Pastoral care and counsel—that is what we are considering. It is the word counsel that leads to some confusion and differences of opinion. With that in mind, here are a few myths I have heard.
1. Counseling is for the professionals
This myth suggests that counseling is a professional term and can only be done by professionals. Better to think of counseling as wise, helpful conversations. Professional counselors might bring experience, which we certainly value, but, at their best, professionals are having wise, helpful conversations. They bring no particular magic.
When you remember the people who have helped you in your times of need, you probably think of friends, family, and others who love you. These have always been our go-to helpers because they bring wisdom with humility and love.
2. As a pastor, you don’t have time for counseling
The thought of extra hours to a packed schedule might be enough to make you cry. The pastoral care needs in a fifty-person church are probably too much to bear. Even the pastoral care needs in your own family might seem overwhelming.
The reality is that you cannot care single-handedly for every soul in your church. You need members who are equipped to help other members. Meanwhile, your goal is to be increasingly loving, skillful, compassionate, wise and prayerful in the conversations you already have. You can do a lot in five minutes of listening and three minutes of praying together.
3. You can’t counsel because you aren’t a good counselor
Some people have more native gifts in knowing and helping others. But what might this myth actually mean? You don’t love people? You don’t listen but prefer to talk? People don’t want to talk with you? Probably not.
It means that sometimes you feel inadequate to help. Every people-helper believes that at some point, and this is a good thing. Inadequacy is right next to humility, and humility leads you to ask others for help and prayer, which are among the best things you could offer. Dazzling insight is rarely what helps others.
4. Good preaching eliminates, or at least curbs, the need for counseling
This sounds right, in theory. Preaching that identifies the struggles of daily life and illustrates how to bring those struggles to Scripture is invaluable and necessary. But, in practice, good preaching leads to more counseling.
Good preaching reveals our hearts, shows us our spiritual need, and enhances a church culture of openness. Hearers discover matters that have been covered up, and they don’t even know where to start, but they do know that a church with this kind of preaching is a place where they can speak with someone.
5. Christians don’t need counseling
This is an old myth, and most pastors don’t really believe it. But many congregants still do. Or perhaps we could say that most of us approve of other people seeking help, but we don’t want to seek help ourselves because it would show weakness or it might even suggest that Jesus is not sufficient for us and, as a result, sully God’s honor.
Our need for help, however, is essential to our spiritual welfare. We come to Jesus as people in need, and we continue in Jesus as people in need. We also know that Jesus meets needy people through both his Word and other people.
Alasdair Groves sit down and talks with Mike Emlet about he engages personally with Scripture.
This and similar topics related to bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference.Register here
I am an anxious person. I haven’t always known that to be true, but it has become more obvious with each passing year. I am anxious about what I can do—and anxious about what I can’t. I’m anxious about how to love the people in my life—and I’m anxious when I don’t. I’m anxious about what is past—and anxious about what is yet to come.
Are you like me? If you are, then you have probably spent some time meditating on Philippians 4:6-7. It is one of the most oft-quoted passages in Scripture that addresses anxiety.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
These words are a deep blessing to me when I am overwhelmed with heavy responsibilities at work, or as I struggle with miscommunication with a friend. I, like many, turn to this passage for comfort.
But I have realized that if we limit our meditation to these verses alone, Paul’s main point of the passage is often missed. His reassurance is not meant to be a detached snippet of advice. It is actually part of an unfolding process that brings the peace of God in the deepest way imaginable. These verses are part of a unified response to a real life situation in the Philippian church and are meant to be read in light of that fact. So let’s look at what Paul shares about these circumstances a little earlier in the chapter.
It’s a common situation; there has been a conflict in the church. We don’t know the exact issues, but conflict is always upsetting and it is likely there was a fair amount of anxiety present for those involved. We can see that two women, Euodia and Syntyche, had a disagreement, and Paul is encouraging a particular brother, a “loyal yokefellow,” to come alongside these sisters and help them address it (4:2–3). Then, over the next several verses, Paul urges them to do several things: to rejoice, to pray, to think about what is good and, finally, to imitate him—all with a larger goal in mind. Let’s look at these a little more closely.
Rejoice because the Lord is near
Amid the contentious dynamics in Philippi, Paul’s words are striking: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (4.4). This might seem odd at first. Is he sure that the conflict these sisters are facing will be settled? He appears hopeful toward that end, but that is not why he says they should rejoice. Rather, they should rejoice because the Lord is near (4:5). Rejoicing in God’s presence helps them (and us!) to approach conflict in a state of mind that allows humility and grace to flourish, rather than defensiveness and judgment.
Pray without limitation
After grounding his advice and encouragement in the nearness of God, Paul urges them to pray without limitation: “… in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (4:6). Even when a situation is conflicted, even when anxiety reigns, we can seek peace and find it in him: “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:7). It is a blessing to attain relief from these inner storms of anxiety through honest, heartfelt prayer. What could be better than the peace of God?
Yet Paul’s message to his readers continues.
Think about good things
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (4:8)
So, in the face of conflict and anxiety, Paul has reminded his readers that they can find joy in the nearness of God and peace through thankful petition. Now he invites them to direct their thoughts toward subjects that will inspire truth, nobility, beauty, etc. When we think about good things, we are thinking God’s thoughts after him. Recognizing what is praiseworthy invites us to praise the One who is near.
Imitate me: Act
Then, Paul urges his readers to act, to imitate him.
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put this into action. (4:9)
So what have the Philippians (and we) seen and heard from Paul? He is a man who practices what he preaches. His testimony here and throughout the New Testament shows a man who continually seeks to know God, a man who amid his own pressures and anxieties brings his requests to God through prayer and petition, and who thinks, and speaks on what God says is good and true.
“And the God of peace will be with you.”
Rejoice, pray, think, imitate—these all are good goals—but not the final goal. His interest is more transformational. In verse 9 he says:
“And the God of peace will be with you.”
This is the promise that Paul holds most dear and wants the Philippians and us to experience as he has—the presence of the God of peace. This is the main point after all and what the previous verses are leading up to. Paul is able to rejoice because God is near to him. He is near when hardship is present and when it is overcome. Paul is able to be content in all circumstances because the Lord is with him. So, yes—we want to bring all of our requests to God and experience the peace that can calm our hearts and lessen our anxiety when times are hard. And yes, we want to think true and good thoughts and live in godly ways. But in the end, peace is found through an intimate relationship with God—the God of peace with you.
Let us follow Paul’s lead. Let’s strive toward internal peace in times of anxiety and peacemaking in the midst of conflict, but let us not stop there. Ultimately, why settle only for the peace of God, great blessing that it is, when we can have growing intimacy with the God of peace himself?
Anxious people, let us rejoice! The Lord—the God of peace—is near.
A friend is currently reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He says it’s taken a good few hundred pages, but at last he is really into it. It’s like that with books sometimes. They take a while to grab your attention. Generally, the turning point happens when you finally start to care about the characters—when what happens to them matters to you.
Something similar can happen with The Book. A moment comes when reading the Bible stops being a chore and becomes a pleasure. When, in other words, it becomes what it claims to be—a delight, a treasure, the very words of life. (Jer 15:16; Prov 7:1; Phil 2:16)
That moment may mark the point a person first becomes a believer. You might hear it in a testimony: “It was as if the words came alive”; “I just couldn’t stop reading”; “It finally made sense to me and the effect was electric.”
But that kind of shift can happen in a believer’s life as well. It might be when a period of spiritual dryness comes to an end. Or a major life change is approaching. Or a particular spiritual challenge. Most of us experience ebbs and flows in our devotional life, but sometimes the tide turns so rapidly it really does feel as if we are reading a new book.
So, here’s a question worth answering: is there anything we can do to trigger that kind of moment? In a dry spell, is there something that will foster some new spiritual energy? When reading has become a chore what, if anything, can shift us away from duty and toward delight?
Well, much like my friend with War and Peace, a good place to start is to revisit our interest in the characters. Or perhaps I should say, character. For the Bible is really a book about one person: God. He is the hero on every page. How much do we really care about him? So much of the time we read the Bible as if it were all about us. How can I find some comfort? How can I get a little guidance? How can I be spiritually strong? We come to the Bible as if it were a self-help manual, as if its prime purpose were to help us fix our problems. But it isn’t.
The Bible’s prime purpose is to bring glory to God. It does that by declaring his excellence and establishing his kingdom and, finally and wonderfully, by bringing all things together under one Head, even Christ (Eph 1:10). As long as we insist on reading the Bible as if it were all about us, we will not only miss the point, we will find it dull because we won’t be interested in the character that it is describing—God himself.
We would also do well to bring some questions. Passive reading is never a great success; but to read actively; to be full of puzzles as we come to God’s Word, that helps a lot. Thrillers and whodunnits and mystery books are always good for night-time reading because they keep our interest even when we are tired. The Bible, too, is a kind of mystery thriller. Admittedly it is a mystery made known (Eph 3:3), but it is a mystery that we will go on exploring into eternity and still never really fathom (1 Tim 3:16). So be intrigued, be puzzled. Instead of reading God’s Word to confirm the stuff we believe already, we should go searching for the surprises. When we come to the bits that seem a little odd or that we are sure can’t mean what they seem to be saying, those are usually the points when God is about to show us something new; something we hadn’t previously understood. It will be dull if we treat the Bible as if it were nothing more than the same old, same old. But the fact is that God has uncovered mysteries into which even the angels in heaven long to gaze. (1 Pet 1:12)
How is the Bible to you at the moment? A page turner or a turn off-er?
These and similar questions about bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference. Click here for more information and to register.