therefore, focusing for a second on how they would think about my teaching was useless. What I did control is whether what I taught was accurate and helpful. When I started to focus my thoughts on those things, I started to live more healthy.
- “Am I at least partially responsible for what I am spending time thinking about?” In life, there are many actions we can take to work with others. At any given moment, there are millions of things any of us can be doing. But we know deep inside we don’t have the time or energy to do more than a few things each day. Therefore, if we want our lives to matter, then we will do those things which mean the most to us. The healthiest actions we can take are ones which acknowledge and follow commitments we have made. For instance, it is proper for a parent to help a child make their lunch in the morning before school starts. This is especially true if the child doesn’t know how to do it. But as the child gets older, the parent needs to withdraw their help slowly so the child will take responsibility. On the other hand, if you are married to a drug addict, you often feel that need to worry and act in such a way as to prevent them from using. The problem is, their addiction, though it affects you, is their problem not yours. If you spend too much time focused on what you will do for them in it, you are taking responsibility for things both outside of your sphere of responsibility and control.
- “Can I take care of this responsibility right now?” Much worrying is done because we want to solve situations which haven’t happened yet. We don’t like to be caught off-guard, so we worry a future situation out until we have solved every possible thing which can go wrong. But we haven’t really solved anything. Think of a basketball team. They can plan how they will play the other team, but all the decisions have to be made at real speed in the game. If you have responsibilities which are coming up but haven’t happened, only focus on the principles, not the actual working out of the responsibility. All other mental effort is wasted.
Most people don’t think the test will work because they have chosen anxieting and depressing as solutions to their unsolvable problems. But, as I tell all my clients, if you apply this test each and every time in place of anxieting and depressing, you will take control of your thoughts again, and you will accomplish what you are setting out in life to achieve.
Recently, I had a friend tell me that not only did God ordain that Donald Trump be elected, but that God always ordains every person in power, no matter who they are. Because of this, all Christians must submit to all governing authorities, no matter who they are.
I asked him the inevitable question: “Do you mean a person in North Korea is to submit to Kim Jong Un?” “Yes, of course” was the answer. “Hitler?” I ventured. My friend hesitated and eventually said, “I am pretty sure. Yes.” “How about Nebuchadnezzar, if he is telling you to bow down to a statue of himself he had made? Do you have to submit to him as well?” My friend, though not a strong Christian, knew the Bible enough to realize he better stop while he was confused. He thanked me for the lunch and left the restaurant looking dazed.
I was not sorry I had done it. I am weary of explaining Romans 13:1-2 to friends, antagonists, and Calvinists. If Romans 13:1-2 does not immediately jump into your mind, here it is in the New International Version:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
I use the NIV here because it is rife with translation ambiguities which encourage people to jump to spurious conclusions. After we examine it closely here, I hope you will agree with me that:
- We do not have to agree with or support all governing authorities
- There is a legitimate place for public protest
- God does not set up most political leaders and endorse them
- We do not have to be agreeable and supportive of any political leader. We can disagree with them, stand against them, and even advocate their overthrow.
Allow me to use historic bible interpretation techniques to show why I draw these conclusions from Romans 13:1-2
The practices of good bible interpretation are called Hermeneutics. In Hermeneutics, the first step in the proper interpretation of a bible passage is to discover the context. Context relates to three things
- What cultural ideas would the original readers be aware of?
- What do the chapters before and after this one talk about?
- What does the rest of the Bible reveal about the subjects covered in these verses?
We call these the Cultural Context, the Textual Context, and the Theological Context. These three contexts will provide a better understanding of what the Apostle Paul was emphasizing.
- Cultural Context: At the time of the writing of Romans, the Roman government had been in power for over 100 years. They had effectively conquered the Greek, Persian and Egyptian Empires as well as less powerful Median, Ethiopian, Gaulish and Germanic kingdoms. Caesar was the head of the nation and could act with impunity. Though citizens of Rome could vote, the conquered people could not. They had little say over how their lives were lived. The Roman laws were absolute, and they could not violate them without severe penalties.The Roman Empire was autocratic and absolute. Unless you were Caesar or a Senator, you had virtually no power over your own life.This was the political climate Paul was writing into. It resembles modern-day North Korea. The China of Mao’s communists, Stalin’s communists, Castro’s communists, the farcical “democracies” of Venezuela, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe and Angola have all shown elements in common with the Roman Empire.But there was a positive side to all this autocracy. The Roman legions kept the peace and prevented warring tribes and nation-states fighting against each other. They quelled local rebellions and kept roads and waterways in good repair. The so-called “Pax Romana” was truly a time of world-wide prosperity and relative peace.But peace came with a price: Freedom.When Paul is speaking to people about the governing authorities, he is referring to a government under which they had no vote and few choices. In this sense, their situation is very different than ours in the Western democracies. One of my theology professors, Dr. James Cheung, used to tell us that the people of China understand better than Americans what it would mean to live in the world of the Romans. He said Paul wrote this book to people who had no way to change their government other than total rebellion and anarchy. That contextual understanding affects what Paul says in these verses.
Textual Context: In Romans 12 Paul examines the value and beauty of a life in surrender to God. Verses 1 and 2 may be the most sublime expression of what it means to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and to stay away from sin’s grasp.
From that, Paul logically applies this spirit-led life to a practical application. He advises each person seek to be used by the Spirit in service to others in the body of Christ. The focal point of living in the Spirit is not to meet our own needs or improve our image. It is to serve. We submit to God and He fills us with his Spirit. The Spirit flows out of us to serve others. We might show kindness, hospitality or respect out of this spirit-led love. Or we might exercise a supernatural gift of the Spirit. From this base, Paul then applies this loving attitude toward two other groups of people. First, he addresses how the spirit-led person will act toward those who persecute them. Then, he follows this up with the approach to be taken in conflict. We are to be at peace—as far as it depends on us—with everyone.
This is the chapter context leading into chapter 13 of Romans. Paul is not thinking particularly about politics. He is not as concerned about world leaders and political ideologies. Rather, Paul wants to apply the basic principle of being “transformed by the renewing of the mind” (Romans 12:2) to every difficult situation in life. Fellow church members, enemies, interpersonal conflicts, and the oppressive governments of that day immediately came to his mind.
There are some who feel Paul makes an abrupt change of topic in chapter 13. But I disagree. If you read the rest of the chapter after the first seven verses, you see that Paul returns to this topic of walking in the Holy Spirit with an attitude of love. Verse 8 says
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law“.
Therefore, good contextual hermeneutics suggests we read Paul’s teaching on our attitude toward government in the light of love and walking in the Spirit. This is not his treatise on government systems, God’s sovereignty, or man’s response to oppression. This is Paul’s way of applying the concept of love to down-to-earth difficult situations.
- Theological Context: Since many people approach Romans 13:1-2 as if Paul is addressing the Christian’s viewpoint on government systems, let’s see how the rest of the Bible approaches that issue for comparison. Since these verses seem to suggest we are to believe God establishes every government, and that we are simply to obey the governing powers and not rebel against them, does the rest of the Bible support this?Actually, it doesn’t. Even a cursory glance at the Bible nets a completely different result. Israel did not submit to Pharaoh, but rather fought against his rule. They blatantly disobeyed when he ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill the newborns. They plundered the Egyptian leaders and lied to them when they left captivity. Later in Israel’s history, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to a statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They refused to do as the leader of the country ordered. A few years later, Daniel also refused to obey the government and was thrown into the lion’s den as a punishment.David disobeyed Saul, though passively.Most of the prophets disobeyed their kings, especially the evil ones. Nathan the prophet chastised David the King to his face. In Israel’s post-exilic history, the nation fought against every ruling authority which took over their land. The Maccabees were especially rebellious. At no time after the exile did the people of Israel respect or obey those who ruled them.Even when the Herods came to power, the people were constantly rebelling against them. John the Baptist spent much of his ministry rebelling and fomenting rebellion against the Herods. The rulers of Jesus’ Israel, besides the Romans and the Herods, were the Sanhedrin. Jesus constantly confronted them and their interests. He called them a bunch of snakes, flouted their rules, and mocked their disciples.
Jesus criticized publicly most of their decisions and even went as far as to overthrow the money-changers tables in direct rebellion against temple rules. Few people in this world went out of their way as much as Jesus did to tweak the nose of the ruling establishment.
What about after Jesus died and rose again? His disciples carried on in his footsteps. After being ordered by the government to stop preaching and to stop teaching about Jesus, they steadfastly refused and rebelled by doing the very thing they were ordered to stop doing. They were not respectful of the government and followed only the laws which suited them. They schemed to hide from the government officials who sought to arrest them. Paul even pitted one government against another when he appealed to Caesar during his second trial. When thrown in the Philippian jail, Paul felt no obligation to stay there even though ordered to jail by an appointed official. He not only escaped jail, but befriended his jailer along the way.
There is one other theological context to address. How deep does the influence of God go in terms of elections and appointment of rulers? Since the main reason people refer to Romans 13:1-2 is to support the idea that God establishes all human rulers, does this make theological or logical sense? I contend it does not.This teaching is firmly ensconced in the idea of God’s sovereignty and determinism. This is a slippery slope doctrine and most people who believe it will agree.
It is remarkably easy to take it too far. The problem is, if you are going to believe in the full doctrine of God’s sovereignty then the only way for it to be consistent is to take it too far. Here is what I mean.Logically, if you say God has control over all things, then all things are under God’s control. If all things are under God’s control, then God wills that all things happen as they do. Nothing happens unless God wills it. At this point, the believer in God’s absolute sovereignty wants to hedge their belief. They will say there is a difference between what God allows and what God wills. But logically, that makes no sense. If God allows something, God wills it.
If I am able to stop my child hitting me, I have control over that. I can no longer blame the child for hitting me if I do nothing to stop it. If you say God is in control of all things, then God wills all things. This is what led a famous modern Calvinist to remark on the death of children in a schoolhouse massacre: “God desired that each of those children be killed, or it would not have happened.” At least this teacher is honest with his belief system.If you say that God’s allowance of an event is different than willing that event, then I have one thing to say. We both believe there are limitations on God being in control of everything. I just have more things I don’t think God is in control of than you.
If God truly wanted Donald Trump to be President, there is only one way to do it. God had to force every person to vote exactly as they did. And God had to prevent people from voting if their vote would have affected the outcome. Unless God affects them all, the outcome is indeterminate. So, when you say God wanted Donald Trump to be President, you are saying there was no other way it could have happened. This eliminates the choice any person would make in an election.
This also makes God out to be a monster and a puppet-master. This is not how God has revealed Himself to be. There must be limits on God’s sovereignty or else God is responsible for everything, including sin. Since we believe God is all-powerful—and I do believe that by the definition of God as Creator—then how is God to be limited?
The Arminian teaching is that God is self-limiting. No person can limit God, but God can limit Himself. God cannot sin for instance; that is a limit God places upon himself. God will not violate human choice unless God wants to accomplish something. That is another limit God places on Himself. This is what is shown in Romans 9 with Pharaoh. God can overrule human choice, but He chooses to do so infrequently.
For the most part, our sin and violence has mangled the beauty God created. Evil rulers have taken power whom God did not choose or ordain. What then is Romans 13:1-2 talking about if it is not addressing God’s overarching sovereignty? To answer this, we must look more carefully at the text itself.
Examination of the Text Itself
To fully understand what Paul says here, let’s note the key words and phrases in these two verses. Then, when we have finished that, we will put it together into a logical process. I will then note two alternate translations which show the full nature of what we find here.
- The first phrase is a command. The command “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” means to recognize there are higher powers and authorities than yourself. The purpose of writing this is to counter the idea that anarchy is God-ordained. There were many in Paul’s day who advocated overthrowing all human authority and simply falling under God’s authority. The best translation of this verse has this idea: Every soul in this world must continually recognize there are higher authorities than themselves. You are not in charge of the world.
Now we come to the crucial misunderstanding and ambiguity of this verse in the original Greek language. The NIV translates it this way: “For there is no authority, except which God establishes“. Going through the Greek words and the simple grammar, it would sound like this: “For there is no authority, except under God.” There are literally three ways this could be legitimately translated:
- There is no authority except those God establishes
- There is no authority that doesn’t come under God’s authority
- There is no authority except God’s authority.
- There is no authority except those God establishes
- I personally think the second translation is the best one. Every government pales in comparison with God’s government. So even though we recognize that humans can seize control and rule over others, this rule will always be temporary in both time and extent. God’s rule is more powerful. God allows humans to be kings and rulers. God allows us to vote in whomever we want. And even though God doesn’t often interfere with what human rulers do, God is always the ultimate authority.Though the Third Reich killed six million people there were miracles which happened to prevent this holocaust from spreading to the rest of the world. I have no idea why God didn’t intervene earlier or cause Hitler to die earlier, but He didn’t. But there is a reason there is no Third Reich in the world today. God used people to overthrow Hitler and his regime. But if no people had been willing to do so, Hitler would have hurt many more. We humans must come under God’s authority and serve Him for anything to change.
- The next phrase “the authorities which exist have all been established by God” has the same translation difficulty as the last phrase. To be consistent then, the best translation is “All existing authorities come under God’s authority ultimately.”
- Putting together all these thoughts into one verse would sound like this: “Every soul must recognize there are higher authorities than themselves. For there are no authorities who do not come under God, for all existing authorities ultimately come under God’s authority.”
- The next phrase flows logically out of the verse before it. The phrase starts with the word “therefore” which implies what comes after is the application of the truth. The truth is that God is the one who allows humans to govern. If you have trouble with the concept of other people ruling your life, you have a problem with God. All attitudes of anarchy and rebellion are attitudes against God. Therefore, King David did not want to overthrow King Saul but rather to protect him, even when Saul was trying to kill David. David recognized that he didn’t want to come against the King out of his respect for God.Most legitimate rebellion means to stand up against what a ruler does and says, not against their right to be rulers. The concept of authority is something God allows people to have. This is an interesting theological conundrum. When Israel originally approached Samuel the prophet and asked him to question God about this idea of having a king like the other nations around, here is God’s answer to Samuel:10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”God warns them if they seek after a human ruler it won’t always go well with them. The ruler will expect tributes and money and power. And when they complain to God, God is going to ignore their complaints. But to rebel against this idea of any ruler and to want anarchy is to rebel against God. This is the point of the first part of verse 2 of Romans 13.
Therefore, we may do all we can to change our leaders, and even our form of government (a la the American Revolution), but we must not discard the idea of others having some authority over us. That is anarchy and God does not sanction it.
- The final part of verse 2 lets us know the consequence of rebelling against all authority. If you fight the concept of authority over your life completely, you will find you keep getting judged over and over. You will find that rulers keep hurting you. The person who sneers at the police wonders why the police pick on them. The sports star who calls the referees names wonder why they get called for so many fouls. The anarchist organization who fights the government at every turn wonders why the government fights back. The person who says “no one is allowed to tell me what to do” will force everyone to tell them what to do.
Application of These Verses
What can we conclude from all this? Paul, writing with the idea of applying the love and power of the Holy Spirit to every part of life, warns us we cannot walk in the Spirit and keep believing no one should tell us what to do. We recognize the right of leaders and governing authorities to exist because God allows them to. This doesn’t mean God set every leader up or endorses all they do. It means that God allows human authorities to call the shots for a while. We do well to honor that.
However, God allows us to disagree with ruling authorities. They have a right to exist, but we have a right to vociferously demand they change their ways if they are evil or misguided. In the culture Paul wrote to, Christians could not make changes in their governments. Paul basically tells them not to waste a lot of time on it. We face much different realities in the Western cultures. We can and do make our voices heard. We can march, write, speak out, defy and even be jailed for our beliefs. These all fall under the aegis of this chapter’s teaching. At the same time, if we act as if we are the final authority in life, we will find that existing authorities want to hurt us. And God will allow that.
The attitude of rebellion is a wasting disease, and God wants the spirit-led Christian to stay away from it.
This implies God did not determine Donald Trump would be the winner of the election. Neither did God want Hilary to be the President. Or Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. God allowed us to have whomever we wanted. But we must live with our choice. We may biblically protest, criticize, engage, applaud, impeach, march against, yell at, and satirize our leaders. But let us not invalidate the concept of leadership. That invalidates God and his ordinances.
Here are the other two translations I mentioned so you can compare them to the translation I put together:
Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible.
New Living Translation:
Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. 2 So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished.
Please take heart.
Some spiritual leaders can make it sound like hearing God is either a piece of cake or impossible. I believe through my teaching I have done both.
Ignore us. Hearing God is neither impossible nor easy. It’s just messy.
For a background and context to this idea, let me show you an example of this from the days of the early church. In the book of Acts 16:6-10 we read:
6 They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8 and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Here is some basic background context so you can see the importance of this journey. The Apostle Paul and his team are heading out on what historically is called his “Second Missionary Journey”. Paul and Barnabas had conducted their first journey several years previous. On that trip, they had established several churches–we’re not clear on how many–and had now decided to return to those churches to see how they were doing.
Asia is a province of the Roman Empire encompassing southern and western Turkey. It is also the location of about half the churches Paul established on his first trip. Mysia, Bithynia and its surrounding region contain all the rest of the churches that Paul founded. Therefore, in Acts 16, they were being prevented from going to do any of the work they had planned on doing!
We all face situations like this in life, even if we are faithful followers of God. You can hear God, be faithful to what you’ve heard, follow every step of his Leading, and still run into insurmountable obstacles. Look back at the passage and note several things:
- In verse 6 it says they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” from speaking in Asia. Scripture can be pesky and unhelpful in this respect: We aren’t given any details about how Holy Spirit did this “forbidding”. Did he use circumstances beyond their control? Did Holy Spirit give them dreams and visions about the dangers of Asia ministry, or cautions about what may happen? Did several of the team members throw a fit because they lacked peace about the trip? We have no way of knowing.
- In verse 7, it says that they tried to enter Bithynia, but Holy Spirit did not permit them. This is a different Greek verb (permit) than the one used in verse 6 (forbid). It is a much more passive verb, meaning that however Holy Spirit did the non-permitting, it was more subtle than verse 6. What form did this take? We have no way of knowing.
- Troas is the port connected to an historical city which had been called “Troy” many years before this first century journey. The road to Troas was the only way you could exit the interior of Turkey and make your way down to the coast.
- On the road from Bithynia to Troas, you had to pass by the ancient gate for the road to Troy. At the head of that gate was a 35 foot statue. The statue was a final gift of the Greek cities to Troy at the end of the war. The statue was of a Macedonian man with an outstretched arm, inviting the Trojans over to Greece to fulfill trade promises. William Barclay says it was the antithesis, so to speak, to the Trojan horse, a symbol of treachery and bad faith.
- Paul’s vision in verse 9 probably featured that Macedonian Man from the road they had passed during the day. Do all visions work this way? Are all visions simply compilations of things we have seen in real life? I doubt it, but we cannot rule out God using things we have already seen as an opportunistic way of getting truth across to us.
There is so much we do not know about this story. At the core, we cannot figure out how Holy Spirit communicated to them. Wouldn’t that have been ideal for Luke to explain to us as he wrote this account? Isn’t this what we need as we seek to emulate how the early followers of Jesus lived out their lives under the influence of the Voice of God?
Perhaps that is the point of not explaining it. We have to live out our lives according to how we experience God. Perhaps there is no normative way of hearing God. Perhaps the patterns that evolved with other people in other times do not work the same today.
Nicholas Carr, in his book, “The Shallows” explains how modern computers and the multitude of screens with their quick and visual information, have reshaped how our brains work. Since the mind is a crucial part of the process of hearing God, isn’t it possible that the way we pick up on God’s voice has changed?
Yet no matter what era a person lives, the experience of God’s voice is messy. Many times in the Bible, people assumed they were hearing God when the evidence suggests they were not. And there were times that people heard God and thought they heard someone other than God. The young boy Samuel, who heard God during the night and assumed it was his mentor, is an example of this.
If you thought hearing God could be done neatly, tidily and always accurately, then you do not understand how complicated the interface between the ever-existing Spirit of God and the finite, flawed and fallible mind of humans really is. As Steve Thompson, the well-known prophetic voice says “this is as much an art form as a spiritual discipline“. Indeed.
Several years ago, I had a disturbing dream featuring a person I have known for years. I had not seen that person in at least five years, but the dream suggested they were in deep trouble. So I thought about it after waking, and decided it was God telling me that they needed to change some of their relationships to be safe. I contacted my friend and relayed this information. I even let them know who I thought was the most dangerous person to them.
After praying about it for several weeks, my friend contacted me. They concluded I was completely wrong. They told me to ask God about it and see what I could make of this error. So I did. I spent several days pondering the dream and out of that came several deeper insights. But, in the end, I realized that the dream had nothing to do with my friend in danger. It had to do with our friendship and how poorly I had kept up my end of it.
God used my friend, a dream, a book I was reading, the inaction of another friend of mine, pneumonia, a recent teaching I had done on hearing God and another dream much later to get the full message across to me. Since that time, I have been a better friend to this person. And I am even more careful about interpreting dreams.
Hearing God is messy. Take heart: it has always been that way.
One of the most radical changes I have seen in my 36 years of doing counseling is the emergence of Skype and Facetime as viable communication vehicles. I did my first Skype counseling session about 10 years ago (with a soldier serving in the Middle East) and until two years ago I had a few clients every year. Beginning in 2013, I started to counsel monthly over Skype and Facetime with a wide variety of clients.
Now I counsel at least two people a week over these media–many times I counsel more than that.
You may not have considered this a viable alternative to the traditional office visit counseling session. So, if you are not familiar with Online Media Counseling (OMC), let me introduce you to the many benefits (and a few of the potential drawbacks).
Benefits of OMC with Skype and Facetime
- OMC removes some of the obstacles of counseling involving travel and location. For instance, because counselors are highly specialized in the type of therapy they offer, you may not be able to find a counselor who offers the approach to counseling that is most beneficial to your particular life challenges. With OMC, you don’t have to live anywhere near the counselor. It is possible to do counseling with a therapist on a totally different continent. I have counseled many people in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
- Health issues are no longer a hindrance to going for counseling. Some people are non-ambulatory and cannot leave their homes. This makes seeing a counselor very difficult. But with Facetime or Skype, you can see your counselor even if the flu makes it impossible for you to dress in anything other than pyjamas.
- Clients with phobias related to the gender of the counselor (especially for initial appointments) can relieve some of that stress by counseling with someone via OMC.
- People in rural areas are often at a disadvantage when it comes to psychotherapy because they do not live close enough to any counselors. With OMC, the client is always as close as an Internet connection to the therapist.
- Most therapists can offer counseling for cheaper when done over OMC. The therapist does not have to have a dedicated office when doing online therapy. This means they can offer their services for less since they don’t have as many overhead costs.
- OMC is superior to counseling over the phone, since the therapist can see the body language and facial expressions of the client. This is critical with many counseling sessions.
- When you have received therapy from a counselor that you respect, you often want to recommend that therapist to your friends. The problem is, your friends may live a 1000 miles away from the therapist. With OMC, that is no longer a hindrance.
- OMC does not imply an impersonal connection. Many of my online clients report they feel an appropriate amount of closeness and empathy even over the Internet.
Potential Drawbacks to OMC
- It requires that the connection be high-speed and reliable. A dial-up connection and a modem probably won’t get this done. However, I have had several clients who have lost their connection to me via the Internet. When we restored it, we were able to continue on fairly naturally without a problem.
- Other people can interrupt the session, thinking you are “only online with someone”. Sometimes, clients forget to keep their space free of “visitors” and this can be a bit embarrassing. I often warn new clients of this, but it doesn’t always ensure privacy.
- Some clients feel the need to be in the same room as the counselor. Obviously this is not possible to do with Skype or Facetime.
If you or someone you know could benefit from OMC, email me at email@example.com and we can set up a time to talk.
What do you say or do for someone who goes through agony or tragedy?
This teaching is from a series on “Spicy Living” that I taught a few years ago.
Some of you have asked where you can find some of my audio teachings from the past.
Starting today, I am going to post a teaching series every two-three weeks in its entirety. This one is from a couple of years ago and relates to Spices that God wants to add to our lives to give it more flavor.
This is one of those spices: The Spice of Joy