My wife and I are beginning a study with the leaders at our church. The study is a workbook called Helping Others Change which condenses the material contained in Paul Tripp’s book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. The premise of the study is that Christian counseling needs to be done first and foremost in the life of the church, between believers in the context of everyday life.
I thought it would be helpful to begin a series of online journal posts on our journey through the workbook. I plan to post my answers to questions at the end of each chapter, hoping that the process of being open to my own struggles living for Christ will provide encouragement to others on the same journey. Each post in this series will begin with the Big Question from the lesson, and list the key Concepts along with the Personal and Relational applications. After these will be my journal entries answering the questions as honestly as possible.
The Big Question: Why do you need help?
- To be human is to need help outside of myself.
- Influence always carries a moral agenda.
- Everyone suffers from some degree of spiritual blindness.
- I need to receive truth outside of myself to make sense out of life.
- I need to humbly examine why I do and say the things I do.
- I need to recognize sin’s deceitfulness and commit myself to being approachable.
- I need to learn how to be one of God’s instruments of change in the lives of others.
- I need to saturate myself with Scripture so that my interpretations and counsel to others are based on God’s Word.
- I need to recognize how I am influencing others in the relationships and situations of daily life.
1. How will the truths of this lesson shape your prayers about ministry opportunities?
First, I will probably be more deliberate in praying that I may all people who come across my path, instead of only those who “need help.” This is after realizing that everyday “counseling” happens all the time in daily conversations, and godly advice, encouragement, and instruction is of necessity moral in nature. Since we are all fallen creatures in need of change—change into the image of God—I need to pray that I would always be ministering to those around me in a God-honoring way, always remembering that I am in desperate need of change as well.
Second, seeing myself as a co-sinner with those I minister to, I will probably more consciously pray for God to soften my heart so I may be open to heart-change via God’s Word and via others ministering to me.
Third, I will be more aware now of the heart issues behind my thought, speech, and behavioral sins. By praying and meditating on the sin in my heart, I pray I’ll be able to more effectively minister to others as they struggle with their besetting sins.
2. Tell about a time in your life when you responded not to the facts of a situation, but to your interpretation of the facts. Did you realize it at the time?
A situation that frequently comes to mind is my college freshman English class experience. For some reason, I thought that the study of English in a secular university environment meant that my Christian faith and convictions were certainly going to be personally assaulted. Perhaps the source of this was from some teachings in my high school youth group, or maybe the experience of having my testimony mocked at work after returning from an overseas mission trip the previous summer. Whatever the case, my guard was up the first day of English class and I was certain to “take a stand for truth.” That day when the professor read aloud a poem and didn’t skip over an “f-bomb,” my suspicions were confirmed. So I made up my mind to not let this godless environment corrupt me. Throughout the semester I made a general ass of myself by being belligerent and refusing to acknowledge that my professor, my classmates, or the course material had anything to teach me about the world, myself, or even literature. I used the occasion of my final exam to write a thinly veiled fictional account of how I had listened to my professor and she had in turn molded me in the Antichrist! Looking back on it now, I can see that she was just trying to get me to open my mind to literature (and the world) to honestly and critically engage it. She would probably fall out of her seat to read how I interpreted the facts at the time, and that now I can see what actually happened and was actually said through a different (yet still Christian) lens.
3. Describe a time when the Lord used a person or the Word of God to reveal your spiritual blindness. What did you learn about your need for such help? If you were helped by a person, what did he or she do to make it a positive or negative experience?
I can recall several times when a friend or my pastor used the Word of God to reveal my own spiritual blindness. One time in particular, shortly after I had heard that a fellow believer was struggling with thoughts of despair and had attempted suicide over the previous weekend, I spoke sincerely about my belief that such things happened when Christians didn’t yield themselves to the Holy Spirit’s power, and that the power of the Holy Spirit (as taught in charismatic circles) was available to solve this kind of despair. I’m sure that I was a sort of “loose cannon” with this insensitive and erroneous theology (who isn’t when they are 18?), but this latest outburst on my part needed to be addressed by my pastor. So he invited me over to his apartment to have a chat and ask me a few questions. I prepared for a debate by reading all the relevant notes in my charismatic Bible, readying myself to instruct him. Well, he was very gracious and kind, and pointed me away from my study Bible notes and began to ask me questions about what certain texts mean. His follow-on questions and gracious demeanor both disarmed me and began to reveal to me my spiritual blindness. I can point to that experience as the beginning of God working humility into my heart in terms of my understanding of the Scriptures. I realized that I was not only spiritually blind to much of what the Word of God actually teaches, but that I was also spiritually blind to the needs and hurts of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Since then I’ve tried to make an effort to listen more to what others are saying, and to put myself in their shoes before offering advice. This experience was in some ways painful, because I realized there was a log in my eye compared to the splinters I was trying to extract from others. But in other ways it was liberating for me, because I realized that God works in all of God’s people, and through the power of his Word to lovingly correct us, including an insensitive know-it-all like me!
4. What things keep you from being approachable (being helped)? What things keep you from reaching out (helping)? Ask the Lord to help you in these areas and repent where appropriate.
There are many things that keep me from being approachable (being helped), unfortunately I am probably blind to most of them. With that caveat, the things that come to mind are first of all my pride, especially my perception that of all people I don’t need to be helped by you. Sometimes my busy schedule prevents others from helping me. People tend to think that sometimes I don’t have time to listen to their concerns about me, or that if they did get a hearing with me I would be so preoccupied with my “to-do” list that I would be incapable of hearing what they have to say. I’m also pretty good at hiding the fact that I’m a little hard on one of my children, perhaps because we are so alike in personality which tends to create a contest of wills and wits. My wife has to frequently remind me to give extra grace to the children I’m the most hard on, but because I can speak in theological language my tendency is to explain why she is wrong, or to offer an excuse for my behavior. On my better days, I hear her rebukes and repent to her and my children. God is good and is still working on me.
Things that keep me from reaching out to people include my busy schedule of things to do, but even more so a fear of offending a neighbor or not respecting a person’s right to disagree. I really must get over the notion that ministry is not merely words, but is also deeds done in love and compassion for the sake of Christ. Someone once said that people won’t care that you know until they know that you care. Also, sometimes the commitment to helping someone long-term prevents me (or at least gives me pause) from reaching out to offer help to others. This is not usually the case in my immediate family, but outside of my wife and children I am hesitant to offer help for fear of taking time away from my family. Furthermore, there is still fear in my heart when I’m presented with the opportunity to minister to an unbeliever. It is the shame and reproach of Christ, and the lost of my appearance as a “normal” person instead of a “religious zealot” that sometimes prevents me from reaching out to offer support, help, and prayer. All of these I do repent of, and need my Christian brothers and sisters to encourage me to rely on the strength of Christ and not consider my reputation something to be guarded if it means Christ will be hidden or marginalized.