A friend comes up to you and says, “We need to sit down and talk sometime.” So you schedule a meal to sit down together. Going into it, you know that it’s probably something difficult in their life, and you press your mind to think of how you can listen to them, serve them, mourn with them, and exhort them about who God is and what that means for them. But when you sit down, after talking about the weather for a bit, what they tell you absolutely blindsides you. It’s uglier, messier, and more vulnerable than you had imagined. While your heart is not to judge them, you’re terribly grieved, and you fear that they indeedmight not trust the Lord but might live out fleshly desires. You fear for them, their family, and your own friendship with them. And you wonder things like: Who am I to speak into this situation? I’m not qualified for this. They need “help.” In terrible plight, they have come to you, and it all sits on your shoulders to make them see the light, to make them love it, and to make them change and trust God in their situation. This is extremely intimidating, is it not?
I’m sure many of you have already noticed the glaring heresy I put at the end of that last paragraph: “it all sits on your shoulders to make them…” I put it there on purpose, not because it’s true in reality but because it’s how we all usually perceive reality to be when another’s burden falls on us to help carry. Even though it’s unbiblical and even though we confess the truth, our hearts so often spring up in wrong beliefs and wrong desires as a first reaction. So often, we really do feel that it all depends on us and what we do. We ask:
How am I going to make them turn and trust? What if they hate what I’m saying? What if another person hears this advice and hates what I’ve told them? What if someone else could do it better? What if I’m actually hurting them and not helping? What if I talk to them and they don’t listen? What if I miss something in my advice? Who am I to do any of this?
These are fears we all have when we meet a heavy issue in a friend’s life, and the very fact that they’re our friend whom we love so much only adds weight to these fears. These fears lead to a lot of very bad counsel for all of us:
- We do not counsel at all
- We placate them with things we know they will like
- We only say what others would nod their heads to
- We don’t confront them with their sins
- We don’t expose sins of our own as examples to them
- We obsess over them in anxiety when we’re not around them
- We lack confidence in our counsel to them
- We don’t rest in the sufficiency of scripture for all our sins and trials
When we approach the idea of putting our hands (our simple, untrained hands) to the plow of everyday counsel in the church, we cannot approach it in the midst of these fears. Something needs to break us out of these fears. We need something that speaks to it all in order to free us from anxious obsession, from cowardice, from man-pleasing, from constant uncertainty, and from being ashamed of the gospel. I want you to have a sure source of remedy for these fears because they absolutely will crop up often, needing to be put down often by this remedy.
I want to take you to the story of Moses in Exodus through Deuteronomy. I want to show you a man who, by all accounts, was quite possibly the worst choice for leader and counselor to the Israelite people and confronter-in-chief to the Pharaoh of Egypt, a man basically considering himself to be a god. Moses is an outcast murderer who spat upon the kindnesses of Pharaoh’s finest things because he hated what Pharaoh was doing to the Israelites, a people he belonged to by birth. Moses was plagued by fear, he stuttered, and he was quite content in residing hidden among a group of tribes outside the immediate view of Egypt. But God called Moses in all his weakness, in all his failings, in all his fears, to confront Pharaoh with a simple message, to comfort Israel with a simple message, and to lead Israel with a simple staff. And God’s sole comfort to Moses, His sole motivation, His sole source of help was a simple but deep reality, “I am with you.” I would do you a severe disservice if I did not comfort you solely with the same thing: God is with you!
This week, I want you to meditate on one truth only: You, in yourself, can do nothing, and God, Himself, can do anything. When Moses had led Israel out of Egypt to the edge of the Red Sea, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart to pursue Israel with intent to kill them all, pinning them between an impassable sea and the world’s finest military, a very angry military. Then God commands something quite impossible for Moses to do: “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” Take that in! God actually told Moses to part the Red Sea. He’s calling Moses to do the impossible. And what happens with Moses lifts up his staff, obeying by trust? We read that it is God who actually parts the Red Sea. God told Moses to do the impossible by a simple, real-life, tangible act. Moses obeys by faith in doing this simple, real-life, tangible act. And we see that God Himself does the impossible work. It’s all right there for you to read in Exodus 14. Check it out.
What impossible things has God commanded you to do and also promised that He Himself will do? What real-life tangible commands has He given for you to obey? What promises has He given for you to trust as fuel for your obedience?
I want this be your comfort and motivation in counseling, your greatest anchor and hope for yourself in your sins and trials and your greatest anchor and hope for others when you enter into their sins and trials with them. Do not be ashamed of His power. Do not be ashamed of His gospel. Their greatest hope is that you faithfully obey God in His commands to do impossible things through real-life obedience by faith. Display who God is to them both in words that breathe out scripture skillfully and applicably to their life and in actions and embodiment that put texture and shape to those words. Knowing God intimately — that He is with you, that it is His power at work and not your own, that He Himself is your greatest treasure and theirs — is your cure for intimidation and fear in counseling. It disarms sinful reactions and breathes out vibrant God-displaying, heart-changing power to those around you.