Praying for ‘Sophisticated’ Sheep

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 “When he saw the vast crowds of people, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved with compassion, because they seemed weary and helpless, like wandering sheep without a shepherd. He turned to his disciples and said, “The harvest is huge and ripe! But there are not enough harvesters to bring it all in. As you go, plead with the Owner of the Harvest to thrust out many more reapers to harvest his grain!

Matthew 9:36-38, TPT 

Jesus, as Lord and Savior obviously has a perspective that we don’t have.  He perceives to the very heart of people, drills right through and into the confusion and helplessness.  He is disturbed by what he sees, and is emotionally touched by the people who pass by him.  (We don’t have this perceptive, unfortunately. But hopefully we’re now learning its power.) Love sees no cost.

 Jesus responds by commanding his disciples.  “Look at them!  Pray for them!” We live in a world that is plumb full of brokenness.  No one goes unscathed.  We all have scars, everyone of us, and prayer is how we are healed.  This dynamic needs to work in us and through us.

sheep (1)But the verdict is in, we have a great soul Shepherd! There is such a great harvest, that prayer is our only hope of reaching these.  Now, there is a lot of things we rather do then pray.  We can have conferences and special meetings.  We can make videos and create TV shows on the harvest.  Most of these things are good,  they’re purposeful and probably God directed. But if we choose not to pray, then we completely ‘miss the mark.’

But the real, deep-down core is the need people have is to be shepherded by their Creator and Savior.  That is the most profound need we have.  It is the basic requirement of this moment. It can not be minimized.

Love sees no cost.

Like a shepherd, he will care for his flock,
gathering the lambs in his arms,
Hugging them as he carries them,
leading the nursing ewes to good pasture.

Isa. 40:11

This is a messianic prophecy that describes the Messiah’s work.  We believe that it continues to tell of his work among those who are disoriented and who need to escape distorted views.  Only a Shepherd could fully understand the needs of his flock.  We must share in this vision, and carry this burden.

“And Satan trembles when he sees The weakest saint upon his knees.”

– William Cowper

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Recalibrate Our Senses

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. “

Matt. 3:8, NIV

“Do the things that show you really have changed your hearts and lives. “  

Matt. 3:8, NCV

When we evaluate change, the Biblical definition is crisp and solid.  It has everything understood in results (or fruit) and less to with my posturing.  Just simple words or emotions aren’t enough when we consider authentic transformation.  We can’t relate to feelings, they need actions to become visible. You may feel ‘warm and fuzzy’ when you think about Jesus, and  yet somehow that’s not enough. Especially if you’re beating your wife.

Actions do matter.  Your actions will define what you believe about God.  What you decide to do, will delineate what is really real. Jesus made it clear to his congregation that their definition of repentance needed adjusting.

I struggle with many things, I seem to be a magnet for all things dark and lost.  So this proper way of evaluating reality will become a tremendous blessing those of us with ‘mood disorders.’  My feelings are definitely mercurial.  I really can’t trust them. So I won’t.

Thomas Merton once said that we’re so motivated to climb the ladder of success that when we finally get to the top we discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall all along! To waste your life to climb one more rung is incredibly tragic.

And yet, down deep, I do understand.  I don’t like it, but it truthfully seems oddly rational and real.  It seems to be something God would do to lovingly correct us. If I place my bets on what I think God wants, and behold, I discover am completely mistaken. He delights in confusing the proud in heart.

We need a basis on what is real, and important.  It may shake us, but the result is being able to realize what is the truth.  Our feelings, and idealistic ideas are like a bucket with many holes.  What we receive from Him can’t be maintained–it runs out almost as fast as it collects.

We must recalibrate our senses.  We need to rearrange many things, and completely reevaluate our momentum and focus.  These seem to be abstract and vague ways of making determinations like this, but if we get honest we realize that these things are critical.

“No one can sum up all God is able to accomplish through one solitary life, wholly yielded, adjusted, and obedient to Him.”

–D.L.Moody

 

 

Frederick, [Handling Giftedness]

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Frederick, the ‘prophetic’ mouse

I have always loved to read. I was given books by my mother, and these books were like gold. I had been a avid patron of the library, but terrible at returning books. I had pretty much been branded as “persona non grata” by the librarians of my hometown library at the ripe old age of 12.

I have fond memories of some fine books. But perhaps the most influential of them all was a title called, “Frederick” by Leo Lionni.  It won the ’68 Caldecott ‘back in the olden days.’ It very well could be one of best children’s books ever written. ( I realize now that many of these books that shaped me were prophetic in their own way.)

We see Frederick, who is a young field mouse, off on excursion to find food with his four brothers. They must fill their pantry for the cold winter that’s coming. They are quite successful (it appears) and all seems well.

However, there is a bit of a problem with Frederick. While the other mice are ‘busting their mouse-butts’ he sits quietly thinking. They question him repeatedly, trying to motivate him (or shame him perhaps?)  There seems to be a general consensus against him, which is verging on open warfare.

But Frederick insists that he is needed to do this. He says that he is ‘working’. He is collecting sunlight, absorbing it until it’s needed.  He takes in colors, and then words. He just seems soak up these really wonderful experiences, and he seems a bit “clueless” (that’s not the right word), maybe a bit “preoccupied.”

FrederickFinally in the dead of winter, sheltered deep underground, their supplies are running low. One of the mice turns to Frederick, and asks him to share what he has collected. And he does precisely that. They sit in a circle and Frederick shares the sunlight, and the rich colors and the beautiful words he has stored up for them. Their little ‘mouse-hearts’ are deeply touched by Frederick’s contribution.

In so many ways, this has become a parable, or metaphor of my life. As a eight year old, I could hardly have foreseen how my life would unfold. I do however had a deep sense of being different, even then. My mental illness, mixed with being “gifted”, and then combined with being isolated and dirt-poor, worked in me.

Essentially, we all are products of our personal history.  What we have experienced good or bad develops us.  It did me.  I think what “Frederick” wants to do for us is to process uniqueness, gifting and steadfastness.  One of the things that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me for the last few years is this, “Bryan, can you receive from the giftedness of other believers?”

We really must make room for “Fredericks” and what they can bring to us.  We will be drastically weakened if we won’t– or can’t.  Jesus faced a ton of resistance as He began to minister.  There is nothing new about that.  But it didn’t touch His spirit.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.”

Genesis 37:5

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Choosing a +Christian+ Counselor

 Written by “Holly,”
“In my search for a counselor, I visited a secular psychologist, read books written by extremist biblical counselors, and had tearful talks with my own general practitioner. I wish I had known then what TYPES of Christian counselors were out there and how on earth I could find help I could trust and afford.”

Why Educate Yourself about Christian Counseling?

Perhaps you do not suffer from depression, have a great marriage, kids seem to be doing okay, everything is fine. Why should you look into various types of Christian counsel?

1) Think of a Christian counselor as an invaluable resource, much like the family lawyer, pediatrician, or accountant. When problems arise, wouldn’t it be nice to already have the information you need regarding local counseling services?

2) It’s always a good idea to have information at hand so that you can guide distraught friends and family members to a trusted counselor who can offer biblical guidance and support.

If you are a believing Christian, I MUST recommend seeking a Christian counselor.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.”

Ephesians 2:19

The Problem with Secular Counsel

Many secular counselors will take your faith into consideration when treating you. However, as citizens of heaven, seeking counsel from a non-Christian is much like seeking counsel from someone who doesn’t speak your language…and he or she does not speak yours. Progress and inroads could be made, but in the long run, little will be accomplished.

There is wisdom and truth from godly counsel:

“The godly offer good counsel; they know what is right from wrong.”

Psalm 37:30

Find a Christian who is a professional counselor. There are a number of directories on the internet. Each individual counselor is different from the next, however, and you will need to interview any counselor before you decide to use his or her services.

If Possible, Find a Specialist

You may wish to choose a counselor who specializes in a specific area. There a number of issues for which people seek counsel, including:

  • Abuse
  • Addiction
  • Anger Management
  • Anxiety
  • Coping with Stress
  • Depression
  • Divorce
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional trauma
  • Family therapy
  • Financial difficulties
  • Grief
  • Loss
  • Major life changes
  • Marital discourse
  • Mental illness
  • Pain management
  • Parenting issues
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Pre-marital counseling
  • Relationship conflict
  • Religious doubt/ confusion
  • Self-esteem
  • Sexual identity
  • Sexual/ intimacy difficulties

The first thing to consider when choosing a Christian counselor is whether or not they are capable or qualified to handle the particular issue you seek counsel for. A marriage counselor may not be the best person to go to if your thirteen year old daughter is battling anorexia. This seems like a given; however, be sure your counselor has experience handling your specific issue.

Decide whether or not you would feel more comfortable seeing a man or a woman for your particular problem.

Seek a Licensed Professional

Also, if you seek counsel outside of your church, make sure your counselor is a licensed professional. I suggest finding a professional who holds a minimum of a master’s degree in their field of study, who has completed the required number of supervised hours, and who has passed your state’s examination to become a licensed counselor.

Remember that most counselors employed by churches are Professional counselors, but few are not. A church counselor should be qualified through their educational experience, should have some sort of license or certification that enables them to counsel (generally they have a Christian counseling certification awarded from various Christian counseling training programs or colleges.)

Interview Your Prospective Counselor BEFORE Your First Session

Going into a counseling session before you know where your counselor is coming from can be dangerous, especially when you are in a vulnerable emotional position unable to clearly think or discern the counsel you receive.

Before your first session, make the counselor shares your faith and concerns about the issue at hand. If possible, bring a trusted companion along to get their opinion about the practice you are considering.

Some questions to ask your potential counselor are:

  • What is your Christian counseling approach?
  • Do they adhere strictly to biblical counseling or do they consider psychological approaches as well?
  • Will they work with your psychiatrist and or doctor?
  • What license or certification do you have? Is it from an accredited college? A Christian college? A training program?
  • Are you affiliated with any particular Christian counseling organization?
  • How do you integrate the bible into your counseling sessions?
  • How do your incorporate prayer into your counseling practice?
  • Do you have experience counseling people with (insert the issue for which you seek counsel)?
  • What is your payment structure?
  • Will my insurance cover my sessions with you?
  • What is your view on psychoanalysis, medication treatments for psychological ailments, and other scientific approaches to mental illness?

If you have an opportunity to interview your potential counselor in his or her office, take a good look at the books on the bookshelves. The types of books displayed give you an excellent indication of the types of counsel you will receive.

Before you make your final decision, pray on it, consult your Bible, and if possible, talk to your trusted general practitioner before seeking therapy.

Recap:

Educate yourself about the various types of Christian counselors. When finding a Christian counselor, remember to find a licensed, experienced CHRISTIAN professional capable of addressing your specific issue. Interview your prospective counselor before attending your first session. Go prepared with a series of questions that will help your gain knowledge about the kind of counsel you will be receiving. Prayerfully consider whether or not you and the counselor are a good fit.

 

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Taken from a great website for believers with issues:

http://www.getoutofthestorm.com

Prayer for the Weak and Lonely

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Let us pray . . .

God our comforter, you are a refuge and a strength for us, a helper close at hand in times of distress. Enable us so to hear the words of faith that our fear is dispelled, our loneliness eased, our anxiety calmed, and our hope reawakened. May your Holy Spirit lift us above our sorrow to the peace and light of your constant love; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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A prayer from p.360-361 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Pastoral Care.

Anxious?  Depressed?  Read God’s promises for yourself.
http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/The-Bible/Read-the-Bible/What-Does-the-Bible-Say-to-You/Anxious.aspx

The Fellowship of the Saints

The fellowship of the saints

The following is Psalm 16:3 in several different versions.  They differ from each other but all express the same fundamental thought.  The variation is refreshing and allows for a stronger development of thought.

 3 As for the saints who are on the earth,
“They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” (NKJV)  

 

3As for the saints who are in the earth,
They are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. (NASB)

 

3 The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!  I take pleasure in them! (NLT)
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No matter how we look at it, the Psalmist knows the value of other believers.  He exults in their companionship and rejoices in their presence in his life.  He knows that they have an excellence in them and about them.  He savours all contact with them.

We could say the psalmist has struck gold.  Whenever he has contact with them, good things start to happen.  A joy is awakened in him and bubbles to the surface. ( This Psalm 16 should be read in its entirety, I am only pulling out a single verse because of the light within it.)

Friendship, or companionship is a critical necessity for us, especially when the momentum of our culture is towards isolation.  I’ve been told of a certain kind of rock will begin to resonate, becoming warm in the presence of a rock of the same type.  (IDK if this is true but it is a great story).

I need brothers and sisters to awaken me.  As a man who struggles with physical and mental illness that connection brings me healing and wholeness.  I in turn through this same connection transmit grace and wisdom to them (or whatever).

There is not a lot of things better, and more invigorating than coffee with a Christian friend.  In heaven, there will be a Starbucks on every other corner serving up Vanilla Lattes for disciples wanting to visit and share their hearts (that is my personal theory anyway.)

The Psalmist puts our relationships into the light and evaluates them by the encouragement they bring.  We need to have that awareness as we contact each other.  As a “closet-hermit” I need that extra push.  I would anticipate or even expect it. 

The Holy Spirit works in the specific area of relationships.  That is His strength and forte’.  I believe that the way the Kingdom of God works, flows and advances is in large part because of godly relationships.  The more we cultivate them, the more the Church grows.

How Does Your Church See Mental Illness?

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This should supply direction and dialogue on the issues faced by every church member. It is a great opportunity we have been given— to minister to every person in the Body of Christ. —Bryan
by Ken Camp, Associated Baptist Press  —

Living with depression — or any other form of mental illness — is like viewing life “through a glass darkly,” according to Jessy Grondin, a student in Vanderbilt University’s Divinity School. “It distorts how you see things.”

Like one in four Americans, Grondin wrestles with mental illness, having struggled with severe bouts of depression since her elementary-school days. Depression is one of the most common types of mental illness, along with bipolar disorder, another mood-altering malady. Other forms of mental illness include schizophrenia and disorders related to anxiety, eating, substance abuse and attention deficit/hyperactivity.

Like many Americans with mental illness, Grondin and her family looked to the church for help. And she found the response generally less-than-helpful. “When I was in the ninth grade and hospitalized for depression, only a couple of people even visited me, and that was kind of awkward. I guess they didn’t know what to say,” said Grondin, who grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Alabama.

Generally, most Christians she knew dealt with her mood disorder by ignoring it, she said. “It was just nonexistent, like it never happened,” she said. “They never acknowledged it.” When she was an adolescent, many church members just thought of her as a troublemaker, not a person dealing with an illness, she recalled. A few who acknowledged her diagnosed mood disorder responded with comments Grondin still finds hurtful. “When dealing with people in the church … some see mental illness as a weakness — a sign you don’t have enough faith,” she said. “They said: ‘It’s a problem of the heart. You need to straighten things out with God.’ They make depression out to be a sin, because you don’t have the joy in your life a Christian is supposed to have.”

A Baylor University study revealed that among Christians who approached their local church for help in response to a personal or family member’s diagnosed mental illness, more than 30 percent were told by a minister that they or their loved one did not really have a mental illness. And 57 percent of the Christians who were told by a minister that they were not mentally ill quit taking their medication.

That troubles neuroscientist Matthew Stanford. “It’s not a sin to be sick,” he insists. Stanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the doctoral program in psychology at Baylor, acknowledges religion’s longstanding tense relationship with behavioral science. And he believes that conflict destroys lives. “Men and women with diagnosed mental illness are told they need to pray more and turn from their sin. Mental illness is equated with demon possession, weak faith and generational sin,”

Stanford writes in his recently released book, Grace for the Afflicted. “The underlying cause of this stain on the church is a lack of knowledge, both of basic brain function and of scriptural truth.” As an evangelical Christian who attends Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, Stanford understands underlying reasons why many Christians view psychology and psychiatry with suspicion. “When it comes to the behavioral sciences, many of the early fathers were no friends of religion. That’s certainly true of Freud and Jung,” he noted in an interview.

Many conservative Christians also believe the behavioral sciences tend to justify sin, he added, pointing particularly to homosexual behavior. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association famously removed homosexuality from its revised edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As a theologically conservative Christian, Stanford stressed that scripture, not the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, constitutes the highest authority.

But that doesn’t mean the Bible is an encyclopedia of knowledge in all areas, and all people benefit from scientific insights into brain chemistry and the interplay of biological and environmental factors that shape personality. Furthermore, while he does not presume to diagnose with certainty cases of mental illness millennia after the fact, Stanford believes biblical figures — Job, King Saul of Israel and King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, among others — demonstrated symptoms of some types of mental illness. “Mental disorders do not discriminate according to faith,” he said.

Regardless of their feelings about some psychological or psychiatric approaches, Christians need to recognize mental illnesses are genuine disorders that originate in faulty biological processes, Stanford insisted. “It’s appropriate for Christians to be careful about approaches to treatment, but they need to understand these are real people dealing with real suffering,” he said. Richard Brake, director of counseling and psychological services for Texas Baptist Child & Family Services, agrees. “The personal connection is important. Church leaders need to be open to the idea that there are some real mental-health issues in their congregation,” Brake said.

Ministers often have training in pastoral counseling to help people successfully work through normal grief after a loss, but may lack the expertise to recognize persistent mental-health problems stemming from deeper life issues or biochemical imbalances, he noted. Internet resources are available through national mental-health organizations and associations of Christian mental-health providers. But the best way to learn about available mental health treatment — and to determine whether ministers would be comfortable referring people to them — is through personal contact, Brake and Stanford agreed. “Get to know counselors in the community,” Brake suggested. “Find out how they work, what their belief systems are and how they integrate them into their practices.”

Mental-health providers include school counselors and case managers with state agencies, as well as psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice or associated with secular or faith-related treatment facilities, he noted. Stanford and Brake emphasized the vital importance of making referrals to qualified mental-health professionals, but they also stressed the role of churches in creating a supportive and spiritually nurturing environment for people with mental-health disorders. Mental illness does not illustrate lack of faith, but it does have spiritual effects, they agreed. “Research indicates people with an active faith life who are involved in congregational life get through these problems more smoothly,” Brake said.

Churches cannot “fix” people with mental illness, but they can offer support to help them cope. “The church has a tremendous role to play. Research shows the benefits of a religious social support system,” Stanford said. They stressed the importance of creating a climate of unconditional love and acceptance for mentally ill people in church — a need Grondin echoed. “There needs to be an unconditional sense of community and relationships,” she said. She emphasized the importance of establishing relationships that may not be reciprocally satisfying all the time.

People with mental-health issues may not be as responsive or appreciative as some Christians would like them to be, she noted. “Others need to take the initiative and keep the relationship established. People don’t realize how hard it can be (for a person with a mood disorder) to summon the courage just to get out of bed,” Grondin said. Christians who seek to reach out to people with mental illness need to recognize “they are not able to see things clearly, and it’s not their fault,” Grondin added.

Mostly, Christians need to offer acceptance to people with mental illness — even if they don’t fully understand, she insisted. “Just be present. Offer support and love,” Grondin concluded. “You won’t always know what to say. Just speak words of support into a life of serious struggles. That means more than anything.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.)
 

A great book:

“Grace for the Afflicted: A Clinical and Biblical Perspective on Mental Illness” [Paperback] can be found at www.Amazon.com, by Matthew S. Stanford Ph.D

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For more information: National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-6264 Anxiety Disorders Association of America (240) 485-1001  Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (800) 826-3632  American Association of Christian Counselors (800) 526-8673 Stephen Ministries (314) 428-2600

 

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