Work Backwards

One of the most effective counseling methods I know of is to work backwards from where I am now to where I once was, from where my thinking has been renewed to where it went awry. This is not only effective for self-counseling, but also for counseling one another. We need to help each other see what choices and/or thinking processes are now being refined and used by God to sanctify us and grow our faith. This is a common methodology in the book of Psalms, which, according to Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is one reason we are so drawn to them. The Psalms present life as it really is, not merely as it should be. Therefore, we easily relate.

One specific way the psalmists magnetically pull us in is to begin with a conclusion—a key spiritual truth or lesson learned—and then work backwards to show us how they got there—always with raw honesty. And that is why we love them. We love the psalmists because they are real. They tell us about their life experiences, both good and bad, and do so without cosmetics. They care not one iota about saving face. They are genuine men who loved God imperfectly, but who were loved perfectly by Him. Lloyd-Jones writes,

[T]he Psalms generally start with a conclusion. That sounds paradoxical, but I am not trying to be paradoxical: it is true. This man had an experience. He went right through it and reached this point. Now the great thing to him was that he had arrived there. So he starts with the end; and then proceeds to tell us how he got there. This is a good way of teaching; and it is always the method of the Psalms. The value of the experience is that it is an illustration of this particular truth. It is of no interest in and of itself, and the Psalmist is not interested in it as an experience qua experience. But it is an illustration of this great truth about God, and therein lies its value….It is because they analyse [sic] such experiences that we find the Psalms to be of such great value. We all know something about that same kind of experience in our own lives. We start in the right place; then something goes wrong, and we seem somehow to be losing everything. The problem is how to get back again. What this man does is to show us how to arrive back at that place where the soul finds her true poise.

One prime example of working backwards is Psalm 73, which is the text of the late preacher’s exposition. It is the confession of a man named Asaph whose faith was on trial for humanly indiscernible reasons. His opening statement is this: “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Ps 73:1), but then immediately he admits he did not always believe this. “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped” (v. 2). The trial of his faith is then described in the remainder of the psalm, revealing his deep feelings of perplexity and despair—the journey God took him through in order to bring him to the place where he could truly say from his heart, “God is good!”

Here’s a “Working Backwards” Assignment for You or Your Small Group– Psalm 32 is another example of the practice of working backwards. David hooks us in with a powerful truth and then explains how he came to his conclusion. He begins, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” But how did David come to this? What deep sorrow and conviction did he have to experience to actually mean what he said? Read Psalm 32 and then work backwards from his conclusion to the real-life experience from which it grew. And let the Holy Spirit counsel you.

Print this entry