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When Jesus Was Tender and When He Was Tough

By Justin K. Hughes, MA, LPC
In Hope & Healing
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That voice.

You undoubtedly know the difference when someone uses that voice. The conversation went from being lighthearted to now serious. As a child, you may remember actual examples when your parent got serious and “laid down the law.” I’m working on how to do this graciously, yet firmly, with my toddler right now.

Have you used “that voice” before with someone?

To let them know you are serious? That they are infringing on your space or boundaries? When someone went too far? Because you felt hurt? While we have all probably experienced both good and bad ways someone/we ourselves have gotten serious about a topic, let’s set aside for a moment our reactions to the thought of someone getting serious with us for a moment.

Being corrected is a good thing, though often uncomfortable.

At its heart, it is a good thing when someone tells us we’ve gone too far or are stepping into an unsafe zone. Obviously, I would want to know if I’m accidentally stepping out into oncoming traffic. It takes some swallowing of pride when someone corrects me on something seemingly more personal, but it’s absolutely important for growth and maturity to have people who can tell me what’s going well and when I’m in the wrong (or at least potentially). If you read the Bible, you’re likely no stranger to such examples (Proverbs 3:11; 5:1; 6:23; Hebrews 12:5; Titus 3:10; Romans 13:4; Matthew 18:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:15).


Maybe you know that Jesus had the sharpest responses for those who unabashedly disrespected and rejected Him- specifically the religious elite in their hypocrisy (Matthew 12:22-34; Luke 13:34).


But to those who were simply stuck, the Gospel accounts reflect how He always spoke gently, with compassion, at some level (John 16:27; Mark 4:35-41; 10:16; 12:34; Matthew 9:36; 11:28-30; Luke 7:13).

How is Jesus speaking to you today?

Part of spiritual growth is to learn how to discern God’s voice from all the other voices calling out to us (Romans 12:1-2). So how is Jesus speaking to you today?

This is an area of great confusion at times for people in general, but it becomes especially wrapped up in the daily walk of many who suffer with anxiety and OCD.

An expert colleague of mine sometimes tells their clients, wisely, that the pastor may often be talking to 90% of the congregation with any one sermon. That may not mean you for that particular moment. For example, the pastor who says you need to confess unconfessed sin (James 5:16) may be saying something that directly applies in that very moment to a lot of people, but not necessarily everyone. Of course, it applies to everyone in a systemic sense (Christians are to confess their sin), but anxiety/OCD can make it feel urgent and out of context. Examples of impairment in this would be:

  • Repeatedly confessing the same thing to the same/different people.
  • Ruminating on whether they did it right.
  • Getting reassurance from studying the Bible or commentaries, including repeated mental checking back to one’s experiences

What is meaningful and what is noise?

Part of our own personal and emotional journey in life is to learn to listen to what is meaningful and let go of that which is noise. Sometimes the noise references something Biblical, like confess your sins. But that may not be the Biblical application of that singular moment. In any one moment, maybe God wants you to rather move on, accepting forgiveness. Potentially you are to pray for others. Maybe you need to get some rest. Possibly you need to exercise. Or laugh.

Clergy often know well, just like CBT clinicians, how much a person’s own thoughts, beliefs, culture, context, background, family or origin, and more can influence the reception of a message; many are very good at offering some contextual wisdom. I know many patient, thoughtful, curious and inquisitive clergy who sit well with those who are suffering without running too quickly into answers that may not be simple. Unfortunately, I also know the other dark side, and for the sufferer of a mental disorder like OCD, GAD, PTSD, Specific Phobias, Panic Disorder, BDD, and more, part of the journey will require an additional level of strength: learning whether to respond or not to ANY voice.

There is opportunity in suffering today.

If you suffer, I’m sorry. It won’t make it much easier at this moment to say there is opportunity in your suffering. But there is. People without mental health struggles often take for granted typical feelings of confidence, making choices and decisions, and moving on from distressing triggers. But if you are not so “lucky,” consider yourself “lucky” in that you have something that can:

  1. Put you in touch with God’s special heart for those who suffer (Psalm 9:7-10; Matthew 18:27 and many more).
  1. Give you the ability to mature and get even stronger.

I pray blessings over you today in this journey:


How compassionate you are! You have a special heart towards the oppressed and promise justice in your timing. Your past work on the cross brings me the forgiveness I have today. And my life is secure in your hands, though I face any number of trials. Help me to know you better, to know your compassion and love, and help me to spread that today to those you would have me to be with.

Through Christ, Amen.

Justin K. Hughes, MA, LPC

Forthcoming Author, The CBT Workbook for Christians with OCD
Owner, Dallas Counseling, PLLC
(469) 490-2002 | [email protected]

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