Encourage the Fainthearted

Gérôme, The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, 1863
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, the apostle Paul instructed his readers to, "...admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all." This verse is a rallying cry within the biblical counseling movement, and a pillar of the work we perform at Baylight.

Counseling those who suffer across a broad spectrum of issues, and conditions is at the heart of our mission. Helping them to patiently endure suffering as they learn, or are gently reminded that the sufferings of this present life are "not worthy of comparison to the weight of glory that is to come" (Rom. 8:18) is a privilege, and one that is undertaken with gentleness, care, and concern.

For those on the outside of God's kingdom, or perhaps even for those believers who have been persuaded by a prosperity view of the gospel that suffering is to be avoided at all costs, and at all times, the biblical message concerning suffering is simply untenable. The notion that a loving God would allow, much less bring a season of suffering to the door of his child makes him akin to a "cosmic child abuser," rather than a heavenly Father.

But, these and other similar views fail because they aren't developed out of an understanding of God's nature, as revealed in Scripture, or his purposes, and means in bringing about the end to sin, and death. They cannot see that it is through suffering, that redemptive history will reach its final destination.

So far as counseling is concerned, these under-developed, or even unbiblical views of human suffering threaten to rob the sufferer of the temporal, if not eternal rewards of suffering well, in the hope of the Gospel, and for the sake of Christ.

How then should we live? 

With the understanding that biblical counseling's goal is to shepherd the hurting heart into the arms of Jesus, it all depends on the individual circumstances. For example, the man who suffers from depression after losing his family to a sexual affair demands a response that is different from the child who has suffered abandonment. In both cases, the Gospel is the hope to which we call them, but the dialogue we engage in will look, and sound much different.

With gentleness, however, and in age-appropriate ways, we can help those who suffer find Christ in the middle of their storm, whether He chooses to calm it immediately, or deliver them through it. Our role as encouragers is to help the suffering lay hold of the promises of God, and in so doing, to experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and which will guard their hearts and minds from feelings of abandonment, hopelessness, and purposelessness (Phil.4:7).

This issue of suffering, taken to its logical end, will unfurl a conversation on the so-called "problem of evil." That's beyond the scope of this discussion. My point in this post is to help those of us who are encouragers to take greater care in developing our theology of suffering before we are actually called into duty. If we don't, we risk defaulting to Christian clichés that are more often than not unhelpful, if not untrue.

On the other hand, I want to encourage those who face suffering today of some timeless truths. While we cannot always say precisely why we suffer, we can say with confidence that God is with us, God is good, God is good to us, and God is up to something good in our lives through whatever trial we face. And, through it all, He is fashioning us into the likeness of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29).

I don't recall where I heard this, but it is a true statement that we must all reconcile sooner, rather than later, that we come to know God more fully in this life in the context of suffering. The Bible teaches that we will enter the kingdom of heaven through "many tribulations" (Acts 14:22).

To be sure, Christians are not called to run toward suffering for the sake of suffering alone, or to somehow infuse our salvation with merit. The Bible knows of no such attitude. The ascetics were all wrong on this. But, the Christian faith has more to say about suffering than any other worldview. And, it is overflowing with hope, not only for today, but for eternity.

In his newer book on the subject, Tim Keller writes, "Suffering dispels the illusion that we have the strength and competence to rule our own lives and save ourselves. People 'become nothing through suffering' so that they can be filled with God and his grace." 

He then goes on to quote Martin Luther, who said:

It is God’s nature to make something out of nothing; hence one who is not yet nothing, out of him God cannot make anything, and therefore God accepts only the forsaken, cures only the sick, gives sight only to the blind, restores life only to the dead, sanctifies only the sinners, gives wisdom only to the unwise. In short, He has mercy only on those who are wretched.

So, today, whether you suffer because you are physically sick, or spiritually blind, Christ is the ultimate source of your hope, and mine. Rest in Him.

If, by God's grace, you are called to serve as an encourager to the sufferer, remember that at the point of crisis or trauma, your mere presence may be more valuable than your words of wisdom. Resist the urge to do all of the talking, but take the time to listen well. When the dust has settled, gently remind your friend of God's immanence, or presence, and be ready to provide logistical, practical support.

Keller, Timothy (2013-10-01). Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (pp. 49-50). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

5 Reasons Why Your Church Should Embrace Biblical Counseling

Here are five reasons why every local church ought to be embracing biblical counseling ministry:
  1. The underlying foundations of secular psychology, to which the church has turned for healing of mental health syndromes, are often bathed in humanism, materialism, Darwinian evolution, and other anti-Gospel world views. 
  2. Contrary to popular belief, the biblical counseling movement recognizes the differences between sin and suffering, as well as the venues out of which mental disorders may arise (volitional, environmental, or biological).
  3. Biblical counseling embraces that people have a body and a soul, and that some emotional problems do indeed have an organic component, and may therefore require medical intervention.
  4. As biblical counseling is deeply rooted in Christian discipleship, it is evangelistic in nature, and concerned with leading the counselee into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ, rather than with mere behavior modification or symptom alleviation.
  5. Biblical counseling holds that counseling ministry belongs in and to the church, therefore it seeks to equip and mobilize the church to fulfill the command to "bear one another's burdens," a role that has been lost on the church with the advent of secular psychotherapy.
Would you add any reasons of your own to this list? If so, what would they be?

In the following CCEF ARTICLE by Dr. David Powlison, he identifies five reasons why counseling belongs in the church. It's an excellent article, and I encourage you to check it out.

Scripture: Genesis 2:7; Romans 15:14; Galatians 6:2

Mental Health Counseling and the Church

If John the Baptist walked into your church next Sunday morning, would he be welcomed, or would his apparent lack of mental stability frighten the body, and cause noses to be turned up toward the sky?

I open with this question not to offer commentary on John’s mental health, but to press in on our ability and willingness to understand and minister to those who dress in animal skins, eat bugs for dinner, and reside in less than desirable conditions.

By all accounts, John the Baptist would fit today’s description of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP). With a ruddy complexion, and an appearance that would make some good Christians uncomfortable, his entrance into a packed sanctuary would leave just a few clutching their children tightly, and secretly praying, “Oh, dear Lord, don’t let him sit by me.”

But, this example is too easy. It’s too much of a cliché. While there’s always a group of us in the body who secretly desire John to sit elsewhere, there’s also a group of us who revel in the opportunity to show how spiritual we are—sitting with John, it turns out, is sometimes our way of proclaiming our fast to the masses (Matt. 6:16).

Here’s a challenge: If we invite John to sit with us in church on Sunday, but wouldn’t think of inviting him to dinner on Monday, what does this really say about the direction we’re moving in as God’s people, in relation to those with apparent mental health disorders?

In a broad sense, the church in America is still too distant, but growing closer to those with these and similar concerns. Some generations ago, as modernity took control of society’s understanding of man’s condition, it gave up the proper place of counseling within the church almost entirely to the field of secular psychology.

The end of this is that, today, if you want to get well, you go see your psychiatrist, begin a regimen of psychotropic drugs, and only then, if you still desire a little entertainment, you talk to a naive pastor about God. Considering that the field of psychology is founded upon the work of men who denied the very existence of God and man’s need of the Gospel, this reality shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Things are changing though.

Thanks to the good work of some of God’s most gifted men and women in our own time, folks like David Powlison, Brad Hambrick, Ed Welch, and Elyse Fitzpatrick, the body/soul connection is being re-established in the middle of a culture bent on the denial of Christ. Once again, the word of God is being elevated to its proper place in our anthropology—and that place is not in subjection to man’s theories about the causes of behavior and the appropriate remedies.

We call this movement Biblical Counseling.

Not to be confused with the field of Christian Counseling, Biblical Counseling is re-discovering for the church at large the many and diverse ways that the Bible speaks with precision to our sin and suffering. Once again, sense is being made of the condition of man. Where modernity distorted truth, and left us gasping for answers it promised but never delivered, God still speaks.

In past generations, Christians were told to move away from those who suffered from various mental health maladies. Conditions like depression, anxiety, fear, worry, anger, bitterness, and even more complex mood disorders, it was said, can only be understood by learned men in white coats. With increasing intensity, the church was informed that it had little or nothing to offer those who needed help.

The experts couldn’t have been farther from the truth (2 Tim. 3:16).

Today, armed with the inerrant, infallible, and authoritative word of God, a growing consensus within the church is seeing to it that we’re once again moving toward those with mental health concerns, instead of drifting away. As long as we have the word of God, we will have a word from God to deliver to those who are struggling. And none of this precludes or denies the good work and contributions of modern science.  

With confidence, the church is being empowered to help the weak, admonish the unruly, and encourage the faint hearted (1 Thess. 5:14). Here is the work of ministry as it was intended in the beginning, moving toward those in need, and extending the hope of healing and restoration to the hopeless.

We do this for John, because Christ did it for us (Romans 5:8).