My daughter and I recently traveled to San Francisco and decided to tour the USS Pampanito (SS-383). The retired WWII submarine once deployed on 6 combat tours in the Pacific. Since my father served on a submarine, I have always been fascinated by both the ships and the stories of those who served. I realize the Pampanito was different than the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608; my father’s assignment), but something struck me on the tour – expertise.Submarines have relatively small crews. I remember my dad telling me that he had to know every value associated with the reactor by number, location, and function. As I walked through the Pampanito his words rang in my ears. The men had to be experts in their jobs. The fate of the ship and the crew was in the balance.The tour gave me a greater sense of appreciation for the sailors’ service. My dad once told me of an incident where his boat almost sank. Being inside the Pampanito and imagining that moment was intense. I could feel the tension in my muscles as I thought about the men desperately trying to save the ship and crew. Of course, they did. They took the actions necessary because they knew them. They were experts of the ship.This expertise got me thinking about biblical counseling. What does it mean to become an expert? What is the analogy associated with knowing every value, where it is, and what it does for the counselor?I want to suggest 5 ways to continue growing to become a biblical counseling expert.
Our world thinks we need to be experts in the latest diets, exercise programs, therapies from secular psychology, and accepting of cultural norms. These things do not make one an expert in biblical counseling. We need to be experts of our Bibles. We need to know chapters, verses, ideas, stories, and theology. The more you know the text, the more you can help. That involves reading with questions in mind, meditating how certain passages could relate to certain problems, and memorizing passages.
Biblical counseling has always stressed the need for counselors to exhibit proper Christian character. Sin and pride can come from anywhere. We must evaluate our own hearts and seek to change to be like Jesus. I also, on occasion, encourage you to record a session and listen to it. When we listen to ourselves, we might learn that we do something annoying. I know that I must be careful with, “Does that make sense?” I have caught myself saying it 10 times in a single session!
Continuing education is part of staying sharp. I once heard Ed Welch give a talk on blended families. One sentence from that talk has helped me throughout my ministry (“everyone lost something”). We need to hear from others because if we are not careful, we can counsel people using the same passages, progression, and discussion. We stagnate. It is like we know 10 valves, when we must know 50. Continuing education helps us learn passages, strategies, and thoughts about wise ministry.
We must care about confidentiality. However, we can discuss cases with other counselors without giving away identifying details. Verbal processors often learn a way to improve merely by explaining what they have done. Other times, another counselor has an idea that we did not consider
I like to teach because it forces me to express what I believe in clear terminology. Before teaching another, my explanation can be confusing. When people ask questions, it allows me to determine whether there are errors in my system that I did not consider.Touring that submarine and hearing that 24% of the US submarines and their crews were lost in WWII, reminded me of one other matter – people’s lives are in the balance. That is a good reason to pursue expertise.Photo by Michal Mrozek on Unsplash
Generally, the counseling that most of us think about and practice has to do with situations in an environment that is standard to much of life. We meet with someone in an office or quiet space. We have a set beginning and end-time to counseling. Counseling was just part of the routine of the day for the counselor and the counselee.However, there are times and situations, whether as a counselor or pastor, that you will find yourself in situations where you are dealing with someone who is in crisis in that very moment. It might be dealing with death or injury. It might be dealing with the revelation of an affair or internet pornography. It might be some other tragedy that befalls a person you are trying to care for. The principles that guide that type of soul care are different than the principles that guide regular soul care. Let’s look at three principles that can help in moments of crisis.
All of us have creaturely limitations; that is how God made us and why He made us the way that He did. We can’t even stay up for 24 hours straight and feel that we have our mental faculties about us. In times of crisis there may be a need to push through some of our creaturely limits, but many times that is not wise. Rather, in our weakness and limitations we should do two things: wait on the Lord and care for our bodies.By waiting on the Lord, we are not only trusting in His good providence in a situation, we are embracing the Creator-creature relationship. We are not God. We do not have His power, His knowledge, or His wisdom. That often means we cannot move at the speed and pace that God does, nor can we work and not tire. Therefore, in crisis we need to be patient and wait on the Lord.Many times, when crisis hits, we forget that our body has limits. We skip meals, we are not able (or willing) to sleep. We push our bodies to the extreme. In doing that, we often diminish our ability to reason and handle any more pressure that may be coming our way. While it may not seem natural, caring for the body is one of the first things that should be done.As the counselor, take an assessment of any immediate creaturely needs of the counselee such as sleep, food, medicine, and so on. Then, get them to commit to handling any creaturely weaknesses first. As an embodied soul, there is a powerful psychosomatic connection that we dare not gloss over as counselors or let our counselees do so when they are in crisis.
In crisis, it can be a temptation for the counselees minds to look to the future. It is intuitive for folks to consider what the worst-case situation in the future could be, or to attempt to plan for a myriad of contingencies. By doing so they hope to be able to either minimize any future pain and suffering that might be in their path or control the events that are happening. Either way, God only promises enough grace for today (James 4:13-15, Prov. 27:1). He does not promise any grace for tomorrow’s problems. In seeking to plan, they try to handle tomorrow’s problems today and often neglect what needs to happen now.Get your counselee to commit to not focusing on the future, on the variety of contingencies and plans. Rather, get them to focus on what needs to be done in the here and the now. Get them to see that God gives grace for today, for the next decision.
When pain and suffering are present, when we find counselees in times of crisis, many want to act. They want to do something, but often the ability to make decisions that are congruent with Biblical principles is not there. That inability to make decisions in a way that is pleasing to Christ is absent for a number of reasons, and so, in crisis encourage them to invite others to lead and guide them.This starts first and foremost by choosing not to say or do anything until everyone agrees that this would be pleasing to Christ. Job asks God to put a guard over his mouth because he knows that in deep suffering, like the writer in Psalm 73, it is tempting to say something or do something that will bring shame to the name of Christ. In the moment of crisis and deep suffering, we all need folks to think for us, we all need folks to lead us, and we all need to trust that God will work through these godly brothers and sisters who have only our best interest at heart.In crisis, ask your counselee to commit to not making decisions or speaking words until you and any other parties involved would agree are pleasing to Christ. This will require trust on their part and wisdom on yours, but God will work by His Spirit through the brother or sister in those moments.
When our counselees are in crisis, it can be hard to navigate the tricky waters that God is bringing us all through. But if we humble ourselves by acknowledging and functioning under our weaknesses, focusing on the hear and the now, and choosing our next steps carefully, both our counselees and those trying to help have a greater likelihood of walking in a manner that is worthy of our calling.Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash
Marriage counseling is its own animal. While it comes with blessings and burdens that are altogether different from other forms of counseling, there are common strands that I’ve come to anticipate when I come alongside most couples.I’ll look at the husband and ask him, “What is God’s purpose for you as a husband?” This question is generally met with a blank stare or some convoluted response that doesn’t quite stick the landing. Same goes for the wife. But if I look to either and ask them, “What is your love language,” I get a response before I finish the question.Why is that?Painting with a broad brush, we tend to follow desires rather than calling. We witness this very early in life. Tell your three-year-old to clean up the playroom and you’ll see whether he’s more inclined to follow Christ’s calling for him as outlined in Ephesians 6:1 or his own innate desires. I’m guessing you (as the parent) didn’t need to cultivate his desire to play in the playroom rather than clean the playroom—that came free-of-charge.
Calling, on the other hand, needs to be cultivated. For an example, look no further than our own sybaritic Samson: the desire-driven Judge. His mother, apart from the company of her husband, had the rare privilege of being handed their son’s commission by the angel of the Lord:For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines. – Judges 13:5, emphasis addedThere it is: Samson was called to be a catalytic figure against the oppression of the Philistines. Unfortunately, his mama left that part out when recounting the angelic interaction to her husband. When the angel of the Lord revisited the parents-to-be, he was careful to point that out:Manoah [Samson’s father] said, “Now when your words come to pass, what shall be the boy’s mode of life and his vocation?” So the angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Let the woman pay attention to all that I said… let her observe all that I commanded.” – Judges 13:12-14In other words, “she left that part out…” All indications within Samson’s narrative would lead us to the conclusion that this calling was never revealed to Samson. He lived a life led by his own innate desires rather than his God-given calling.
Not knowing his calling didn’t mean Samson failed to fulfill his calling. The Lord still used him to “begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines,” though this was in spite of his decisions rather than in concert with them. Samson systematically abandoned each facet of his Nazarite vow throughout his short-lived life, culminating at his final act. Blind, enslaved, and an object of utter scorn (by Philistines and Israelites alike), his final bout of unhuman strength was expended in personal vengeance. Yet God used this and other selfish acts throughout his life to quell the persecution of the Philistines.Samson had no clue as to why God had endowed him with such incredible power. He spent his life using it for his own gain, following selfish desire over selfless service. Yet God was gracious—to Samson and the Israelites, allowing His purposes to be carried out irrespective of human failings.
How many men and women approach the marriage altar with little-to-no understanding of their God-given calling as husbands and wives? Apart from this key element, couples are left to follow in the outsized footsteps of the directionless Judge. In other words, they wind up navigating their marriage by the compass of their feelings (read: “love language”)—a journey that often emulates Samson’s tragic narrative.It doesn’t need to be this way. It ought not be this way.God has clearly commissioned and mapped out His purpose for marriage. One of the goals set forth in marriage counseling is to ensure I (the counselor) do not embody the failings of Samson, leading them to chase selfish desire. I’m called to give clear direction, as provided in Scripture.In the next installment, we’ll look at what that calling in marriage is, and we’ll hear it from the single guy: If Paul Was Your Marriage Counselor…Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
One of the books listed as an option for required reading as part of the education phase for ACBC’s Reconciliation Specialization is Tara Barthel’s and David Edling’s, “Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and Care.” Barthel and Edling both have experience as attorneys and worked together at Peacemaker Ministries. There are a number of ideas and illustrations in this book taken from Peacemaker resources. Ken Sande, founder of Peacemaker Ministries, wrote the forward.
Before the first chapter begins, the authors are careful to lay out a model through which to view church conflict in two ways. First, a case study is introduced. This case study will be referenced throughout the book in order to see real examples of the principles being put into practice and how the church responded. Second, the account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is utilized to provide the biblical foundation of the book’s approach. The example of the church’s actions in Acts 15 is broken down into four categories: Perspective, Discernment, Leadership, and Biblical Response. These four categories become the four sections in the book (Four chapters per section).The main idea of the first section is that when the church is overwhelmed with conflict, there has been a shifting of perspective away from the glory of God, the truths of the gospel and the mission of the church. Instead, there is a focus within the church on their different desires accompanied by emotionally invested responses. When this is the case, it can be crucially important to get help from outside. Counselors with an ability to view the situation from without and who can help those involved get their focus back on the Lord and the biblical process for resolution could be needed.
Once the smoke of all the presenting problems in a church conflict clears, it is time to dig deeper by asking good questions and listening in order for everyone to gain discernment. Helpful advice is given in order to facilitate this discussion among the church’s members well: Conflicted conversations are usually full of strong emotions. Expect miscommunication and misunderstandings. In order to help remedy this, terms should be defined. Emphasize agreement thereby building trust during the process. Be flexible and charitable. Further help is given for the occasions where conflict has spread and produced factions or mob mentality in the church.The third section of this book recalls that in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15), after discernment was sought, the leaders led. Furthermore, once the leaders led, people followed their leadership. This is necessary in the process of resolving conflict in the church, and in pursuing church health in general. Areas of typical failure among leaders and reminders of typical membership vows (Or Church Covenants) are brought to the reader’s attention in the chapters of this unit. In a way, these calls or reminders of what our purposes are within the church could fit into the idea of regaining proper perspective. When an elder or deacon, or any church member becomes aware of their own deviation from their God-given responsibility within the church, right perspective is gained. Then, Lord willing, repentance will soon follow.Finally, once the leadership and membership of the church have done the hard work of gaining biblical perspective and asking questions to bring about proper discernment, a biblical response is required. This response will begin with the desire to bring glory to God and a willingness on the part of each person to own their own contribution to the conflict. In order to communicate decisions and implement action steps, there must be a willingness to speak (And hear) the truth in love and a willingness to forgive.Two useful appendixes are included at the end which give a summary of the Acts 15 model and insights for choosing third-party conciliators should they be needed.As a heads up, near the bottom of page 136, there is a paragraph where a hypothetical pastor from a church is referred to as, “he or she.” The paragraph itself speaks of a pastor pursuing change wisely only if “he or she” first does the hard work of laying a deep biblical foundation for that change. There is much great content in this book. Though I believe a deep biblical foundation would only allow for a “he” to serve as a pastor, I won’t be throwing away the rest of the book as a result of this area of disagreement.
It could be tempting to try to use the outline of this book as a formula, or as a step-by-step model for resolving any church conflict. But the authors are careful even in their introductory pages to guard against that impulse. The concepts of perspective, discernment, leadership, and biblical response are certainly needed in any reconciliation process, but the implementation of these principles will be exercised in multiple ways and in multiple times through the process of reconciliation. Having all of these in mind throughout the process will be crucial.
Though it could be useful to remind the reader of biblical principles for peacemaking in any situation, this book has been written specifically to prepare Christians for the critical task of pursuing peace in the context of the local church. It could be utilized, as ACBC has chosen to do, as a training resource for those seeking to serve as counselors and conciliators. It could also be utilized with those involved in church conflict, though the counselor may do well to find other resources that would be more concise and specific to the issues at hand.
Faithfulness. That character quality that sounds boring and may only be mentioned if a more exciting one doesn’t describe you. Is that true? We probably know that it isn’t true and yet, if we were honest, that how many of us think about it. Why don’t we value faithfulness?
We want novelty, adrenaline rush of something new. We don’t want the same old thing. While faithfulness has never been easy, in a culture that defines happiness by new and different, faithfulness isn’t even attractive. Until of course someone isn’t faithful to us!Running from one shiny thing to the next really isn’t hard. And one reason we keep running is because that last new thing didn’t satisfy. We tell ourselves that we don’t want to settle for “steady, reliable” because it’s boring while we clamor after anything new. We think the variety will satisfy us and bring us joy, but it doesn’t.Have you ever, even once, stuck with something hard, showed a degree of faithfulness, and accomplished it? The satisfaction from that is far greater than the fleeting shallow joy of novelty.The world now tells us that sex outside of marriage – outside of faithfulness – is better and more exciting. And many are buying that. But the fall out tells us otherwise. And having now been married 29 years, the joy and satisfaction of faithfulness is unmatched.
In a world of social media and clamoring for likes, faithfulness doesn’t draw attention.Scott Hubbard (Faithfulness in Forgotten Places, Desiring God)Forgotten places are those corners of the world where no one seems to be watching, where our efforts go unseen, unthanked.Oswald Chambers writes,We do not need the grace of God to stand crises, human nature and pride are sufficient, we can face the strain magnificently; but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live twenty-four hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.It isn’t wrong that we desire for our efforts to be noticed. The question is – noticed by whom? Hebrews 6:10 For God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you demonstrated for his name by serving the saints—and by continuing to serve them.God sees and appreciates your labor when no one else does. True faithfulness requires a vertical focus.
In the book “Ordinary” by Michael Horton he addresses the need, even among believers, to be “radical” to “think outside the box” to “do something big for God” to “be great.”All of that against the backdrop of the mediocrity of faithfulness.And from a worldly perspective, that makes a lot of sense. But not in God’s upside down kingdom.Listen to this quote from his book: “Caring for a homeless kid is a lot more thrilling to me than listening well to the people in my home. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it.” Ouch – and so true!He also addresses the charge of mediocrity in what he calls “ordinary.” According to Horton, “Excellence is going over and beyond the call of duty. But to what end? More than anything else, excellence demands a worthy object and a worthy goal…Biblically defined, true excellence has others in mind – first God, and then our neighbor.”It’s actually the disdain for ordinary faithfulness that leads to mediocrity. When I understand the importance of long term faithfulness and with loving God and others in mind, I will go above and beyond in my faithfulness. In order to best love those around me. And THAT is supernatural!For these reasons and so many more – it’s always been rare. Proverbs 20:6 Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?
Before we can grow in our faithfulness, we’ll need to rejoice in, meditate on God’s faithfulness.Jon Bloom (Devote Yourself to Faithfulness, Desiring God) All of reality, not to mention your eternal future, literally depends on God being true to His word.I don’t think of God’s faithfulness as boring or inconsequential. It’s beautiful and life giving. God’s faithfulness gives me a confidence and security that allows me to flourish. My faithfulness allows others to flourish as well.I submit to you that someone who has been faithful for an entire life and finishes strong shows the supernatural power of God in a unique way. Years of trusting God no matter the circumstance, years of displaying His character to those around him, THAT is supernatural and powerful!Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash
As I asked the LORD to give me an example of what is sustaining empathy in counseling weary counselors, which is what this blog will explore, the story of our oldest daughter came to mind. She was home from college during the 1st semester of her senior year. In her degree program, she got hands-on experience working as a project lead on a real contract for a real company. As she gained valuable lessons in leading in most of the project areas, she also experienced all the weight of working with various types of people. She was managing people and getting into the nitty-gritty of the differences in personalities, life experiences, perspectives, and priorities. Our daughter came home from that experience emotionally, spiritually, and physically exhausted. She wanted to please the LORD in her work with the other students. She also wanted to keep the project on track, but in a fallen world, people drop out for various reasons, and teachers and overseers are not responsive to problems. There are deadlines, and someone has to be accountable. Our daughter was discouraged and weary, with no way to change her circumstances.I sat down with my daughter in our kitchen and listened to her tell her side of the story. I could see she felt the pressure of being 1 of only 2 Christians on the project, and she was the senior leader. She wanted to reflect Christ to her unbelieving classmates and co-laborers while keeping everything on track. As the layers of emotions and thoughts unraveled, I asked my husband to come upstairs to listen and offer his perspective on leadership and counsel. Soon she was in tears and her dad, before giving in to his papa bear nature of trying to fix everything, just held her. She wept, and there was this sense of the burden she felt being transferred to my husband’s shoulders. Our daughter was doing a good work and even bearing other burdens. When it became heavy, she sought help and did not find the needed support from co-workers or supervisors. We all sat in silence as she let the pressure, fear, anxiety, and emotion be expressed in the safety of our kitchen, with her loving father receiving it all as if it were his to bear.Weary counselors experience fatigue and burnout often based on the job requirements and sometimes they need to reverse roles and become the counselee. The approach to counseling this type of counselee needs to be steeped in patient love and slow to give counsel (1 Thes. 5:14). Although my daughter was not a weary counselor, my husband’s slow and compassionate response gives the image of the principle and practice of sustaining empathy which is to be the counselor ethos or philosophy, especially when counseling the weary counselor.
There is a uniqueness in the suffering of the weary counselor. They know the truths of God’s Word, as they are counseling others and are aware of the pitfalls of pride and sin. When listening and gathering data from a weary counsel, there needs to be an assumption that they have been doing self-counsel but now may need someone outside of their ministry to give them perspective, both in their suffering and blind spots of sin. As the counselor sits across the table from the weary counselor who is a saint and a sister/brother in Christ, the counselor would be wise to consider their philosophy of how they will minister to this person, listening not for patterns of sin but listening with sustaining empathy. In a previous blog, I researched counselor fatigue in-depth and found the biblical term: the afflicted minister of the Word. Therefore, compassion and empathy for the uniqueness of the dear friend’s suffering is essential. This biblical counseling philosophy will be anchored to the principles of what Robert Kellemen characterizes as sustaining empathy in his book Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ.
Sustaining soul care takes time and loving patience that points to the kindness of a long-suffering God (Rom. 2:4; 1 Thess. 5:14; 1 Cor. 13:4). There is no rush to solve a problem or get to teaching a lesson. Drawing out the counselee takes time and empathy (Prov. 20:5). In his book Weep with Me, author Mark Vroegop gives another picture of empathy.Empathy means that we take the burdens, the sorrows, the concerns of our neighbors upon ourselves to the point of crying tears with them. …We think about their children as if they were our children. We think about their concerns as if they were our personal concerns, and we cry tears with them.Empathy is intentionally listening and entering into the counselee’s story, imagining what it is like for them to suffer and experience their circumstance.
In counseling the weary counselor, sustaining empathy is characterized by listening to how they are suffering. It involves sharing in their feelings of being overwhelmed by their workload, physical exhaustion, church leadership expectations, and the impact of counseling suffering people. In addition, the weary counselor may feel burdened by family responsibilities and concerns. Sustaining counsel will enter into their suffering by what Kellemen calls “climbing in the casket.” In part, this can involve expressing and acknowledging how it feels to the counselor to hear of the weary counselor’s suffering. The counselor may encourage the weary counselor with Scripture that helps them see they are not alone in their suffering. In a timely and fitting opportunity, the counselor might point to Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8 when he was burdened excessively, beyond strength, so that he despaired even of life. Paul was burdened heavily by outside circumstances, which may be similar for the weary counselor. Paul was real about his suffering, not trying to push it away but acknowledging that he was beyond what he could handle on his own. A counselee need not attempt to push their suffering away as even Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed to have his trial removed, yet sought God’s will, not his own will. The counselee is not suffering alone as the counselor’s sustaining empathy and Scriptural examples give the sense of allied friendship in walking through their suffering.Counseling the weary counselor starts with a philosophy that influences the counselor’s choice from how to listen, what to listen for, and the timing of compassionate counsel based on truth and love. To serve our brother/sister in Christ with love, the counselor must slow down and start with sustaining empathy and continue it throughout the counsel. Sustaining empathy absorbs the suffering and pain the counselee is experiencing and expresses to the counselee what it feels like to them. This grace is an example of the metaphor of climbing in the casket with the suffering saint. The goal is to let the counselee know they are no longer alone in their suffering.Where does the compassionate counselor go from here? The next step can be a biblical lament, which I will explore in my next blog. Robert W. Kellemen, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ, Equipping Biblical Counselors (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 123. Mark Vroegop, Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reciliation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 81. Kellemen, Gospel Conversations, 111.Photo by Molnár Bálint on Unsplash
I have the privilege to serve missionaries and with our biblical counseling ministry. Several of our global partners in the gospel are focusing on biblical counseling because the Holy Spirit uses the personal ministry of the Word in the accomplishment of Christ’s mission to build his church and make disciples (Matt 28:18–20). For those considering whether to start a biblical counseling ministry or to pursue additional biblical counseling training, I encourage you to consider three reasons biblical counseling is important for the great commission.
We often say in the biblical counseling movement that the best counselor is a good counselee. In other words, as we counsel our own hearts, we are better equipped to minister to others (Proverbs 4:23; Galatians 6:1). Missionaries preparing to minister to those suffering in their sins and trials of various kinds are wise to grow in ministering the word in their native context, language, and culture before going to a new culture or context. Sometimes more attention is given to language school or other ministry skills above the disciplines of personal prayer and ministry of the word for the missionary.Those preparing to be sent out for the sake of the Name, ought to be well supported in a manner that pleases God (3 John 1:6–8). Local churches should provide support not just through financial support or language training but also foster the growth of spiritually mature missionaries who are being sent to the harvest field (Eph 4:11–15; Matt 9:37–38; Acts 13:3). To accomplish the goal of sending mature disciples to the mission field, the proclamation of Christ through biblical counseling is one means that God purposes for presenting every man complete in Christ so that the missionaries being sent out are mature and well equipped (Col 1:28–29).Has your missionary been well trained to fight temptation in their own life? Are they competent to counsel and disciple others on issues that they are likely to encounter on the mission field because the sins of man are common (1 Cor 10:13; 1 Tim 5:14; Rom 15:14)? Specifically consider how marriage and raising children are two common areas for missionary attrition, and how biblical counseling is uniquely fitted and beneficial for addressing these areas.
Biblical counseling is not only beneficial in preparing mature missionaries to be sent to the mission field, but it also important for the ongoing care of these missionaries. As a positive example, Paul’s letters to Timothy illustrate the importance of continued counsel and encouragement for those sent out to serve Christ to persevere. Negatively, the example of Demas warns us that not all who are sent as co-workers of the gospel continue as co-workers (Phi 1:24; Col 4:14; 2 Tim 4:10). Some of the most common causes for missionaries returning from the field are related to personal sin issues, marital issues, and challenges raising children. If your church can provide counseling for your missionaries, you will be able to deepen your relationships with your missionaries, know how better to pray for them on the mission field with the specific temptations that they face, and ensure the quality of care that they are receiving. Therefore, you will not be in the position that the church must outsource to another group outside the local church like a mission agency. You will be more equipped to oversee their spiritual nourishment.
Biblical counseling training also is a great way that local churches can be strengthened and matured. When Paul calls together the elders of the church of Ephesus, he reminds them how he “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Act 20:20). Biblical counseling training is something that elders can teach publicly in the church to equip and train the church in specific areas for personal sanctification. Also, counseling can occur more privately from house to house. This ministry of word is vital for maturing believers in Christ. Often in the great commission, the emphasis is on evangelism, but we do well to remember the importance of work that seeks to strengthen believers in their faith. Paul went back to visit the believers of the churches where the gospel was preached to “see how they are doing” and traveled to strengthen them (Acts 15:36, 41). Biblical counseling is one means to accomplish the great commission by strengthening missionaries and local churches to teach believers to obey the Word of God and apply the sufficient Word to every area of life (2 Tim 3:16–17).Photo by Andrew Stutesman on Unsplash
Biblical counseling is, at its core, a ministry using the words of Christ that are living and active, to expose the innermost thoughts, desires, and intentions of the hearts (Heb 4:12). Words are the chief means God created for humans to use to relate to their Creator God and to enjoy a relationship with him. Additionally, words are the chief means God created for humans to love and serve each other. Words are powerful and they matter. Unfortunately, there are times we'll need to be prepared to respond when others have used their words to hurt by gossiping and slandering.
God entrusts us to appropriately care for each other. He intends that our interactions with others mirror his, whose every intent was for the good of each person involved and for the display of his glorious grace and majesty. Those who use their words to gossip, sharing personal or sensational information about the private lives of other people that are not part of the problem or part of the solution, or to slander, sharing a false statement that causes people to have a bad opinion of someone, need to be stopped. While slander and gossip are closely related I'll be focusing on addressing gossip through the rest of this article, although the same principle applies to both.Real love and pursuit of holiness demands that gossip be responded to, so the person who hears the gossip needs to be the one to confront it. Let's play this out in an example between two friends, Laura and Beth. Beth came to Laura and shared that she had heard their mutual friend John slandering Laura. It is Laura's responsibility to gently but clearly urge Beth to stop gossiping about that situation with her since she's not part of the problem and to return to have a conversation with John. Beth needs to urge John to stop slandering Laura and to begin using his words in loving and unifying ways. One of the reasons God teaches us to avoid gossip is because it makes such a mess in relationships.
Learning that you have been gossiped about or slandered will normally be distressing and possibly even disorienting. Begin by asking God to help you respond humbly and soberly, praising God for this opportunity to be further conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, who was slandered by his own creation even though he was completely without sin. God believes it is so valuable to know him that he designed the process of dying to ourselves to allow us to share in his sufferings (Phil 4:10-11). Ask God to allow areas of your heart and life that need refining to be made known to you even through the malicious words of others that were designed to magnify and exploit weaknesses perceived in you. Additionally, ask God to strengthen your endurance as you are perfected (James 1:2-5), so that you will respond lovingly to being sinned against without getting pulled into a temptation to sin in kind or in response (Gal 6:2).Additionally use the words of Psalm 37:3-7 to teach you how to respond when others treat you in evil, scheming ways. Psalm 37 teaches us that we are responsible to trust and take delight in the Lord and do good, committing everything we do to him. We are commanded to be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act, choosing to not worry about evil people who prosper and to not fret about their wicked schemes. It is the Lord's job in this humiliating situation to make you live safely and prosper and to make your innocence radiate and the justice of your cause to shine. God is the only one capable of satisfying your heart, and no attempt at vengeance or retaliation will come close to satisfying you.Determine to see the ways God is working in this trial for the display of his glorious grace. That will help you guard against angry responses in these bitter circumstances. Entrusting yourself to the God who judges all situations justly (1 Peter 2:23) will empower you to pay back good for evil (I Thess 5:15) even while helping to stop evil speech from spreading. God is an active agent bringing about our deeper understanding of his love even in the midst of such difficult private pain. Only he could enable us to love the people who hurt us even while enduring residual pain, and that magnifies him and the glory of his grace.For more great help on growing in discernment during listening check out "Listening: A Key Skill For Counselors"https://store.faithlafayette.org/browse-by-topic/counseling-education/conference-sessions-and-tracks/listening-a-key-skill-for-counselors/Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash
Wounded animals tend to withdraw. In a vulnerable state they retreat to a secure place of isolation. Wounded saints can do the same. It is an understandable response for the injured soul. Retreat for a time may provide a needed respite. But when a trial endures, continued isolation can endanger one’s spiritual well-being. For in that place a person can become absorbed by their anguish and lose perspective. Suffering is magnified in solitude.Job fell into a vortex of emotions, at least in part, because he was isolated in his suffering. By the time his three friends arrived, he had been abandoned by those nearest to him and sat alone—scraping his loathsome sores and moaning in his misery (Job 2:11-13). His mind went to dark places and he ultimately concluded that God had turned against him (Job 16-17). Isolation readily creates a heart that is self-absorbed.One of the best guards against wallowing in the suffering of an enduring trial, whatever its source, is to be absorbed in serving others. We can help sufferers who are walking through a persisting trial—be the trial physical, spiritual, emotional, or relational—by nudging them into regular works of service. There are four reasons to work toward this end.
The great call on the Christian life is to love God and to love our neighbors. Such love is most visible in sacrificial service. The Bible gives us many ‘one anothers’ in which we are to be engaged as a community of believers. At times, a trial is of such depth and severity that one’s energy and time is fully focused on recovery. But when the trial endures, we must adjust to the new circumstances and find means to be obedient to the biblical command to serve others. Personal suffering does not remove our obligation to obedience to the call to love our neighbors.
When you give yourself to serving others, you quickly realize that you are surrounded by suffering saints. Few people are not facing their own form of trouble. This helps keep one’s own suffering in perspective. While comparing degrees of suffering is an unfruitful exercise, opening our eyes to the wounded ones around us helps us to realize that our journey through this world is mostly a trail of travail. Our expectations of a trouble-free life are shown to be a pipe-dream and we recognize suffering is normative. That does not remove the pain, but it helps us to know our anguish is not an anomaly. We are not lesser beings among God’s children because we suffer.
The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians elders of the words of our Lord Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Giving of ourselves to others is a soul-nourishing act of obedience. Do sufferers want to experience a blessing—even in the tempest of trials? What better way than serving others in need? This is not to suggest that serving others is actually self-serving, but it was our Lord himself that set out this precept. There is blessing in serving.
Those living through an enduring trial sometimes struggle to see how they can be used of God. But, when we serve others, we “are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:24b). Giving a cool cup of water in Jesus’ name is giving to Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:34-40; Romans 12:10-11). Giving ourselves to others made in his image is a means by which everyone of us can serve the Lord.We may need to be creative in helping others find a place of service. Some trials require a reordering of our lives. Physical limitations can close many doors, but new ones also open. Even in the most limited of circumstances, saints can find a way to serve.After the fall of the Soviet Union, I had the opportunity to travel to a formerly closed portion of Russia and teach the opening session of a new Bible Institute for pastors and preach in several churches. Shortly before leaving for Russia, I visited an elderly woman in our church who was bedridden and dying of cancer. Her nights were peppered with periods of wakefulness provoked by pain. She realized that night time in the US would be while I was teaching in Russia and determined to pray for my ministry each time she awoke in the night. Her body was confined to a bed, but her prayers flew heavenward. I took great encouragement knowing she was interceding for me.Just like every Christian, suffering saints need to serve. We can be of much help to those facing an enduring trial when we encourage them to do so.Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash
When we’re going through really difficult times, it’s sometimes hard to believe God’s Word that our trials will result in something good (Romans 8:28). We wade into deep waters and fear that God’s grace will not be enough. Part of this fear may be because we’re in uncharted waters. We never thought we’d be in the position we find ourselves in. We desperately search the Scriptures, we pray fervently, we cry out to Him in faith, but we don’t see any rational point for the darkness that’s settled over our lives. It’s times like this that we should learn from Jesus how to handle the fearful times we face.In Matthew 3:13-17 we read that Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan river to be baptized by John the Baptist. When Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove. Then God made a public proclamation:And a voice from heaven said, “This is My Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17God publicly proclaimed His love for His Son and that He was well pleased with Him. Immediately after this we read:Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1To a lesser extent, we can relate to this too. After a period of closeness with the Father, we sometimes find ourselves in a desert of our own. Yet, it was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus into a desert to be tempted, so this wasn’t a surprise to God (just like our difficult times are not a surprise to Him). On the contrary, this was God’s plan for His Son. Even though God was pleased with Jesus, He required Jesus to be tempted after Jesus fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. This seems a little counterintuitive to us. If God were really pleased with Jesus, why lead Him into a desert to be tempted? Because God has a good plan, and He knows absolute best.We read that Jesus was hungry, and probably very weak. At this very vulnerable point in His life, Satan shows up to tempt Jesus three times. Even though Jesus was hungry and maybe weak, each time He responds with clear thinking, and faith and confidence in the Word and character of God.
Satan tempts Jesus to usurp God’s authority and take matters into His own hands.The tempter came to Him and said, “If You are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:3Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4Sometimes our desires like to disguise themselves as needs. Although Jesus was hungry, He understood His stomach wasn’t His god. Comfort wasn’t His god. His life was more than food. His life was for the glory and honor of God and the fulfillment of His Word.
Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:“‘He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:5-6Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:7Once again, Jesus responded with the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God. He shows us that we are not to put conditions/demands on God’s love. For example: “God if you really loved me, you would give me __________ (fill in the blank with what your heart desires).” Who are we to test God’s love for us? Wasn’t the cross enough proof of His love?
8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Matthew 4:10Jesus resisted the temptation to look for fulfillment in this created world. He had no intention of being distracted by lesser gods. He knew that true fulfillment and satisfaction are found worshiping the Father and finding our ultimate satisfaction in our relationship with Him.
So, how do we apply all this to our lives? In difficult times we would do well to remember the foundational truths upon which our faith is built. As time goes on, we tend to either forget or overlook them, or think they are too elementary.
Let’s take our cues from Jesus as we learn to work through our own personal pains and sorrows the way He did—putting our confidence and hope in God’s Word, trusting Him that His grace is sufficient to meet our needs, believing by faith in His unchanging and everlasting love, and finding our satisfaction and fulfillment in God alone. As we learn these lessons and take them to heart, we will be better equipped to help others do the same.Photo by Ryan Cheng on Unsplash
This May, my wife’s brother (Ethan) is graduating from Yale University. He has worked incredibly hard to reach this goal and we are thankful for the opportunities he has been given (and we are, dare I say, proud of him).Undercutting Yale’s May graduation is the unfolding story of Ms. Jamie Petrone: an administrator in the school of medicine. Though tasked with aiding students in their education, she has used her position to defraud Yale out of $40 million. Just to clarify, that’s a “4” with seven zeroes after it!This incredible sum wasn’t acquired at once through some grand heist; she methodologically appropriated the funds through the course a decade or more. Little decision by little decision, day by day, Jamie deceived and thieved her way into a fortune. She was hired to serve but chose to steal instead.Likewise, each Christian was saved to serve, yet we can often use our position for selfish gain.In the context of our salvation by grace, Paul continues by stating that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB1995). He also warned Christians that they “were called to freedom… only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). Service is one of the many reasons Christ is still in the business of calling men and women “from the domain of darkness, and [transfers] us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).One of the goals of discipleship, whether it’s in our own striving towards Christlikeness or in our ministry to others, is to see less “Jamie” and more “Jesus.” Being the God of the universe and creator of all things (Colossians 1:15-20), Christ still came to serve rather than be served (Mark 10:45). Shouldn’t we, His creation, likewise utilize our freedom to serve?As a biblical counselor (or discipler), this ought to be one of your main goals for the person or people you are ministering to. Looking through the lens of formal biblical counseling (though broadly applicable to Christian discipleship), allow me to suggest four ambitions to see your counselee go from Jamie to Jesus…
Speaking of money, it’s often mentioned that bank tellers are trained to identify counterfeit cash through simple means. Instead of keeping up on the (seemingly) endless permutations of counterfeit currency, they are trained very well in the real thing. How can they confidently profess a particular bill to be fake? Simple: it’s not authentic.Augustine famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” The most effective way to combat the thieving Jamie in each of our hearts is know the “authentic” satisfier: Jesus. Those who are “fixing [their] eyes on Jesus” will naturally be casting aside “every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Selfishness will be systematically tossed by the wayside as conformity to Christ occurs (Romans 8:29). Help your counselee see Jesus!
Clint Eastwood would agree: there are only two kinds of people in this world, (1) those who are selfish and know it, and (2) those who don’t think they’re selfish. But I repeat myself…Jamie began working for Yale in 2008 and was only caught this year (2022). Her crafty means of theft were carried out through department requests for electronic devices. After receiving the devices, she’d turn around to sell them and pocket the cash. Jamie avoided detection for so long by keeping each request under $10,000, circumventing any additional required approvals. Fortunately, someone reported suspected criminal behavior in 2021, sparking an investigation that led to her arrest.Jamie is hard at work in each human heart. And while it would be nice to send her to the clink once and for all, we’re limited to pacifying her covertly deceptive ways (“cruciformity,” for the theologically savvy reader). One must be able to identify the common practices of a thief in order to subvert their efforts. Likewise, each one of us has a variety of selfish manifestations abounding in our lives. It’s necessary to drag these practices into the light (1 John 1:6-10), otherwise Jamie will be free to continue her work under the radar. Exploit Jamie!
“When is the thief no longer a thief?” This is a question I first heard during the Biblical Counseling Training Conference at Faith Church (Lafayette, IN) in 2013. What’s the natural answer? “When he stops stealing, of course!” I answered with smug confidence.Enter Ephesians 4:28 –“He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.”Whoops: killing the practice is just step one! Jamie needs to then get a real job and start looking into creative philanthropical endeavors. Otherwise, she may just be biding her time until the next shipment of electronics arrives...From a spiritual perspective, that looks like practicing that which was antithetical to the previous activity. If selfishness manifests as wasting an inordinate amount of time playing video games or watching television, now that time is spent mowing the lawn of an elderly saint. If selfishness looked like spending money foolishly on frivolous items, now it looks like buying groceries for the single mom. You get the idea… Get Jamie working with her own hands!
This is where the real cruciformity occurs. Jamie has eyes to take; Jesus has eyes to give. Jamie asks the question, “what do you have for me?” Jesus asks the question, “how can I give to you?” If the thief is no longer a thief when he is working with his own hands and giving to those in need, the selfish person is no longer letting Jamie run the show when he is reforming his time/talents/resources towards the service of others rather than self.This principle works outside of the “selfishness” confinement. For instance, in my regular discipleship, I work towards getting my guys get to a place where they are the ones ready to fill our time with ways they need to grow (i.e., “working with their own hands”) and our discipleship morphs to a more “grandfather role,” as they begin discipling others (i.e., “something to give towards those in need”). After all, the onus of spiritual growth ought not be on the discipler (2 Corinthians 5:10) and proper Christian discipleship should look like disciple-making disciples (2 Timothy 2:2). Share with those in need!Even Jamie is pleased to stop stealing (for a while) once the light is shining on her. Similarly, Jesus didn’t save us solely so we would stop doing bad things—He wants us to actively glorify Him with our lives (Matthew 5:16). Looking to Christ, we are to expose selfishness, serve in ways that directly combat that selfishness, and develop the giving eyes of Jesus (by the power of His Spirit (Ephesians 4:23)).Anyway, happy graduation, Ethan!Photo by Austin Ban on Unsplash
A counselee taking active steps of repentance is a core part of the counseling process. In the counseling room, the counselor calls men and women to put off the old man and to put on the new (Eph. 4:22-24). Yet, as any counselor can tell you, that is not always how it goes. Sometimes a counselor labors over a counselee for weeks, and there is no change. The counselor may follow up the session with text messages of encouragement, spend time praying for them in the evening, and take other steps that they might not normally take—and yet to no avail. There are many reasons why a counselee may not take a step of repentance, but there is one not normally mentioned: that counselee was not granted repentance.
When Christ and Nicodemus are recorded talking in John 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born of “water and the Spirit” he cannot see the kingdom of God. Meaning that until God has done something in each and every person’s heart (that is, they must be born again or “from above”), they will always remain in their sin and unable to even SEE the kingdom of heaven.Later, this same idea is picked up in Acts 11:18 when Peter is recounting his ministry to the Gentiles. The Jews who had believed on Christ were pretty upset at some of what Peter had been up to. The text says they, “took issue with him” (Acts 11:2). But when they heard Peter’s story, they responded, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”This is born out elsewhere in Acts 5:31 and 2 Timothy 2:25. The point is this: repentance is a gift. It is something that is granted to us by God. We all need to see that when we choose to repent of our sin, either for our own salvation or for our own holiness: it is a gift given to us by God. And as with all gifts, there are some implications for our thinking.
In the parable of the workers (Mt. 20:1-16), we encounter what many feel is a seemingly unjust section of scripture that our minds cannot comprehend. One guy works one hour and gets paid the same as the guy who worked a full day. These men who worked all day in the sun “grumbled” and were thinking that this was just not fair. How did the master respond? “Is your eye envious because I am generous?” Boom. We should all feel the weight of that question.God is the one who is giving out the gifts, not you and not me. Countless passages point out how our understanding of God’s providence is so limited. We know that He is working everything for His glory, and we know that He is working everything to make us like Christ (Rom. 8:28-29). However, we don’t understand the process, the means, or many of the other details that make up the plan. Which is why we are called to such a deep trust in Him.If God is the one who is giving out the gift of repentance for His glory, every counselor needs to understand that the reason their counselee may not be changing is because God has not granted them repentance. We don’t know that God has not granted it to them, but if repentance is a gift, and they are not repenting, it only follows that they may not have been granted that gift.
There are many probable answers to such a question, but none can be sure until we all behold Him with unveiled faces. For example, Paul highlights in Romans 11 that because of Israel’s rejection, you were welcomed in (Rom. 11:32). Why did God do it this way? We must cry out with Paul in the next verse, “Oh, the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His Ways!” (Rom. 11:33)Did you catch that word unsearchable? You and I will never understand this side of heaven why God withheld repentance from someone. Rather, we are called to respond less with inquiry and more of awestruck worship. Instead of pondering why God would give repentance to one and not the other, adoration is the right response.
There are two main applications and implications for counseling then. First, if we have been granted repentance, or we have a counselee that has turned from their sin, let us not boast. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” Simply put, if counseling ever goes well, and they grow in holiness, let us remember, it was a gift.Secondly, when counseling is going poorly, and it does not appear that God has granted repentance to our counselee…When we have done everything that we can think of…Then rest in God’s plan. Remember Paul’s words about Israel again, “What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Rom. 9:22) Trust that God is doing something that is beyond what we can fathom, and seek to cultivate humility in our own hearts.Photo by Alex Shute on Unsplash