Most people would acknowledge at least six basic struggles.
Sin doesn’t make the list because it is not naturally acknowledged by all humanity. Though most people can acknowledge wrongdoing, not everyone believes their wrong is against God.
Consider the list for a moment. To make the cut, the problems should be identified in the early chapters of Genesis (at least in their nascent form), and they should be carried through the rest of Scripture. For example, the experience of saying “yes” when we should say “no” is central to the fall. We were told to avoid one particular tree, and somehow, what was forbidden became a deadly lure. The remainder of Scripture teaches us to correctly identify what is right and wrong, so that with Christ’s help, we can act on that growing discernment.
Would you agree that these six are part of everyday life for most people? If so, you will want to envision how to equip your congregants to bring these matters to Scripture and to Jesus. From there, your church can move out and be helpful to others.
With this in mind, what might you aim for? Here are some ideas.
That everyone who attends will be able to identify that these six are, indeed, their struggles.
That everyone will be familiar with at least one text that draws them into Scripture for each problem.
That together, the church will be able to talk openly about these things, be eager to ask for help, and pray for each other.
An interesting feature of these six problems is that they are the constituent parts of more complicated human struggles. Depression, for example, is certainly a form of suffering. It often has a physical contribution, yet depressed people are human beings who also struggle with fear, guilt, anger and shame, and these can all intensify the experience of depression. Or consider anorexia. Guilt, shame, fear and even anger are frequent building blocks of the anorectic experience. The more you know someone, the more you discover that our struggles are more alike than different.
In the coming months, we will move through these six topics and we welcome your questions about them.
This is part of a series for pastors on the problems that can be found in us all. Other problems being addressed include anger, fear, guilt, shame, victimization and the pain of life. Every Christian should have increasing wisdom with them.
In this post, I want to talk about addiction.
So many people I know have died over the past two years—more people than in the previous ten. A few died from disease, a few more died from suicide, but most died from overdoses. Among those who overdosed, the stories began to sound the same. They often began with legal narcotics when a physician prescribed something for pain relief (Percocet, Vicodin, Oxycontin). The drug worked until the person developed tolerance, and then looked for and found either more of the drug or—something worse. Heroin was cheaper and became the drug of choice. It was eventually supplemented by fentanyl or carfentanyl, and the person unintentionally overdosed. And the deaths keep coming.
Human beings have a habit of saying yes to activities that can harm them, even when they want to say no. Narcotic use is the most lethal of those activities, pornography is the most common. Pornography is certainly lethal in its own way in that it kills relationships and deadens the soul.
How, as pastors, do we even begin to help those who say “yes” to what can kill them? One way is for our churches to be clear about what it means to be human. That is, we want to understand how Scripture both anticipates these struggles and embeds how to respond in features of our common humanity.
Here are three aspects of our humanity that can help with addictions.
To be human is to say no to temptation. When considering addictions, our natural entry points are words such as desire, lust, the flesh, sensuality or drunkenness, but there is an important story behind these words—a story of temptation—and this story is what we want to understand.
One of the first questions posed in Scripture is about temptation: When temptations come—and they will—will you trust in the words of the Lord and say no? The wisdom literature intends to help us with this question. The relentless message of the book of Proverbs is that our desires are not a reliable judge of which paths lead to life and which paths lead to death. In fact, our desires can suggest life is unexciting and that death can satisfy. Proverbs aims to sharpen our discernment. It helps us to consider the consequences of our decisions.
Pastoral work, therefore, raises the profile of human temptation. We all need discernment and power to turn from temptations. We all need to see Christ as more beautiful than the beckoning trio of the world, the flesh and the Devil.
To be human is to turn to the Lord during suffering. Temptations are more pronounced when we feel discomfort or pain. The pain is actual physical pain among those who fight against narcotics, yet this is joined by the pain of broken relationships, dashed expectations and other miseries that create a jumbled mass of hopelessness.
Pastoral work, therefore, avoids triumphalist pronouncements and seriously considers the troubles of everyday life. So many of us still secretly believe that life in Christ means less suffering than the rest of the population, and we are unbalanced when hardships take residence. In response, we all need to relearn that the love and presence of God is a certainty through Jesus. And we all need to practice calling out to the Lord in our trouble rather than managing our troubles in our own way.
To be human is to speak openly with each other about trouble and temptation. This is a more difficult proposition to embed in our ministry. You can preach about saying no to temptation or turning to the Lord in suffering, but this one is about church culture so it must be part of us if we are to influence others.
We prefer to keep our struggles to ourselves, especially when they are shameful struggles. The kingdom of God, in contrast, invites us to be open before God and others. The challenge is that this is both alluring and impossible: to be known and accepted is peace, but who volunteers to talk about temptations and sins? And what if someone opens up to others and then is met with rebuke and unhelpful judgment?
Pastoral work, therefore, considers small steps that build an inviting and open community. This means that the pastor is willing to be needy and open, which takes wisdom so that this helps others rather than merely shocks people.
Pastoral ministry has endless matters to consider. My purpose is certainly not to burden you with more work. Instead, we know that these problems have some priority in our ministry, and this is an occasion to review them.
Burnout suggests that the flame is flickering and there is no stoking the fire this time. You have nothing left to give. Stress comes to us by way of engineering. The building is under too much weight; there is too much pressure, and fractures are beginning to appear. You have too much to do, what you do is substandard, and you can’t do it all. Something has to give or … you don’t know exactly what will happen but you know it will be bad.
Burnout and stress are recurring pastoral maladies but lately they are getting more attention. A recent example is David Murray’s fine book, Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture. He makes the case for more sleep, a real Sabbath, limits on social connectivity, and many other important matters—all in a clear and biblically persuasive structure. We recommend it. What follows is an occasion for you to consider this topic yet again. It should always be on your personal agenda.
Here are some ways to locate it.
We could quickly identify a long list of potential contributions to burnout and stress—our own sins, the impossible expectations of others, inadequate finances, and the sheer burden of caring for so many souls. Our goal, though, is not simply to say “no” more often and keep our anxieties in check. Those help, but we want more. What we hope to do is grow—grow in mature, child-like dependence on the Lord, grow in asking for help and prayer, grow in love that can weather conflicts. We hope to grow in wisdom expressed as an ordered life, in humility before God and others.
This package of articles, all of which were written by CCEF faculty, will serve as a foundation. If you are new to biblical counseling, these will help you to get oriented and if you are not new, perhaps you will find something here you have not considered before. The six articles are:
These articles will help answer the question: What is biblical counseling? We know that in some ways, even using the word counseling is cumbersome because it suggests something professional and scheduled—just for the experts. But we think of biblical counseling as wise conversations in which we join the daily struggles of life with the many words and promises of God that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. For you who work in the church, it is what you do every day.
The articles are available below and will be present on this page for the foreseeable future. Work through them at your own pace.