“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 outmany 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.
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.
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.”
I think that most of us in the Church fail to get a real grip on what pastoring is all about. And that is sad and bad. Not only do we stunt our pastors growth, but we cripple ourselves, and flunk some important spiritual lessons.
Three things (there are more, believe me)–
1) Our pastors are sinners. Surprise! They are just like you and me– definitely not superheroes and certainly not always saintly. They will have their moments, and struggles. We really need to understand this to fully receive from their giftings. Just knowing this about them, prepares us to receive deeply and sincerely from their ministries. It seems that their own battles work a brokenness and humility within.
2) Our pastors need to be prayed for. What they do is probably one of the hardest, most challenging work on planet Earth. The good pastors know this. But they still wade courageously into the thick of things. Our real prayers can buttress and stabilize their lives. They substantially encounter the darkness and do warfare for us. Most have a family to pray for, but they also have a Church they must cover too. A local pastor must have active intercessors, or they will certainly stumble and fall.
3) Our pastors must be empowered by the Holy Spirit. God’s work must be done His way. And He repeatedly insists they be filled with the Spirit. They receive power right from the true source. Again, Jesus the True Shepherd gives power and wisdom and grace for each singular moment. A good pastor over time and much prayer– develops discernment and an awareness for his flock. He learns to love them as he watches over them.
Much, much more could be written. There are so many facets to ponder. I only want to encourage you to love and honor your pastor. When you do this, it will probably activate the gift, and fresh ministry will become available. A real work will be done, inside of you and inside your pastor.
“Then I will appoint responsible shepherds who will care for them, and they will never be afraid again. Not a single one will be lost or missing. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998
“The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:
1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.
2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.
3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.
I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.
Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.
THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL
Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:
Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.
The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.
According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”
The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.
Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.
This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.
The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.
Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”
MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.
God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”
A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS
When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.
Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.
I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.
This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.
Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.
There are Christians for whom joy seems unattainable.
What will we tell them . . . “When the Darkness Will Not Lift?”
“It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him.”
The title of this reviewed book is terribly unyielding, but with a quick glimpse into its contents, and you realize what you hold in your hands is worth its weight in gold. “When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God—And Joy“, John Piper gives guidance and hope to suffering believers and to those whom God has given to walk beside them. The father of Christian hedonism reminds readers that joy is a duty even as he teaches them how to fight for it. At eighty pages, this slim volume commends itself to readers who, struggling under the weight of spiritual darkness, might be daunted by an exhaustive treatment of the subject.
Because the book starts from despair, it is a uniquely accessible tool for those who hurt. In the pastoral tone for which he is beloved, Piper shows that joy begins with despair in oneself. In “When the Darkness Will Not Lift”, Piper tackles difficult issues including:
• The physical nature of depression and the role of medication
• How to wait on the Lord through darkness
• The relationship between obedience and thanksgiving
• How unconfessed sin can clog our joy
Piper also provides insight for those who love depressed Christians—showing them how to exhort without crushing, and how they can help the struggling believer to distrust the “certainties of despair.”
When the Darkness Will Not Lift: Doing What We Can While We Wait for God—And Joy Publisher Crossway Books, Author John Piper, ISBN 1581348762 Price $7.99, Released, January 2007
Available through your Bookstore, or just go to www.Amazon.com, like me.
“When they finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
This is a favorite passage for believers throughout the whole world. I think the reason is that it’s a transferable concept; it is something that communicates well to a heart and life that is struggling very hard. If you think about it everything in the story is coming to us from two places. Either Peter’s failure, or Jesus’ grace.
Failure is a brutal teacher; but man, do you learn! Much of the teaching had already been done in Peter’s life. His denial and cowardice had already been worked out, and Peter then had to live with himself. He was defeated and very lost before this meeting on the beach.
Jesus’ heart is to reconcile his errant disciple with Him, and with Peter himself. Peter is stuck; in his own failure and denial, and he needs Jesus to touch him in His own impenetrable darkness. People who have failed God will understand this. We have been in the darkness, and only Jesus can rescue us from its empty pain.
We see what amounts to a ‘good’ interrogation. Peter, the failure, is asked over and over by Jesus the “Question”. “Do you love me? This is a simple and basic inquiry. “Do you love me?”
Peter in his pathetic state, is forced to generate a response to Jesus that destroys his own confusion and apathy. It’s neat to see Jesus pulverizing the foundations of darkness in Peter’s life. He does it with a skill and deftness that leaves us in awe of Jesus’ love. Peter had denied knowing the Lord three times. It is fitting that Jesus would ask His question three times as well.
For us, the questions keep coming. We are repeatedly asked, over and over, “do you love me?” We must process the penetration of the question. Do you really, really love Jesus? Is it a show? Do we really love Him, or is it just words, a misbegotten display of cultural appropriateness?
Jesus moves Peter into the light. Never again will he live in confusion and despair. His interview with Jesus has placed him there, into the light. Jesus’ incredibly wise questions led Peter to the place of authenticity. Peter, from this new place of completeness and recovery, is finally restored and healed.
But do we love Him? Do we turn the ministry we do, whatever that might be, does it come from a place of love and confidence. Our love for Him is the essential basis, the root foundation of all Christian activity. It’s all about the “love”. “Do you love me?”
A Pastor’s Letter to the Parents of a Child Born Without Eyes
Dear John and Diane,
Last night, as I prayed with Noel, you were heavy on my mind. I said, “Lord, O Lord, please let me be a pastor who preaches and leads and loves in a way that makes the impossibilities of life possible for your people by a miracle of sustaining grace. Help me to know the weight and pain of this life and not to be breezy when the mountains have fallen into the sea. Help me to have the aroma of Christ’s sufferings about me. Prevent shallowness and callousness to pain. O Lord make me and my people a burden bearing people.”
O John and Diane, I am so heavy with your child’s sightlessness! God is visiting Bethlehem with such pain these days in the birth of broken children. Randy and Ann Erickson with their baby’s broken heart; Jan and Rob Barrett with their baby’s liver outside the body; and your precious little one! Is the Lord saying, “I have a gift for your community.” This is not one or two or three couples’ burden. This is a gift and call to the whole church. This word concerning the brokenness of this fallen age of futility. This is an invitation for you all to believe that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).
This is an invitation for you to “count every gain as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:7). This is a shocking test to see if you will “lose heart” when in fact God’s purpose is to show that his grace is sufficient to renew our inner person every day to deal with the “slight momentary affliction which is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).
O Lord, open our eyes to your love in this pain. Open our eyes. “Then Elisha prayed, and said, ‘O Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha”(2 Kings 6:17). John and Diane, the mountains surrounding your lives are filled with the horses and chariots of God.
Only to the eyes of unbelief does the devil have the upper hand here. God is at work in ways and for years and generations and millions of people that we cannot now imagine.
This is ours to believe and to bear, no matter the cost. This is ours for this short life. It seems to me that this life is a proving ground for the kingdom to come. Some are asked to devote forty or fifty years to caring for a handicapped child instead of breezing through life without pain. Others are asked to be blind all their lives… But only in this life – ONLY in this life some are . I want to be the kind person who makes that “ONLY” what it really is – very short. Prelude to the infinity of joy, joy, joy.
But not yet. Not entirely.
How will we ever cope with the burdens of this life if we believe this is all there is, or even the main act in this drama of reality? O Lord, give us your view of things. May God fill you with anticipated joy. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Broken Believers Note: Although this message has little to do with mental illness, I felt compelled to post it for the way it grips one’s normal way of thinking. I felt as I read it that I saw a principle of living in a broken body, living in a broken world. If you didn’t benefit, my apologies.
“And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.”
James 3:6, NLT
I have done many things in my 50+ years. My resume is pretty broad and quite diverse. I have been a corporate trainer, and I have been a commercial fisherman. I have been an inner-city evangelist, and an Army medic. I have been a senior pastor, and a missionary to Mexico. But more than anything, I have been quite consistently, “a steamroller.”
Steamroller. I think I better explain myself. I’m a man that has consistently used my words to crush other people, and this really disturbs me. I have flattened people, smearing them on the pavement. There was Vicky at the SOS- San Francisco Evangelism Ministry house. She irritated me, so I went up and told her, the “Vicky, this is the Word of the Lord. Read Judges 16:16!” And she melted before my words, torn and ripped apart by my twisting of scripture. I steamrolled over her heart. And I really don’t know why I did it. I wanted to be cute I guess.
As a pastor, I plowed over the hearts of “a children’s ministry.” It was more subtle, but it had the same degree of a deep intensity. (They would go on, but fizzle out in less than two weeks later.) I was the steamroller that crushed their hearts and dreams. Years before, at my Bible college, I stamped out and destroyed those who were not as precise as I was when it came to proper believing. I steamrolled them as well.
Over the years I have become very grieved over my consistent crushing of those who were different, who saw ministry in a differing way. When they would become “clear and obvious” to me, (their false doctrine and such) I considered it a scriptural necessity to “roll, baby roll” right over them. But, I was oh, so foolish. I harmed so many of His servants. What I was doing was wicked.
My words–like weapons, were cutting and hacking and lacerating. My words were crushing and stamping out the gentle hearts and their vision. People, dear ones. The things we say, go on to “burn and burn” and nullify the kind hearts of those who want to follow. Often our “professionalism” as pastors and teachers very often cripple those who tenderly follow. We go “nuclear” on them, scorching the earth, when all they needed really was a calm and directive word.
Brothers and sisters. We have to stop this, being right does not mean we are loving. We divide the flock far too often. We most likely will be right–but we don’t love. We jump up in our steamroller in a split second. We put it in gear, and we roll over those for whom Christ died–and we feel quite noble and holy, as we protect the Church from “bad thinking,” or bad examples.
Could it be, that what are you saying, wounds?
Be very careful. You maybe right, and you just might be true, but if you are not loving, you will only hurt them, and undoubtedly you will regret what you have done.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”