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Judy Lair is a licensed counselor and owner of Counselorplace Christian Counseling. She is the author of “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.” Judy’s personal struggles with fear led her through the valley of hurt and sorrow. She now embraces a joy-filled life grounded in God’s truth and freedom in Christ. Judy uses her professional counseling expertise to tell stories that help people find healing and freedom. Her vulnerable, godly approach helps people find courage to move from Fear to Freedom. For more information or speaking requests, email JudyLair@counselorplace.com or sign up for blog posts at http://judylair.blogspot.com

 “Freedom is attainable. Trust me, I’ve been on the anxiety side, gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and now I’m praising God, eating at the banqueting table, and helping others make the same journey. Whether you find yourself stuck in anxiety, disappointment, grief, or confusion, your heart can be set free.” Judy Lair, “From the Other Side of the Couch.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Other Brother

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.” 
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The prodigal son is my favorite parable. There’s so much to learn from the viewpoint of the younger son, older son, and the father. Jesus presented a story which challenged the religious society’s belief system. His words continue to speak directly to our hearts today.
The entire crux of the story is the father’s heart. The angry younger son showed his resentment and bitterness by demanding his inheritance. An action which stated their relationship was dead. Such a request was a slap in his father’s face. What a gut-wrenching, painful event. A father’s heart torn to shreds and a family shamed by this dearly beloved child.

How did the father respond? By giving his immature, reckless son what he’d asked for and allowing him to leave home. There’s no indication the father begged his son to change his mind and stay. No stern lecture about disrespect and disobedience. Just a sorrowful acceptance of his son’s choices.

Later when he was out of resources, this son meditated on his father’s merciful, compassionate, loving sacrifice. Was he wrong about his father’s heart? The guilt and shame over his actions must have been tremendously heavy. Yet remembering how his father responded gave him hope for redemption and he headed for home. At best, the prodigal son hoped to become a servant. He prepared a speech, intending to beg for just a small measure of forgiveness.

The father was watching, hopeful for his son’s return. Unconcerned with convention, unfettered by bitterness, the father ran joyously to embrace his son. Immediately a celebratory party was ordered. When the prodigal son tried to speak, his father cut him off, declaring to all that his lost son had returned. No sermons. No hesitation. Only relationship.
But I think there were actually two prodigal sons in this story. I love Henri Nowen’s quote because it speaks to the hard heart of many Christians. Thankfully, many folks bypass the rebelliousness of the younger son. They follow the rules, attend church, tithe, work hard in ministry, etc. But what is the motivation of their heart? It’s revealed when God shows mercy to a sinful, disobedient child.

When the older brother heard his father was throwing a party for the brother who shamed the family, he was filled with anger.

Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him! Luke 15:28-30

The older son did not understand the father’s heart any more than his brother. All he needed to do was ask for what he needed and it would have been given. “‘My son, the father said’, ‘you are always with me and everything I have is yours.’” (Luke 15:31) Rather than rest in a loving relationship, the older son based acceptance on good works. He believed obedience would bring him special status, feeling betrayed when the father showed mercy.

No matter which son you resemble, the key is to move toward the father’s heart. Do you look for unconditional love in all the wrong places? Do you run towards trouble or stand in defensiveness? The younger son eventually came to his senses (Luke 15:17) and turned around. We don’t know what choice the older son made. Did he, too, see the error of his ways and embrace his father? What about you? The father is always watching and waiting for your return.

Sorrowful Prayer

There’s been so many sad, heart-breaking events in the news this summer. I absolutely believe God is in control and He grieves with us at the hurt and pain His children endure. Join me in this prayer as we release the sorrows in life and find comfort in God’s heart.

Father God, let this sadness envelope my heart
As a fog rolls across the coastline.
When despair clouds my vision & joy’s naught to be found,
It’s your voice I will follow, for I’m blind.

Savior Jesus, let me mourn each loss in my life
As a mother whose cradle is empty.
When the anguish it threatens my soul to undo,
In its midst can I truly embrace Thee.

Precious Spirit, please leave a tear in my eye
As a glistening jewel in the sun.
Though the waves of pain constantly rise up and fall,
Its reflection shows your comfort’s begun.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Longing for Jesus

As I look at my life on this beautiful summer day, I'm filled with thanksgiving for the abundant blessings God has given. Some of these blessings are external, but the ones I'm most grateful for are found in my soul. I've been a Christian most all of my life, but it's only been in the last 15 years I've experienced a deep relationship with Jesus. I moved from a fear-based legalistic spiritual life to an authentic, vulnerable relational-based viewpoint. I wrote the following poem to symbolize the transformation. This poem can be the prayer of your heart as well. 

I long to look into the eyes
Of He who died for me.
To see the love that shines therein
For all eternity.
Your piercing gaze into my heart,
Will cut thru my every wall.
And I will gladly surrender to you,
My hands, my heart, my all.

Jesus, I long to touch your face,
To caress each and every line.
To feel the nail prints in your hands;
The punishment that should have been mine.
I want to wash your feet, my Lord,
With tears of joy and love.
My heart is longing to be with you
In your temple in heaven above.

Jesus, I long to hear your voice,
Into my ear you will say
The words I long to hear the most,
“Beloved, here you will stay.
Forever you will sit with me,
Forever by my side.
It was only because of my love for you
That I went to the cross and died.”

So each and every day of life I struggle
To carry my cross.
And sometimes it threatens to crush me
And I think that all is lost.
But then I raise my eyes to the sky
And pray that soon will be,
The day that I will truly look
Into the eyes of He who died for me.

By Judy Lair 1997

Monday, September 7, 2015

Ask the Right Questions

I love that there’s no “one size fits all” answer with God. I don’t believe we are instructed to turn the other cheek for everyone nor are we to call everyone a “white washed tomb” as Jesus did to the Pharisees. When I run to God and ask how to love well, sometimes He tells me to say or do something immediately. Other times I’m instructed to just listen and validate feelings. In some circumstances, God tells me it’s best for us both if I love people from a distance in a prayerful way. A Relational approach to life involves learning how to receive clarity from God about how we best support other people’s learning curve. Many times this looks like stepping back and allowing our loved ones to experience hurt and pain as a result of their own immature decisions and rigid beliefs so they will seek God.

Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler in Luke 18 is a good example of this principle. This ruler had worked hard to follow all the commandments since he was a young boy. The account leads us to believe he was serious about his relationship with God. He had put time, effort, and energy into following the guidelines set out by the religious establishment. But even after being a model pupil, this ruler recognized the religious system could not assure him of God’s acceptance.

The ruler heard about a new teacher named Jesus and sought him out to ask him the burning question of how to achieve eternal life. I find Jesus’ response fascinating. The first thing he did was to challenge the ruler on the issue of Jesus’ credentials. When people are not ready to hear God’s answer to their question, they go shopping. Hearing something they don’t like from one source, people often rationalize and discount the source, then go searching for another opinion. I wonder how many “good teachers” this ruler had approached with this question. Jesus immediately established the fact that only God alone is the “good teacher” and if we ask God a question, we need to be open to hearing and receiving His truthful answers.

Jesus led the ruler to the heart of the matter by exposing his flawed life strategy. The ruler had been taught to keep every single commandment, assuring him he would receive God’s approval. Jesus points out that knowing information and blindly following rules never results in knowing God or others intimately. God’s strategy for our life is based on inner heart attitude rather than outward obedience. Jesus told the ruler to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, then leave home and come travel with him as a disciple. Luke 18:23 says the ruler sadly turned away. Unlike following a straight-forward set of commandments, Jesus’ words necessitates wrestling with heartfelt sacrifice as well as external cost.

Humankind has developed a hierarchy that relies on wealth, rules, status, etc. to bestow worth and value. God tells us,
The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Samuel 16:7 NIV)
We set up rules and systems that make it possible for people to build their own Tower of Babel and reach up to God. But we are fooling ourselves because God always talks about heart attitude, intent, motivation, and character -- and those things can never be achieved by simply obeying commandments.

The rich young ruler was saddened that the cost of being with God meant bankrupting himself financially in the present life. The life strategy he was taught caused him to ask Jesus the wrong question. Rather than seeking to know what hoops he needed to jump through to get the prize, he should have been asking how to draw closer to God’s heart. Viewing the world from God’s heart changes our perspective on everything.

I want to believe this ruler eventually sold all he had and went to follow Jesus. I hope this encounter with Jesus caused the ruler to come to the Apostle Peter’s belief that only Jesus has the words of life. Transformation of our humanistic life strategy brings us into the presence of the Almighty God, a gift that trumps all earthly treasures. But maybe all he could see was what he would give up and he learned how to shut off his disappointment so he could continue living by the rules.

I do acknowledge the rich young ruler was apparently living a very good lifestyle, making it easier to focus on the positive. That’s not the case for most of the people coming into my office. They tell me stories of hurt and heartache that has or is presently happening to them or to people they love. Everyone on this planet hopes for a quick solution that will stop pain and head them toward happiness. No matter which position you are in, the Bible is clear that the price of healing is truthfully seeking out all the self-protective ways that separate us from the love of God.

John 8:32 promises that God’s truth will set us free when we commit to a lifestyle of asking hard questions and sitting in painful feelings. Truth is not a scientific conclusion arrived at by examination of data. It cannot be separated from the person of God.

Excerpt: From the Other Side of the Couch by Judy Lair, LPCC