Bible, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW “Controlling Anger: Responding Constructively When Life Goes Wrong” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point to understand the nature of anger and how to express anger in healthy righteous ways. Controlling Anger is published by New Growth Press in partnership with CCEF. It is only fifteen pages and can be downloaded to Kindle. Students and adults will both find it readable. This booklet is a great summary of the Bible’s view of anger and the solutions it provides.

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Powlison begins by noting, “Anger needs to be acknowledged and expressed in a positive way, as a form of doing what is good and right.” We become angry when something is important to us and when we believe that something is wrong. Therefore, anger in and of itself is not bad. But, the problem is when we get angry about things that we should not get angry about. Anger can also go wrong when the thing we think is important becomes more important to us than God himself. Anger can also be a problem when we “respond to a true wrong in the wrong way.”

The solution to our anger problems begin with believing  God is in charge and thus the judge. This solution is not about superficial techniques and strategies, but about genuinely believing gospel truths. This enables us to make our anger redemptive. God sent his son to die to make right what was wrong. In a similar way we can bear the burden of a wrong and forgive the wrongdoer. Gospel approaches to anger lead to constructive responses. Powlison explains that applying the gospel to our anger leads to patience, mercy, forgiveness, and honesty.

What I find most helpful about Powilson’s booklet is his practical tool to express anger constructively. In short, he calls angry people to go to God for help. When we are angry he tells us to ask ourselves four questions. First, “What is happening around me when I get angry?” This question helps us understand the heart of our anger. Second, “How do I act when I get angry?” This step is also about understanding the nature of our anger especially how we express it in sinful ways. Third, “What were my expectations (what did I want, need, demand) when I became angry?” This question leads us to discover how we are playing God in the situation. Fourth, “What message does God, in his Word, have for me that will speak to my anger?” This drives us to the Bible to find solutions. Finally, Powlison calls angry people to ask God for help. He reminds us that God loves us and desires to change us.

I recommend this booklet as a first step for those struggling with anger. If you struggle with anger, God is loving enough and powerful enough to help. Go to him!

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Overcoming Anxiety: Relief for Worried People” by David Powlison

Powlison’s booklet is the best starting point for people trying to understand their anxiety. It is published by New Growth Press, is only 16 pages, and can be downloaded to Kindle. The booklet is a readable summary of the problem of anxiety as well as how the gospel is the solution.

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He begins by explaining there is “a right kind of anxiety that leads us to express loving concern for others in the midst of their trouble.” There are also a number of valid reasons to be anxious. However, anxiety can become a problem, even sinful, when we overreact to legitimate problems and become too upset about troubles. Powlison summarizes, “In every situation where you feel sinfully anxious, you believe something is threatening your world. Your world feels out of control; you are afraid something bad might happen; and you are trying to control your world to keep bad things from taking place.”

Faith in God is the solution when we are anxious. Powilson explains, “When we lose sight of God, we try to control our world on our own, and become filled with worry.” But, the solution is that “God wants us to know him so intimately and trust him so completely that our desire to fix our troubles in our own way will no longer consume us.” A helpful verse when we are anxious is Psalm 94:19, “When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.”

Powilson then takes the reader to Philippians 4:5-7 in order to highlight some key truths to believe when we are anxious. First, the Lord is near (Philippians 4:5). He explains, “When you know that Jesus is near, the worried, obsessed, sinful anxiety dissipates.” Second, the Lord is listening (Philippians 4:6). Third, the Lord is guarding you with his peace (Philippians 4:7). Believing these truths leads to the opposite of anxiety which is contentment.

Powlison closes with some practical tips including making your request known to God, parking your mind on what you know is true, tackling the real problem the right way, and understanding your anxiety attacks. He also addresses the question of whether people should take medication when they are anxious. He explains that anxiety medication alleviates symptoms, but does not address the underlying problem. This does not mean he advocates not taking the medicine because they can help someone calm down. However, medicine should not replace “the hard work of learning to trust God and depend upon him.”

If you are struggling with anxiety, grab Powilson’s booklet and hear his closing encouragement, “Take a step of faith, and decide today to go to God with your anxiety. He will not disappoint you.”

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: “Help! I Get Panic Attacks” by Lucy Ann Moll

If you struggle with panic attacks Lucy Ann Moll’s mini book is a great place to start on your journey of discovering how the gospel helps you. This is only 64 pages and can be read in a couple of evenings. She does a great job of providing biblical counsel, but also acknowledges the place of medicine.

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Over four chapters she shares her own journey with panic attacks, but also some biblical ways to think about being overcome with fear as well as some gospel solutions and practical tips. From experience she boldly proclaims, “God can also use your panic attacks for good.”

In the first chapter she explains a panic attack as “an extreme fear experience which is out of proportion to the actual situation.” She acknowledges healthy fear, but puts panic attacks in the category of unhealthy fears. She also addresses the physical symptoms of panic attacks as well as how they can be treated. Moll provides a healthy discussion on the role medicine does and does not play in addressing panic attacks.

In the second chapter she links the Bible’s treatment of terror with our understanding of panic attacks. I think this is a fair link, however this is one of the challenges for Christians. We cannot always make these types of links and we should always strive for a biblical understanding of our problems.

The third chapter focuses on how we can move from fearful to faithful. This is how the gospel is the solution to panic attacks. After looking at a number of biblical examples she concludes that each of these people “focused on their circumstances rather than on God’s power and care.” This comment is the problem that causes panic attacks. She goes further to explain the “root of ungodly fear is belief in a lie.” We need to face the lies we are believing.

In the fourth chapter she explains the ultimate solution as fearing God alone. Battling against panic attacks requires us to watch our thoughts, change our thoughts, and then put off fear by putting on faith. In her fourth chapter she provides a helpful tool she calls the Fear-to-Faith Template. She also closes the read with some practical projects to help us turn our fear to faith.

Again, I think reading this mini book is a great first step for anyone struggling with panic attacks. She provides biblical counsel, provides a balanced holistic approach, and gives the reader practical tips and projects to turn fear into faith.

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Book Review, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: Depression: The Way Up When You’re Feeling Down

Many of us have been haunted by depression. The first resource I recommend someone struggling with depression is Ed Welch’s booklet. It is only 32 pages and thus can be read in one day. Even though it is short, it gets to the heart of the problem of depression as well as providing gospel solutions and practical tips on how to fight when depressed.

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Welch begins by explaining how depression is ultimately a spiritual problem. He argues “Depression reveals us, not just the chemical composition of our brain,” (27). When we are depressed we can’t trust our feelings. Many times we don’t feel like doing anything. When we are numb we are to “learn another way to live,” (4). The new way of living is to “believe and act on what God says rather than feel what God says. It is living by faith,” (4). When we are depressed and debating what our feelings are saying and what Scriptures says, Welch explains that “Scripture wins,” (4).

Next, Welch asks, “What is your depression saying?” and “What does it mean?” He acknowledges that our feelings teach us about our perceptions of our circumstances. Exploring our feelings can teach us that we are afraid or ashamed or angry. Hunting why we are depressed should reveal what is wrong with our heart. Ultimately we are to identify what is wrong and grow by trusting the Lord. Maybe we have made an idol out of something and he is calling us to trust him while not obtaining what we want. Ultimately we are to faithfully respond, “I know that my Redeemer is with me, and I will humbly wait for his deliverance,” (17).

Exploring the condition of our heart leads us down a path asking a series of “why” questions.  However, Welch explains that we should follow the path that leads to God if we want to come up out of depression. The more we can look at the “whys” of our depression through a gospel lens, the more accurately we can diagnose the condition of our hearts and find hope in Jesus. He explains, “If you think about what your depression is saying and it takes you all the way to your relationship with Christ, then don’t stop on that journey until you have heard something good,” (20). Welch also comments, “Remember that if you have put your faith in Jesus, you are forgiven, adopted, beloved, and delighted in. You must start thinking the way God thinks, not the way you think,” (20).

Welch closes with eleven practical tips on how to battle depression as well as a charge to not give up. I particularly like the sixth tip: “Each day, speak or write something that can be an encouragement to others. You have a calling. There are people to love, to care for, to help,” (20). I also appreciate the eight tip: “Keep a sharp eye out for grumbling and complaining,” (20). Welch acknowledges, “Depression is hard. No matter what its origin, it doesn’t leave without a fight. But don’t be discouraged. There are good reasons to enter into the fight. Changes are guaranteed (Phil. 1:6),” (23).

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Counseling, Gospel Spirituality

BOOK REVIEW: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

Contemporary culture has a plurality of opinions of how to view human identity. For some, self-esteem is the ultimate virtue to achieve. The spirituality of many is that if they could only have a higher view of themselves then they would be happy. However, the Bible has better news. Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” is important because a wrong view of personal identity is leading to wasted unhappy lives.

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Keller’s work is a booklet made up of 46 short pages and three chapters. It can be read in a lunch hour. He opens by asking, “What are the marks of a heart that has been radically changed by the grace of God?” (5). Next, Keller unpacks 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7. He explains that different than most cultures throughout history “Our belief today – and it is deeply rooted in everything – is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves” (10).

Regarding the problem of our natural condition he says, “Spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God,” (15). The solution is to avoid the trap of seeking self-esteem by other people’s standards. Rather, “Paul is saying something astounding, ‘I don’t care what you think and I don’t care what I think,’” (31). The result is not needing to think too much or too highly about ourselves. Keller says, “A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person,” (33). The way to live this way is to allow the verdict of the gospel to lead our performance versus the other way around. In other words, “Self-forgetfulness takes you out of the courtroom. The trial is over,” (43). Joy is found through living according to our gospel convictions. Joy is found through gospel-humility. Joy is neither found in self-hating or self-loving, but rather self-forgetting.

This is a tremendous read for anyone struggling with depression. Counseling is a very helpful process, but as people delve deep into heart issues there can be a tendency to become self-absorbed. This process can rob our joy because our eyes are too much on ourselves. His booklet is also helpful for those believing the flesh and the world about where to find happiness. Giving ourselves over to our sinful desires does not lead to joy. Keller’s booklet is a reminder we all need that self-forgetfulness rather than self-esteem is the pathway to joy.

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