Counseling: Delighting in the Sufficiency of Scripture

Saturday, June 29, 2013.

Jim Newheiser, Director for IBCD (the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship) and Pastor of Grace Bible Church in Escondido, CA, teaches on the theme “Delighting in the Sufficiency of Scripture.”

Talk to Yourself

Psalm 42:5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in this psalm] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’

… This self of ours has got to be handled. Do not listen to him; turn on him; speak to him; condemn him; upbraid him; exhort him; encourage him; remind him of what you know, instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control. The devil takes hold of self and uses it in order to depress us. We must stand up as this man did and say, ‘Why art thou cast down? Why are thou disquieted within me? Stop being so! Hope though in God, for I shall yet praise Him.’

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression p. 20, 21

Precious one…

Have you ever been deeply hurt, totally ignored by somone you thought was a friend; or worse, even betrayed by them? Just remember, not only does God come very close at such times, but He is also preparing you to help others.

Think about it – who is the best person to help an alcoholic? A former alcoholic, right? Who is the best person to help a widow in their grief? Someone who has read a few books, or someone who has been through the incredible trauma of watching someone they love, slowly ebb away? We all know the answer.

Pour out your heart to the Lord. Let Him come near. Let Him touch you and heal your obvious wounds. Open your heart to the One who works all things, yes, even this, for your good. Allow His word to be your comfort, your strength, your sure guide in the midst of the storm. Let His word be the foundation under your feet when nothing else makes sense.

Read the Psalms. See how men of God, confused and battle weary, poured out their souls to the One who cannot be fully fathomed by human minds. And yet, each found Him to be the rock – the sure thing – perhaps the only sure thing in their lives. They found Him to be a shield, a fortress, a strong tower of refuge and hope. May I encourage you to do the same? As you do, you will know the Author of the word in a dimension unknown to you before. You will know how great a comfort God is; ever faithful and true. Then see what doors He opens up for you to help other hurting people around you.

Precious child of God – just remember, God is a loving Father. I know you know that already. You have heard it thousands of times before, but right now, I believe as the hours slowly drag into days, and those long days roll into weeks, it will not be long before you will know this truth far more deeply than you do right now. He will get you through this.. you really will come out the other side… and when you do, He will have people cross your path who will want to know what got you through the darkest night of the soul. Its called Christian ministry.

Luke 22:31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Weep with those who weep

Dane Ortlund recently wrote, “Dear comforters of sufferers: Just because Rom 8:28 comes before Rom 12:15 in the canon doesn’t mean it should in your counsel.”

Joni Eareckson Tada talked about this in a recent interview with Marvin Olasky:

When you were in the hospital room, in despair about becoming a quadriplegic through your diving accident, were some comments people made—with good intentions—hugely irritating?

I had many well-meaning friends my age who said well-meaning things, but they were uninformed because the Bible says weep with those who weep. Many friends would say to me, from Romans 8:28, “Joni, all things fit together to a pattern for good.” Or, from James 1:3, “Welcome this trial as a friend.” Or, from Romans 5, “Rejoice in suffering.” These are good and right and true biblical mandates, but when your heart is being wrung out like a sponge, sometimes the 16 good biblical reasons as to why all this has happened to you sting like salt in the wound. When people are going through great trauma, great grief, they don’t want answers. Because answers don’t reach the problems where it hurts in the gut, in the heart.

What does help?

When I was a little girl, I remember riding my bike down a steep hill. I made a right-hand turn. My wheels skidded out on gravel and I crashed to the ground. My knee was a bloody mess. My dad comes running out. I’m screaming and crying. Although I didn’t ask why, if I had, how cruel it would have been for my father to stand over me and say, “Well, sweetheart, let me answer that question. The next time you’re going down the hill, watch the steepness, be careful about the trajectory of your turn, be observant of gravel.” Those would all have been good answers to the question, “Why did this happen?” But when people are going through great trauma and great grief, they don’t want to know why. They want Daddy to pick them up, press them against his chest, pat them on the back, and say, “There, there, sweetheart, Daddy’s here. It’s OK.” When we are hurting, that’s what we want. We want God to be Daddy: warm, compassionate, real, in the middle of our suffering. We want fatherly assurance that our world is not spinning out of control… Don’t you dare be caught rejoicing with those who weep.

HT: Justin Taylor

Pastoral Etiquette

Etiquette: a code of behavior that delineates expectations for social behavior according to contemporary conventional norms within a society, social class, or group.

I am currently doing some pre-marriage counseling with a couple. This morning I received this e-mail from the gentleman (names have been changed):

Hi Pastor John,

I have a request to pass to you from my fiance Dorothy. Feel free to decline if you are not completely comfortable. But, there is a married couple we know who are interested in receiving counseling with you. I am sure it is because Dorothy speaks of your help with such glowing praise! So, please let me know how to proceed, and again, please don’t feel obligated.

Hope you have a great day.

Clive

This was my reply:

Hi Clive,

Good to hear from you. I am so glad you and Dorothy are still enjoying the pre-marriage sessions and finding them useful.

Regarding the couple, may I ask if they are Christians and are part of a local Church? I ask this question because as a pastor (rather than merely a counselor) I am very sensitive in making sure that anything I do is never perceived in any way as what some call “sheep stealing.” That is when an individual or couple who are part of a local church assembly are prized away from the care of that leadership by an over zealous pastor. I know many pastors dont feel this kind of sensitivity in our day, but I feel it is very much like someone under the care of a doctor is encouraged by another doctor to be treated by them. Such a thing is not only extremely poor etiquette on the part of the doctor, but it may very well be illegal. It should never occur.

While meeting with me for marriage advice would not be a legal issue, I still feel the same principle of etiquette would apply and am very sensitive about this. I realise that I am more sensitive than most pastors on this issue. If the couple are part of a local Church, I would only wish to meet with them when there is full agreement between the couple and their local Church elders and that the elders give the go-ahead. If the couple are not under the care of local Church leadership, that is a very different matter. For instance, I was happy to meet with you and Dorothy because we have known each other for years and secondly, I knew you were not specifically under the care of local Church leadership.

Am I making sense?

Pastor John

Dealing with Grief

Justin Taylor writes:

I once asked Matt Chandler about the unhelpful things people said to him in his fight against cancer. He refused to give examples but explained, “I think people can get a little weirded out by pain, suffering, and death. They don’t know what to do so they end up saying things that are hurtful to people who have experienced loss.”

For those of us self-aware of the propensity for foot-in-mouth disease, we sometimes choose simply to ignore those who are hurting so that we don’t make things worse.

Jill Sullivan, who lost a 16-year-old daughter to a highly aggressive form of brain cancer, explains why it can be so hard to return to church after the death of a loved one. She writes:

Our churches are full of people who are hurting, many of whom have lost children or other loved ones. For me personally, returning to church was one of the most difficult things to do after my loss, and I’ve talked to many other bereaved parents who have expressed the same thing.

She offers some reasons why this might be the case:

•Families tend to sit together at church, and when your family is missing someone, their absence is particularly acute in the pew. Looking around and seeing other intact families worshiping beside you can also be very painful.
•The songs we sing in church can bring up very strong emotions. Songs about heaven can conjure up an almost unbearable longing in our hearts, and songs of praise can be difficult to sing when your heart is broken.
•There is an unspoken expectation at church that everyone is filled with the “joy of the Lord.” You know what I mean . . . we put on our best clothes and our Sunday School smiles and give the appearance that all is right in our world. A grieving parent may simply not have the emotional stamina to play that role.

She then asks, “So how do we as the body of Christ reach out to bereaved parents and give comfort without adding to their pain?”

Here are her suggestions for both those who are grieved and for those who can comfort:

•Be patient with them. Grief is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s important to respect the fact that people need time to heal. The grieving parent may not be ready to resume regular church activities right away, whether that’s teaching Sunday School, singing in the choir, working in the nursery, or greeting at the door.
•Grief comes in waves. Don’t assume that a person is “over it” if you see them smiling or laughing, and don’t assume that a person is “not doing well” if you see them grieving outwardly.
•They may not be interested in small talk. Someone who has lost a child is grappling with deep spiritual issues and may not be interested in shallow conversation. Listen to them if they want to talk, and don’t feel that you need to answer all their questions. Remember how well it went over once Job’s friends started talking!
•Grieving people are vulnerable and often hyper-sensitive, and they may have been hurt by things that well-meaning people have said to them. Some of those things might include:
“I know what you’re going through. My grandmother died last year.”
Something along the lines of “God always picks His best flowers first” or “God must have needed another angel in heaven.”
“She’s in a better place.” (There’s nothing really wrong with that because it’s true…it’s just that the grieving person really wants their loved one here with them!)
“It’s a good thing you have another child.”
•They also may have been hurt by those who have intentionally avoided them or who have said nothing to them at all. So what should we say to a grieving mom or dad?
“I love you, and I’m praying for you.”

She writes, “That’s it? Could it be that simple? Yes, it really is. This statement, maybe accompanied by a warm hug, is all that’s needed to assure a bereaved parent of your care and concern.”

You can read her whole post here.

For those who are grieving, this workshop from Nancy Guthrie (at the TGC Women’s Conference) may prove instructive and edifying.

Two marriage myths, busted

Dan Phillips debunks a couple of myths, believed by many people today:

As I continue in my announced intent to share a few bits of Biblical wisdom on marriage, it seems good to start by dispelling a couple of myths. Call me a Biblical “mythbuster.”

First: it takes two to create marital problems. No, it doesn’t. It only takes one.

It feels embarrassing even to have to say that, it’s such a Biblically obvious point — but the notion of necessarily democratically-shared liability is so widespread that some air-clearing is necessary.

I think I’ll call this the Democratic Causality Myth. How do I know it’s a myth? The same way I know anything really important: the Bible. Didn’t you read 1 Peter 2:19-20?

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.

There you go: it is possible to suffer, not only in spite of doing good, but precisely for doing good. Peter expressly envisions a relationship where Party A causes suffering to Party B, and the latter not only did not “have it coming to him,” but was specifically doing what he ought to be doing.

Peter’s not done with that theme. Note that he says in 3:14a, “even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.” There it is again: suffering precisely because one had done what was right.

Of course, we could add a heap of Scriptures, and they’d take us back to our Lord Himself, amid the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The assumption that all suffering must be immediately traceable to some specifically causative wrongdoing is simply not Biblical. It is to join hands and nod along with Job’s divinely-discredited friends, as they doggedly pursue the etiology of Job’s suffering, sure that he’d brought it on himself somehow.

So if we grant this for all of life, is there some force-field that un-trues the truth when it comes to marriage? Is it only in marriage that we must always split blame for suffering 50-50? I’d like to see that logic diagrammed.
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Ministering to the Depressed

There is widespread misunderstanding when it comes to the nature and causes of depression. Dr. David Murray, author of the book “Christians Get Depressed Too” addresses this ignorance and covers much ground in this short 7 minute video:

Ministering to the Depressed from HeadHeartHand Media on Vimeo.

Feeling Distant from God?

Dr. David Powlison responds to the question “a new client comes to therapy reporting his main problem is feeling detached from God. How would you proceed?”

Dr. David Powlison – On feeling “detached from God” from CCEF on Vimeo.

When Slandered…

John Piper, page 63:

“In the end, the only “good name” that matters is not how men feel about us, but how God feels about us. The ultimate slander came on the cross. “Let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Matthew 27:43). If? There is no question. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). This is the only good name that matters in the end. This is true riches. This is the glory of Christ.”

Commenting on Psalm 91:5 “Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler,” C. H. Spurgeon wrote:

Note, once more, that sometimes the fowler, when he faileth to take his bird by deceit and craft, will go a hawking after it-will send his hawk into the air, to bring down his prey. It often happens, when the devil can not ruin a man by getting him to commit a sin, he attempts to slander him; he sends a hawk after him, and tries to bring him down by slandering his good name. I will give you a piece of advice.

I know a good minister, now in venerable old age, who was once most villainously lied against and slandered by a man who had hated him only for the truth’s sake. The good man was grieved; he threatened the slanderer with a lawsuit, unless he apologized. He did apologize. The slander was printed in the papers in a public apology; and you know what was the consequence. The slander was more believed than if he had said nothing about it. And I have learned this lesson-to do with the slanderous hawk what the little birds do, just fly up. The hawk can not do them any hurt while they can keep above him-it is only when they come down that he can injure them. It is only when by mounting he gets above the birds, that the hawk comes sweeping down upon them, and destroys them.

If any slander you, do not come down to them; let them slander on. Say, as David said concerning Shimei, “If the Lord hath given him commandment to curse, let him curse;” and if the sons of Zeruiah say, “Let us go and take this dead dog’s head,” you say, “Nay, let him curse;” and in that way you will live down slander.

If some of us turned aside to notice every bit of a sparrow that began chirping at us, we should have nothing to do but to answer them. If I were to fight people on every doctrine I preach, I should do nothing else but just amuse the devil, and indulge the combative principles of certain religionists who like nothing better than quarreling.

By the grace of God, say what you please against me, I will never answer you, but go straight on. All shall end well, if the character be but kept clean; the more dirt that is thrown on it by slander, the more its shall glisten, and the more brightly it shall shine. Have you never felt your fingers itch sometimes to be at a man who slanders you? I have.

I have sometimes thought, “I can not hold my tongue now; I must answer that fellow;” but I have asked of God grace to imitate Jesus, who, “when he was reviled, reviled not again,” and by his strength let them go straight on. The surest way in the world to get rid of a slander is just to let it alone and say nothing about it, for if you prosecute the rascal who utters it, or if you threaten him with an action, and he has to apologize, you will be no better off-some fools will still believe it. Let it alone-let it keep as it is; and so God will help you to fulfill by your wisdom his own promise, “Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler.”

And now, ere I close this point, let me observe once more, the fowler, when he is determined to take his birds, uses all these arts at once, perhaps, and besets the bird on every side. So, you will remember, beloved, it is with you. Satan will not leave a stone unturned to ruin your soul for ever.

“Amidst a thousand snares I stand,
Upheld and guarded by Thy hand.”