Counseling Others

naomi-ruth

Ruth and Naomi

In the last several years, I have grown very skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel.  For the most part I have refrained from doing so, and rather have attempted to introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus.  Its like a triangle– Jesus, them, and myself occupying each corner.  All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord.  Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.

Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information.  Your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she opens up in that situation.  Almost all of the the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place”.  A key fact is getting your “permission to counsel.” This must happen in order for the counselee to really receive.

Job and his Three Friends

Usually when I meet with someone, I do not attempt to sound profound, or wise.  Far from it! Instead, I am wary of myself.  I think I’m like a flare shot up in the inky darkness, I  just want to give a few brief moments of illumination before the moment passes. But when God speaks he will enlighten fully and bring understanding. “In his light, we see light”, (Ps. 36:9).

Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors.  The problem came when they began to verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place.  Very often I find that people have a need to be needed.  They give counsel so they can feel good about themselves.  There is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.

Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall.  Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged.  Just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative.  It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Yes, mistakes will be made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.

“Peer-to-peer” counseling is very much a blessing.  A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry.  But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience.  We should beware of the pitfalls, and wary of our flesh and its desire for greatness, glory and fame.  To be a counselor can be quite dangerous and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.

“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.”  Martin Luther

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”   Thomas Fuller

ybic, Bryan

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (3)

 
 

Overcoming Darkness: An Interview with Dr. Philip Mitchell

Dr. Philip Mitchell

Professor Mitchell, what is the difference between being depressed and just feeling bad about yourself?

Sometimes it’s easy to tell the difference; sometimes you’re not certain. I look for clinical indicators of depressive illness: whether the person’s life is becoming impaired by these bad feelings, when it’s starting to interfere with people’s sleep, appetite and weight, when it’s interfering with their work and concentration, they’re having suicidal thoughts, they can’t buck up. Those symptoms help me to sort out whether it’s just life problems or whether it’s more.

So depression is an illness?

Yes. Even though there are both psychological and physical parts to it, it makes sense to think of severe depression as an illness. There are good medical and psychological treatments that can help people get out of it.

What proportion of the population is depressed?

Figures vary, but over a lifetime about 15% of the population are prone to getting depression on at least one occasion. So it’s relatively common. Some people only have one episode, but for at least half of those who suffer depression once, it is a recurring experience.

Is depression the sort of thing that certain personality types are likely to suffer?

I think that’s true. Anybody is vulnerable to becoming depressed, if things get difficult for them, but some personality types are more prone than others. For instance, if you tend to look for your own failings and weaknesses, if you expect disasters, you are prone to becoming depressed. People who have fragile self-esteems are prone; people who are excessively perfectionistic can be thrown when things don’t go quite right; people who have long-term high levels of anxiety.

Can you describe what it is like to be depressed?

Patients find it quite hard to describe. They often use analogies, like there is a ‘black cloud’ or a ‘weight’ on them. They say that they just can’t enjoy things any more, that they can’t get the drive to do anything; they stay in bed because they just have no energy or enthusiasm. They tend to ruminate and think about their failings, their hopeless situation. But many people find it hard to communicate the experience; even very articulate people have told me how difficult it is to communicate the experience to other people.

On the other side of the fence, what is it like to be close to someone who is depressed?

I think it’s very wearing. It never ceases to amaze me how couples stay together, particularly when it’s prolonged. Even with the best of good will and human kindness, long-term depression can be a very tiring experience for a spouse or close friend. You may get little response from a depressed person, little enthusiasm, withdrawal. They don’t want to interact socially and sometimes they can be quite irritable. Within a marriage, tension may be increased because the depressed person has no interest in sexual activity. So these things exacerbate the problem.

I sometimes hear it said that depressed people ought to just ‘snap out of it’.  Can they do that?

Not when the depression is severe in the way we have been talking about. If someone can snap out of it, usually they have by that stage. In general, a depressed person doesn’t like the experience and if it was a matter of just getting on and doing something, they would have tried it. Sometimes people need to learn psychological ways of getting out of the depressed state. But sometimes there is a biochemical process going on that means the person isn’t physically able to snap out of it, without professional help.

Often there is a mixture of the physical and the psychological. It’s very rarely one or the other. The more I see depression, the more I see a complex interplay between personality, the biology of our brains and our life experience.

So depressed people can’t snap out of it, but they also can’t explain very easily what is actually troubling them. It’s a very frustrating illness!

Absolutely. It’s hard for people who haven’t dealt with it professionally to have any idea what it’s like to be depressed. So people have this difficulty understanding it, and this tendency to think that the person should be able to get out of it, and the depressed person has difficulty explaining the experience and feels frustrated and stigmatized when people are telling them to snap out of it, because they know they can’t snap out of it. There is enormous tension.

I suppose the big question is, for both the depressed person and those around them, can depression be cured?

Most people with depression can either be cured or significantly helped by available treatments. These days, we have very good treatments. We can’t help everybody, but we can help the vast majority of people we see.

Is it always a long-term cure, or can it happen quickly?

It varies. Often within a few weeks many people have benefited significantly. Some forms of depression require more long-term psychological treatment, others respond very quickly to medication. And there are grades in between.

Is depression like alcoholism, where you can get it under control but never really be beyond its reach?

For most people, that’s probably a realistic comparison. I tell people that they are always going to be prone to becoming depressed, so they need to be wary about relapses in the future. They need to be sensible about their medications, learn techniques to help them, think about whether there are aspects of their lives that they need to change. We can’t always prevent future episodes, but we can usually make them less likely.

William Cowper, Poet 1731-1800

The poet Les Murray recently has been very public about coming out of his depression. It’s interesting that some of the best poetry is written by people who have been depressed. Look at William Cowper, a Christian poet and hymn writer who wrote some of his most moving material during periods of profound depression. So depression can be both creative and destructive.

This raises an important issue for Christians. How do we connect our mental and our spiritual lives?

Cowper became very doubting at times, during his depression. One thing many Christian patients say is that God seems very distant during such periods. I’ve come to accept that as part of the depressive experience rather than a problem with their faith. I’ve seen people with a very deep faith, who yearn to be close to God, and who when depressed feel very barren and remote from God. For instance, J. B. Phillips, the Bible translator, was profoundly depressed for much of his adult life. He has described this sense of distance from God.

JB Phillips, 1906-1982

That is very distressing for Christians. They begin to worry that it is a lack of faith or lack of spiritual growth. But having seen it enough, I think it is just an expression of the depressive experience. Many Christians also feel that depression is a sign of weakness, of spiritual inadequacy, and they have a strong sense of guilt. Unfortunately, I think that often the church, explicitly or implicitly, has encouraged that—that if you have depression, it’s a reflection on your spiritual life. This adds an incredible burden to people who are already feeling guilty and self-critical. It’s a bit like Job’s encouragers, who basically made him feel worse.

Why does there seem to be a large number of depressed people in our churches?

It’s often the more sensitive people who become depressed, and there are often a lot of obsessional and sensitive people in churches. My experience is that there is a lot of depression in our congregations and that we don’t handle it at all well. We often infer, explicitly or implicitly, that the Christian shouldn’t have the experience of depression—that it’s not part of the victorious Christian life. And that causes enormous guilt and makes people less likely to talk about it. I think we have a lot of silent suffering going on in our churches. People just aren’t getting helped, because they feel guilty about having depression. We need to bring out into the open the fact that depression is a common experience, even within the church. And that being a Christian doesn’t stop you from getting depression. And that having depression is no more a failing than having diabetes.

In general, the church deals very badly with mental illness. In the middle ages, it was considered demon possession; in the late 20th century it’s considered a symptom of spiritual inadequacy. But it isn’t necessarily either of these things.

Are people in very demanding ministries especially prone?

They are prone; I don’t know about especially. They are in line for so many of the factors that contribute to depression: burn-out, demoralization, excessive demands, not looking after your own emotional needs, not having time to yourself. I see some of the casualties, and often by then it’s too late because someone has resigned from the ministry or become completely disillusioned. And it’s all too hidden, too hush-hush. We’re dealing with it no better than the secular world; in some ways we’re doing worse.

What then are the ways that a depressed person can be helped, both by individuals and by the church?

Well, especially in the early days, one can be supportive, help people get back into their lives—those normal things of friendship and support, being a sounding board, willing to listen to difficulties. These things might be sufficient to alleviate the early experience of depression.

But if we’re looking at a fully formed depression that’s been going on for a while, the person should be encouraged to seek proper professional help. That doesn’t always mean a psychiatrist; it might mean a GP or a counsellor. Just someone with the skills and training to help. So that’s the first thing, when the support networks have been stretched to the limit.

While that process is happening, it’s important to be around for the depressed person, accepting the fact that it might be a frustrating experience until that person picks up. Not feeling that you have to do everything yourself. There has to be a point where a friend accepts that they can’t provide everything the person needs. That point is usually indicated by signs like someone crying constantly, their work falling apart, withdrawing inexplicably, perhaps losing weight. These things indicate that the depression is getting severe.

Finally, do you think depression has become more of a problem today than it used to be?

It’s an area of debate. There’s no doubt that depression has always existed. The old Greek medical writers are clearly describing patients with depression. There was a book written in the 17th century called The Anatomy of Melancholy which described what we would call depressed patients. So it goes back through the ages; it’s part of the general human experience.

The issue is whether it has become more frequent. People have looked at the occurrence of depression in groups of people born in different decades in this century, and the frequency of occurrence seems to go up as the decades continue. People born in the 60s are more prone to depression than those at similar ages, but born in the 30s. Now, the significance of that is debated. It could be that people in recent decades simply have become more willing to admit to their depression, hence the higher rate of reports. Or it could be true that it is becoming a more common experience, and presumably that reflects changes in society. What those changes are is a very difficult question to answer.

So it’s hard to say whether the loneliness of urban living is a major factor?

Well yes, and it’s a very interesting area of debate. The World Health Organization has released predictions of the impact of different illnesses over the next century. They are saying that depression will be the 21st century’s most disabling condition, in terms of the impact on the individual, frequency and cost to society, on a worldwide basis. That survey included all medical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. So there is a recognition that it is a very prevalent condition, and that it is a very disabling condition to have. Whatever is causing it, we’re going to have to deal with it.

flourish-65

Philip Mitchell is a Professor at the School of Psychiatry, Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, Australia.

This article, quoted in its entirety can be found at “The Briefing” an online Christian magazine- http://matthiasmedia.com.au/briefing/longing/3959/

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (3)

Coming Home to Father

Rembrandt’s, “Parable of the Prodigal’s Son”

“He was yet a great way off, his father saw him.”

Luke 15:20

The boy had, in the far-away country, a vision of his old home. As he sat there and thought of his dishonor and his ruin, there flashed before him a picture which made him very home-sick. The vision brought back the old home in all its beauty and blessedness. There was plenty there, while here the once happy, favored son was now starving to death.

It was a blessed moment for the prodigal. It was God’s message to him, inviting him to return home. When a child is stolen away from a lovely and tender household, it may be kept among wandering gypsies or savage Indians even to old age, but there are always broken fragments of sweet memories that hang over the soul like trailing clouds in the sky — dim, shadowy memories of something very lovely, very pure, reminiscences of that long-lost, long-forgotten past, when the child lay on the mother’s arms, and was surrounded by beauty and tenderness.

So there is something in the heart of every one who has wandered from God that ever floats about him, even in sin’s revels — a fair, ethereal vision, dim and far away perhaps, but splendid as the drapery of the sunset. It is the memory of lost innocence, of the Father’s love, the vision of a heavenly beauty possible of restoration to the worst.

When the prodigal reached home he found his vision realized. His father was watching for him — had long been watching for him. It is a picture of the heavenly Father’s loving welcome of every lost child of His that comes back home. Thus He receives the worst who comes penitently. Our sweetest dreams of God’s love are a thousand times too poor and dim for the reality. A great way off God sees the returning prodigal, and runs to meet him. No matter how far we have wandered, there is a welcome waiting for us at home.

JR Miller

 


I have had to edit Pastor Miller’s comments a bit, but absolutely nothing to its original content or integrity. Whatever he has written carries the content he was realizing. I posted this on BB because of his sincere message and burden.

–Pastor Bryan 

 

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

An Open and Sincere Prayer

mental-health

Eternal Father, you alone fully know my past and the deeds I have done.  I ask that you remove from my burdened mind the guilt and darkness of those days.

Having been set free from this pain, I earnestly want you to direct my steps.  The futurebelongs to you and there is nothing more from me that would desire the dark.  I have had enough of sin and the vain delights of this world.  I am yours forever.

Lord, I struggle with my depression.  It trips me up at times and I let it take control. Forgive me.  Unless you bring your light I will continue to struggle further while sinking deeper. I so need your help in this.

 

Help me to reach forward to the prize of the upward call of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Help me to forget the ugly past and lunge for the tape.  Amen.

________

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.”

Philippians 3, the Message

*

Hope this blesses you today.

 

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (3)

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

 

062_dont_waste_your_sorrows

These little troubles are getting us ready for an eternal glory that will make all our troubles seem like nothing.”

2 Cor. 4:17, CEV

“Before God could bring me to this place He has broken me a thousand times.”                                   

Smith Wigglesworth

 

As we move toward maturity, over time and through circumstance, we will start to develop exciting new ways of thinking.  We engage the Word and combined with our relationships with people we start the work of God.  We soon learn that the Kingdom of God flows through relationships, almost exclusively.

Pain and sorrow are some of the more intense ways the Lord reaches down and into our lives.

Rick Warren has written, “God intentionally allows you to go through painful experiences to equip you for ministry to others.” 

 

I think that as we dwell on this we will start to see the hand of God, moving things around in our complicated lives.  As we attend class in this school of the Spirit, we learn things that will change our life and ministry.

But we must consider that we can waste our pain and sorrows by not engaging the issues properly.  Will I submit, or will I grow sullen and cynical? Will I worship through my tears?  Surrendering to Christ is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  It is a daily, and even hourly process.  I regard any kind of cynicism though, as a hungry predator who is hunting me.  Very dangerous, and I am highly suspectable.

Pain is the way the Father reaches me, he isn’t too concerned about our comfort (it isn’t the real issue, after all.)  When I hurt, I invaribly look for Jesus.  And that cannot be all bad.  Through the trials and pain I begin to reconnect with my Father.  Without the trials, I doubt we would ever call out for His help.

“Don’t waste your sorrows.”  It is easily said but seldom done.  We start to stagger by the weight of our personal issues.  Overwhelmed by the pain we start to panic and grab things, and throw them overboard, to lighten the load.  We can be confused, and will do whatever we must do to stay afloat.  But unless we take these sorrows well, we are just short-circuiting God’s intentions.

C.S. Lewis once commented on our issues,

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn—my God do you learn.”

The darkness intends to absorb us.  Satan uses our own bitterness and frustration to do this.  Our discipleship is no longer valid if we commence doing our own will and desires.  Even though we get “flaky” the Father will always love us. But we dare not waste our pain, it comes at too big of a price.

bry-signat (1)

cropped-christiangraffiti1.jpg

 

Five Barn Burners

 

“Barnburning for Dummies”

There are some who may not understand the term, but back on the farm in Wisconsin, “barnburning” meant one of two things:

1. A person who burns down a barn, (obviously literal.)
2. Something amazing or noteworthy. To be strong, impressive, or of interest, (metaphorical.)

The following verses have made a tremendous influence on me. Here are five “barn burners” — incendiary verses that have directed me and given me support in challenging times.  I hope at least one will fire up your heart.

It is a challenge to limit myself to just these five, so much has blessed me over 40 years–I should have at least 500.  Scraping up five was really not the problem, there could be so many more.

So here are five which have made a definite impact on my thinking. (I reserve the right to change my mind as necessary, LOL.) All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV), such as it is. Get ready for some “spiritual napalm.”

*****

ONE: “Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22

This is a very precise chapter in my mind.  A great deal of attention is given to Paul and Barnabas’ relationship to the people.  At first, they are deified, but moments later the crowds pick up rocks to stone him.  However Paul’s message to the local church was impressive.  He strengthens, and he encourages.  The reality of difficulty and tribulation has become the very doorway for them to come into the kingdom.  This encourages me, and helps me in the conflicts I deal with.

 


 

TWO: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This verse tells me of God’s commitment to me.  First, I’m part of a little flock.  Nothing of any significance.  The world evaluates me, but I’m just a simple guy involved with a simple group of people, nothing more.  However in this verse, fear is the primary issue.  “Fear not, little flock.”  Our fear is supposed to be eradicated and extracted.

The word “pleasure” is an interesting choice of words.  We understand pleasure, or at least we think we do.  This verse implies that the Father has put into play His intensity. Pleasure is often a way of doing intensity.  God is “ultra-involved” and is exceptionally extravagant in His treatment of us.  We are brought into this place of grace, by His kindness and grace.  He can’t wait to pour out his love on us.

 


 

THREE:   “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 1:6

What confidence!  That is a vital ingredient in our lives,  this confidence and boldness.  Our God is active in bringing us to a deeper place of  maturity.  Paul understands this, and uses God’s diligence as the basis for his growth.  This verse is a real confidence builder for me.  A promise that He will continue His work in me, no matter what.  This is a great promise for young Christians.  I often look at my own issues, and I give up after I accrue a certain frequency–a certain “sin-ratio.”

Shortly before I became a Christian, I spent a lot of time with Fred Tsholl who was the night-shift announcer at a nearby Christian radio station.  He was so patient and kind to me.  I would sit with him in the studio, all night long.  When it was time for me to leave he would quote this verse to me.  Looking back, this verse became quite significant.  I would take it as a promise from the Lord Himself.

 


 

FOUR:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7

‘Jars of clay,’ really nothing more than this.  We are weak and vulnerable, we so easily can be broken.  But a treasure, I don’t think we grasp the value of treasure.  But, if it resides in us, we become a repository of great significance.  This magnificent work is not of our own effort.  It belongs to God.  It is nothing we can claim from any working on our part.

 


 

FIVE: “Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
   leaning on her beloved?” Song of Sol. 8:5

This world is a tangled place, it is a dense and difficult wilderness. There doesn’t seem to be a smooth road anywhere.  We make our way slowly, through much suffering and personal doubt.  This particular verse gives me an assurance of His presence, even in the middle of hardship and challenge.  He is present with me.

We come up out of this ugliness, precisely because of that close presence.  We lean on the Lord, as we traverse this hard place.  His dear presence will bring us through this darkness, He gives me the amazing strength to do this journey.

bry-signat-1

cropped-christiangraffiti1 (2)

Antidepressants for Believers?

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants?

By Pastor John Piper, given on March 30, 2010

The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

What do you think of Christians taking antidepressants? I have been on them and have been accused of not relying on God.

That relates to an earlier question about how any physical or personal means that you use can signify that you’re not relying on God. So eating might be a failure to rely on God, because he might just fill your stomach by miracle, and you don’t have to eat. Or not sleeping would be a way of relying more on God, since you don’t have to have your psyche made stable by sleep at night. And so on.

God has ordained physical means. Aside from the ones that seem more natural, like food, there’s medicine: aspirin, Nyquil, etc. This water is helping my throat right now. [Sips it.] Was that sip a failure to rely on God?

Could be. “Just throw this away and rely on God! He will keep your throat moist. You don’t need to be drinking. You’re an idolater, Piper. You’re idolizing this because you’re depending on it.”

Well, the reason that’s not the case is because God has ordained for me to thank him for that. He created it and he made this body to need a lot of fluid. And it’s not a dishonor to him if I honor him through his gift.

Now the question is, “What medicines are like that or not like that?” Taking an aspirin?

My ophthalmologist told me about 4 years ago, “Take one baby aspirin a day and you will postpone cataracts or glaucoma or something.” He said, “I can see just the slightest little discoloration, and the way it works is that circulation helps.” So he told me to pop one of these little pills in my little vitamin thing. And I take it every day. And I just said, “Lord, whether I have eyes or not is totally dependent on you. But if you would like me to use this means, I would.”

My answer is that when you start working with peoples’ minds, you are in a very very tricky and difficult situation. But I think I want to say that, while nobody should hasten towards medication to alter their mental states—even as I say it I think of caffeine, right?—nevertheless, I know from reading history, like on William Cooper, and by dealing with many people over the years, that there are profoundly physical dimensions to our mental conditions.

Since that’s the case, physical means can be appropriate. For me it’s jogging. I produce stuff in my brain by jogging. But that might not work for somebody else, and they might be constantly unable to get on top of it emotionally. I just don’t want to rule out the possibility that there is a physical medication that just might, hopefully temporarily, enable them to get their equilibrium, process the truth, live out of the strength of the truth, honor God, and go off it.

When I preached on this one Easter Sunday a woman wrote me, thanking me that I took this approach. She said, “You just need to know that I live on these things, and I know what it was like 20 years ago and the horrors and the blackness of my life. And now I love Christ, I trust Christ, I love my husband, our marriage is preserved, and I’ll probably be on these till I’m dead.”

So I’m not in principle opposed. I just want to be very cautious in the way we use antidepressants.


© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org