“Not as Secular as it Looks”

John Stott, before his death in 2011, sat down with Tim Stafford from Christianity Today, and addressed questions on the global state of Christianity. At one point in the interview, he perceptively offered insight into the longings still that haunt a secular culture. He gives tremendous insight for directing approaches in which we can faithfully witness to Christ in our increasingly secular context.

Q. What about what some call the greatest mission field, which is our own secularizing or secularized culture? What do we need to do to reach this increasingly pagan society?

A. I think we need to say to one another that it’s not as secular as it looks. I believe that these so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is transcendence. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God?

The second is significance. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. We do. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced.

And third is their quest for community. Everywhere, people are looking for community, for relationships of love. This is a challenge to our fellowship. I’m very fond of 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The invisibility of God is a great problem to people. The question is how has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? First, Christ has made the invisible God visible. That’s John’s Gospel 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

People say that’s wonderful, but it was 2,000 years ago. So in 1 John 4:12, he begins with exactly the same formula, nobody has ever seen God. But here John goes on, “If we love one another, God abides in us.” The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian community, if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a community of love.

These three things about our humanity are on our side in our evangelism, because people are looking for the very things we have to offer them.

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (Part 5)

We are continuing on with John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader. His thoughts on “The Outer Circle of Spiritual Leadership” are below.

9. ABLE TO TEACH

It is not surprising to me that some of the great leaders at our church have been men who are also significant teachers. According to 1 Timothy 3:2, anyone who aspires to the office of overseer in the church should be able to teach. What is a good teacher? I think a good teacher has at least the following characteristics:

• A good teacher asks himself the hardest questions, works through to answers, and then frames provocative questions for his learners to stimulate their thinking.

• A good teacher analyzes his subject matter into parts and sees relationships and discovers the unity of the whole.

• A good teacher knows the problems learners will have with his subject matter and encourages them and gets them over the humps of discouragement.

• A good teacher foresees objections and thinks them through so that he can answer them intelligently.

• A good teacher can put himself in the place of a variety of learners and therefore explain hard things in terms that are clear from their standpoint.

• A good teacher is concrete, not abstract, specific, not general, precise, not vague, vulnerable, not evasive.

• A good teacher always asks, “So what?” and tries to see how discoveries shape our whole system of thought. He tries to relate discoveries to life and tries to avoid compartmentalizing.

• The goal of a good teacher is the transformation of all of life and thought into a Christ-honoring unity.

10. A GOOD JUDGE OF CHARACTER

Jesus knew the hearts of men (John 2:17), and he urged us to be perceptive in assessing others (Matthew 7:15ff). Leaders must know who is fit for what kind of work. Good leaders have good noses. They can sniff out barnacles in a hurry, that is, people who are forever listening but never learning or changing. They can detect potential when they see it in a beginner. They can hear in a short time the echoes of pride and hypocrisy and worldliness. The spiritual leader steers a careful course between the dangers of rigid pigeonholing on the one hand and indifference on the other hand.

11. TACTFUL

Paul said in Colossians 4:5–6, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” And the writer of Proverbs said, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). We must remember that leaders are aiming to change hearts, not just to get jobs done. Therefore, alienating people unnecessarily is self-defeating. Tact is that quality of grace that wins the confidence of people who are sure you won’t do or say something stupid. You can’t inspire a following if people have to hang their heads in embarrassment at the inappropriate and insensitive things you say or do. Tact is especially needed in a leader to help cope with embarrassing or tragic situations.

For example, very often when you are leading a group someone will say something totally irrelevant, which is recognized to be very foolish by everyone in the group. A tactful leader must be able to divert the attention of the group back to the main course of the discussion without heaping scorn upon the individual. Another example, which I recall, comes from my experience at Wheaton College. I was present at the chapel service where V. Raymond Edman had a heart attack in the pulpit and fell over and died. Hudson Armerding, who followed him as president, was sitting behind him when Dr. Edman paused in his lecture, took one step to the side, and fell over. In one of the most beautiful and sensitive demonstrations of tact that I have ever seen, Dr. Armerding quickly kneeled beside him as 2,000 students fell silent. Then he stood, led us in a brief prayer committing Dr. Edman to the Lord, and dismissed the students quietly. Dr. Edman died as we walked out.

The tact of a leader must demonstrate itself in forthright confrontation. The person who is unwilling to approach a person who needs admonition or rebuke will not be a successful spiritual leader. Combined with his judgment of people’s character, a leader’s tact will enable him to handle delicate negotiations and  opposing viewpoints. His choice of words will be astute rather than clumsy. (There is a big difference between saying, “Your foot is too big for this shoe” and “This shoe is too small for your foot.”)

12. THEOLOGICALLY ORIENTED

Colossians 3:17 says, “Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and 1 Corinthians 2:16 speaks of the spiritual man as having “the mind of Christ.” A spiritual leader knows that all of life, down to its smallest detail, has to do with God. If we are to lead people to see and reflect God’s glory, we must think theologically about everything. We must work toward a synthesis of all things. We must probe to see how things fit together. How do war and sports and pornography and birthday celebrations and literature and space travel and disease and enterprise all hang together? How do they relate to God and his purposes?

Leaders must have a theological standpoint that helps give coherence to all things. This will give the leader a stability that keeps him from being knocked off his feet by sudden changes in circumstances or new winds of doctrine. He knows enough about God and his ways that things generally fit into a pattern and make sense even when they are unpleasant. So the leader does not throw up his hands but points the way onward to God.

For Better or for Worse…

Letter from James C. Dobson, Sr. to his then fiancé and future wife Myrtle:

I want you to understand and be fully aware of my feelings concerning marriage covenant which we are about to enter. I have been taught at my mothers knee, and in harmony with the word of God that the marriage vows are inviolable, and in entering into them I’m binding myself to you absolutely and for life. The idea of estrangement from you through divorce for any reason (although God allows one – infidelity) will never at any time be allowed to enter into my thinking. I am not naïve in this. On the contrary, I am fully aware of the possibility, unlikely as it now appears, that mutual incompatibility or other unforeseen circumstances could result in extreme mental suffering. If such becomes the case, I’m resolved for my part to accept it as a consequence of the commitment I am now making and to bear it, if necessary, to the end of our lives together. I have loved you dearly as a sweetheart and will continue to love you as my wife. But over and above that, I will love you with a Christian love…And I pray that God Himself will make our affection for one another perfect and eternal.”

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (Part 4)

We are continuing on with John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader. His thoughts on “The Outer Circle of Spiritual Leadership” are below.

5. THICK-SKINNED

At least this much is sure in leadership: If you begin to lead others, you will be criticized. No one will be a significant spiritual leader if his aim is to please others and seek their approval. Paul said in Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Spiritual leaders do not seek the praises of men. They seek to please God. Dr. Carl Lundquist, former President of Bethel College and Seminary, said in his final report to the Baptist General Conference that there was hardly  one of the twenty-eight years in which he  served that he was not actively opposed by  many people.

If criticism disables us, we will never make it as spiritual leaders. I don’t mean that we must be the kind of people who don’t feel hurt, but rather that we must not be wiped out by the hurt. We must be able to say with Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:8, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” We will feel the criticism, but we will not be incapacitated by it. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16, “We do not lose heart.”

Leaders must be able to digest depression because they will eat plenty of it. There will be many days when the temptation is very strong to quit because of unappreciative people. Criticism is one of Satan’s favorite weapons to try to get effective Christian leaders to throw in the towel.

I should, however, qualify this characteristic of being thick-skinned. I do not want to give the impression that spiritual leaders are closed off to legitimate criticism. A good leader must not only be thick-skinned but also open and humbly ready to accept and apply just criticism. No leader is perfect, and Jonathan Edwards said once that he made it a spiritual discipline to look for the truth in every criticism that came his way before he discarded it. That’s good advice.

6. ENERGETIC

Lazy people cannot be leaders. Spiritual leaders “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16). They work while it is day, because they know that night comes when no man can work (John 9:4). They do “not grow weary of doing good,” for they know that in due season they shall reap if they do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9). They are “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). But they do not take credit for this great energy or boast in their efforts because they say with the apostle Paul, “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). And: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29).

The world is run by tired men, someone has said. A leader must learn to live with pressure. None of us accomplish very much without deadlines, and deadlines always create a sense of pressure. A leader does not see the pressure of work as a curse but as a glory. He does not desire to fritter away his life in excess leisure. He loves to be productive. And he copes with the pressure and prevents it from becoming worrisome with promises like Matthew 11:27–28 and Philippians 4:7–8 and Isaiah 64:4.

7. A HARD THINKER

Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Corinthians 14:20). It is not easy to be a leader of people who can outthink you. A leader must be one who, when he sees a set of circumstances, thinks about it. He sits down with pad and pencil, and he doodles and writes and creates. He tests all things with his mind and holds fast to what is good is, not gullible or faddish or trendy. He weighs things and considers pros and cons and always has a significant rationale for the decisions that he makes. Careful and rigorous thought is not contrary to a reliance on prayer and divine revelation. The apostle Paul said  to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over  what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” In other words, God’s way of imparting to us insight is not to short-circuit the intellectual process.

8. ARTICULATE

It is hard to lead others if you cannot state your thoughts clearly and forcefully. Leaders like Paul aim to persuade men, not coerce them  (2 Corinthians 5:11). Leaders who are spiritual do not muster a following with hot air or waves or words but rather with crisp, solid, compelling sentences. The apostle Paul aimed, like all good leaders, at clarity in what he said. According  to Colossians 4:4, he asked the people to pray for him, “that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.” It is astonishing and lamentable how many people today cannot speak in complete sentences. The result is that a great fog surrounds their thought.

Neither they nor their listeners know exactly what they are talking about. A haze settles over the discussion, and you walk away wondering what it was all about. If no one rises above the muddle-headedness and verbal chaos of “You know . . . I mean . . . Just really,” there will not be any leadership.

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (Part 3)

We are continuing on with John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader. His thoughts on “The Outer Circle of Spiritual Leadership” are below.

THE OUTER CIRCLE OF SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

Everyone in the church has one or more spiritual gifts. Everyone should be involved in ministry. Everyone should be seeking to lead others to the point where they bring glory to God by the way they think and feel and act. But there are some people to whom the risen and reigning Christ has given qualities of personality that tend to make them more able leaders than others. Not all of these qualities are distinctively Christian, but when the Holy Spirit fills a person’s life each of these qualities is harnessed and transformed for God’s purposes.

1. RESTLESS

Spiritual leaders have a holy discontentment with the status quo. Non-leaders have inertia that causes them to settle in and makes them very hard to move off of dead center. Leaders have a hankering to change, to move, to reach out, to grow, and to take a group or an institution to new dimensions of ministry. They have the spirit of Paul, who said in Philippians 3:13, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Leaders are always very goal-oriented people.

God’s history of redemption is not finished. The church is shot through with imperfections, lost sheep are still not in the fold, needs of every sort in the world are unmet, sin infects the saints. It is unthinkable that we should be content with things the way they are in a fallen world and an imperfect church. Therefore, God has been pleased to put a holy restlessness into some of his people, and those people will very likely be the leaders.

2. OPTIMISTIC

Spiritual leaders are optimistic not because man is good but because God is in control. The leader must not let his discontentment become disconsolation. When he sees the imperfection of the church, he must say with the writer of Hebrews, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” (Hebrews 6:9). The foundation of his life is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his  purpose.” He reasons with Paul that, “He who did not spare his own son, but gave him  up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Without this confidence based upon the goodness of God manifested in Jesus Christ,  the leader’s perseverance would falter and the people would not be inspired. Without  optimism, restlessness becomes despair.

3. INTENSE

The great quality I want in my associates is one of intensity. Romans 12:8 says that if your gift is leadership do it “with zeal.” Romans 12:11 says, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit.” When the disciples remembered the way Jesus had behaved in relation to the temple of God, they characterized it with words from the Old Testament like this, “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:17). The leader follows the advice of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.”

When Jonathan Edwards was a young man, he wrote a list of about 70 resolutions. The one that has inspired me the most goes like this: “To live with all my might while I live.” Count Zinzendorf of the Moravians said, “I have one passion. It is He and He alone.” Jesus warns us in Revelation 3:16 that he does not have any taste for people who are lukewarm: “So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Spiritual leaders must go out alone somewhere and ponder what unutterable and stupendous things they know about God. If their life is one extended yawn, they are simply blind. Leaders must give evidence that the things of the Spirit are intensely real. They cannot do that unless they are intense themselves.

4. SELF-CONTROLLED

By self-controlled I do not mean prim and proper, but rather master of our drives. If we are to lead others toward God, we cannot be led ourselves toward the world. According to Galatians 5:23, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. It is not mere willpower. It is appropriating the power of God to get mastery over our emotions and our appetites that could lead us astray or cause us to occupy our time with fruitless endeavors. In 1 Corinthians 6:12 Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.”

The Christian leader must ruthlessly examine his life to see whether he is the least enslaved by television, Internet, social media, food, alcohol, coffee, soda, sports, computer games, shopping, romance novels, pornography, masturbation, or people-pleasing. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” And he says in Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passion and desires.” Spiritual leaders ruthlessly track down bad habits and break them by the power of the Spirit. They hear and follow Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” Spiritual leaders long to be free from everything that hinders their fullest delight in God and service of others.

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (Part 2)

We are continuing on with John Piper’s The Marks of a Spiritual Leader. His thoughts on “The Inner Circle of Spiritual Leadership” are below.

4. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR HELPLESSNESS

But finally, we must ask: how does a person come to be willing to spend time with and be open to the word of God? The answer seems to be that we must acknowledge our helplessness. All true spiritual leadership has its roots in desperation. Jesus commended the man who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Jesus said of his own ministry, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

This means that the beginning of spiritual leadership must be in the acknowledgement that we are the sick who need a physician. Once we are humbled to the point of desperation, we will be open to reading the doctor’s prescription.

And as we read the wonderful promises that are there for those of us who trust the doctor, our faith will grow strong and our hope will become solid. And when our faith is strong and our hope is solid all the barriers to love, like greed and fear, will be swept away. When we become the kind of people who can risk our lives, even for our enemies, and who don’t hold grudges and who devote our energies to do others good rather than seeking our own aggrandizement, then people will see and give glory to our father in heaven.

The implication of this inner circle of leadership is that in order to lead you have to be out ahead of your people in Bible study and prayer. I think there will be no successful spiritual leadership without extended seasons of prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Spiritual leaders ought to rise early in order to meet God before they meet anybody else. They will probably want to keep a journal of insights and ideas as they read the Bible and pray. They will want to read books about the Bible and about prayer. They will want to take a periodic half-day or daylong retreat with a Bible and a notebook and a hymnbook. If you want to be a great leader of people, you have to get away from people at times to be with God.

HUDSON TAYLOR’S EXAMPLE

Dr. Howard Taylor, in Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, describes an experience that he had traveling with his father, Hudson Taylor, through China. He writes,

It was not easy for Mr. Taylor, in his changeful life, to make time for prayer and Bible study, but he knew that it was vital. Well do the writers remember traveling with him month after month in northern China, by cart and wheelbarrow, with the poorest of inns at night. Often with only one large room for coolies and travelers alike, they would screen off a corner for their father and another for themselves, with curtains of some sort; and then, after sleep at last had brought a measure of quiet, they would hear a match struck and seek the flicker of candlelight which told that Mr. Taylor, however weary, was pouring over the little Bible in two volumes always at hand. From two to four A.M. was the time he usually gave to prayer; the time when he could be most sure of being undisturbed to wait upon God. That flicker of candlelight has meant more to them than all they have read or heard on secret prayer; it meant reality, not preaching but practice.

The hardest part of the missionary career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.

GEORGE MUELLER’S EXAMPLE

George Mueller is noteworthy for his great faith in the work of his orphanages. In his autobiography, he has a section entitled, “How to be Constantly Happy in the Lord.” He complains how for years he used to try to pray early in the morning and found that his mind wandered again and again. Then he made a discovery. He records it like this:

The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.

The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . .Before this time my practice had been at least for ten years previously as a habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began, therefore, to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning.

The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.

The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me that food for my soul as the object of my meditation.

The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation and that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.

Now that God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as everyone must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.

By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I have ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!

It should be an encouragement to all of us to persevere in meditation upon the Scriptures when we read a letter which, in 1897, George Mueller sent to the British and Foreign Bible Society in which he had to excuse himself from attending a meeting in Burmingham. He said, “Will you have the kindness to read to the meeting that I have been for sixty-eight years and three months, viz., since July, 1929, a lover of the word of God and that uninterruptedly.

During this time I have read considerably more than one hundred times through the whole of the Old and New Testaments with prayer and meditation.” If we are going to be powerful spiritual leaders we must move in the direction of Hudson Taylor and George Mueller.

 

 

The Marks of a Spiritual Leader (Part 1)

Ephesians 4:12 tells us that God has given leaders to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry, building her up in the faith and knowledge of God. Reflecting on this reality, John Piper has put together a work that describes what Spiritual Leadership looks like in action and identifies the marks of a Spiritual Leader. The following are Piper’s words on this matter:

“I define spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power. The answer to where God wants people to be is in a spiritual condition and lifestyle that display his glory and honor his name. Therefore, the goal of spiritual leadership is that people come to know God and to glorify him in all that they do. Spiritual leadership is aimed not so much at directing people as it is at changing people. If we would be the kind of leaders we ought to be, we must make it our aim to develop persons rather than dictate plans. You can get people to do what you want, but if they don’t change in their heart you have not led them spiritually. You have not taken them to where God wants them to be.

Biblical spiritual leadership contains an inner circle and an outer circle. The inner circle of spiritual leadership is that sequence of events in the human soul that must happen if anyone is to take the first step in spiritual leadership. These are the absolute bare essentials. They are things that all Christians must attain in some degree, and when they are attained with high fervor and deep conviction they very often lead one into strong leadership. In the outer circle are qualities that characterize both spiritual and non-spiritual leaders.

THE INNER CIRCLE OF SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP

1. THAT OTHERS WILL GLORIFY GOD

The ultimate goal of all spiritual leadership is that other people might come to glorify God, that is, might so feel and think and act as to magnify the true character of God. According to Matthew 5:14–16, one of the crucial means by which a Christian leader brings other people to glorify God is by being a person who loves both friend and foe. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father who is in heaven.”

This text shows that there is an attitude and lifestyle that is so distinctive that when it appears in the arena of fallen humanity, it gives valid evidence that there is a God, and he is a gloriously trustworthy heavenly Father.

When the reality of God’s promises to take care of us, and to work everything together for our good, grips our hearts so that we do not fall prey to greed or fear or vainglory, but rather manifest a contentment and a love and a freedom for other people, then the world will have to admit that the one who gives us hope and freedom must be real and glorious.

2. LOVE BOTH FRIEND AND FOE BY TRUSTING IN GOD AND HOPING IN HIS PROMISES

But how shall we attain to a love that is strong enough to bless and pray for its enemies? Te answer given in Scripture (and this is the third level in the inner circle) is that trust in God and hope in his promises leads to love.

Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” That is, when we have strong faith in the goodness of God it inevitably works itself out in love.

Colossians 1:4–5 says, “Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.” In other words, when our hope is strong we are freed from fears and cares that prevent the free exercises of love.

Therefore, a spiritual leader must be a person who has strong confidence in the sovereign goodness of God to work everything together for his good. Otherwise, he will inevitably fall into the trap of manipulating circumstances and exploiting people in order to secure for himself a happy future which he is not certain God will provide.

3. MEDITATE ON AND PRAY OVER HIS WORD

But how shall we sinners come to have this kind of confidence in God? Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” And Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” These two texts together show us that faith in God is rooted in God’s word. When we hear God’s word, especially the preaching of the person and work of Jesus, in whom all the promises of God have their yes, we are moved to trust him.

But this does not happen automatically. We must pray that our eyes be open to the true significance of the word of God in Scripture. So, the spiritual leader must be a person who meditates on the Scriptures and prays for spiritual illumination. Otherwise, his faith will grow weak and his love will languish, and no one will be moved to glorify God because of him.”

To be continued…

 

Biblical Counseling 101

Though biblical counseling as a subject and practice is both complex and broad, Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju, in their book The Pastor and Counseling, do us a great service by helping us grasp some of the basics of biblical counseling. It’s most necessary elements can be boiled down to moving from listening to considering to speaking:

  • You listen to the problem – to understand the context of the person’s life and troubles (Prov. 18:2, 13; James 1:19).
  • You consider heart responses – how the person’s heart is responding to God, to self, to others, and to circumstances (Prov. 20:5).
  • You speak truth in love – in order to teach, comfort, warn, encourage, advise, and admonish as appropriate (2 Cor. 2; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:14).

These three actions – listening, considering, speaking – are key:

1. Listen to the problem. You want to know what is going on, but people often share their troubles haphazardly, piling up details in an unorganized lump. You can sort things into smaller piles and help a person organize what he is saying. Here are some diagnostic questions:

  • Circumstances. First, what is going on? What circumstances seem most important to the person?
  • Other people. Who are the most prominent people in their story? How are they treating him? How is he treating them?
  • Self. What is his posture toward his troubles? Does he see himself as a victim, perpetrator, inferior, superior, ignorant, insightful, confused, clear-headed, guilty, innocent?
  • God. How is the person factoring (or not factoring) God into his troubles? What is his perspective of the Lord’s involvement with his predicament?

2. Consider heart responses. After you’ve found out the basics of what’s going on, you want to consider how the person’s heart is responding in each of these areas. His responses will be characterized either by faith or by a number of other things – fear, anger, discouragement, lust, indulgence, escape, ignorance, sadness, disappointment, discontentment, suspicion.

  • Circumstances. Does the person recognize the difference between his circumstances and his response to his circumstances? Is his response characterized by faith or by something else?
  • Other people. Is this person loving others? Is he being influenced by others in unbiblical ways?
  • Self. What is this person’s functional identity – the beliefs or values about himself that shape his conduct? How does this identity align with what God says about him in the gospel?
  • God. Does this person trust God to be who he says he is and to do what he says he will do? Or is there some preferred version of God he’s quietly holding?

3. Speak the truth in love. Speaking accurately to the need of the heart comes only after listening and considering. The goal is to call people to faith in a way that specifically addresses their heart responses, since faith alone is the means by which a person responds rightly (Heb. 11:6, 13-16; 12:1-2). And faith comes through hearing the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17).  This is why counseling must be biblical. Here are some appropriate ways you can speak to a person’s need:

  • Circumstances. We are to give biblical guidance appropriate to the situation. Fro those grieving, we comfort them by pointing to the hope found in God (Rom. 8:18-25). For the abused, we protect them from the abuser with the law (Rom. 13:1-4) and call them to forgive (Luke 6:27-36). For the anxious, we help them understand that fear reveals desires that must be actively entrusted to a loving God (Phil. 4:4-13).
  • Other people. Active faith means loving others instead of fearing or using them (Rom. 13:8-10). You help people see what it means to believe the best about others while being realistic about their faults and sins (Rom. 12:17-21). You help them know how to lay down personal interests for the sake of others (Phil. 2:1-8).
  • Self. We are to call people out of rival identities and into Christ as the source of identity. These identities are where people try to find life – as a successful businessman, a capable mother – so finding confidence in these is a direct competitor to confidence in Christ alone (Phil. 3:3-16).
  • God. Most importantly, we are to help people have a more accurate view of God from his Word. You help them to know and trust God as the only way for human life to be meaningful and to yield lasting change in the soul (Jer. 9:23-24; Col. 1:9-10).