What is the single most helpful thing that you can say to someone who is experiencing a crisis, whether it be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the death of a dream? The best possible answer to this question is: absolutely nothing. That’s right, the best thing to say to someone who has experienced a tremendous loss is absolutely nothing. The best thing that you can do for someone who has experienced a tragic loss is to simply be present, listen and (for the most part) keep silent.
The problem is that we naturally want to fix things. So, when someone is going through a loss we are tempted to use our words to try and fix things for them. That’s why statements like, “If he’d only eaten less red meat” or “If he’d only chosen a different career” or “There must be some kind of sin that lead to this tragedy” are not only unhelpful, they are actually quite cruel things to say to people who are suffering. Those experiencing loss do not need someone to fix or analyze their loss, what they need is someone to participate with them in the loss and to walk beside them through the it.
The only exception to this rule of keeping silent in the face of loss is to ask the question, “How can I help?” The beauty of this question is that you aren’t assuming that you know how to help you’re asking for permission to be of help in whatever way you can.
There are very few guarantees in life, but one is absolutely certain: You will experience loss and you will be called to minister to those who have experienced loss. In those moments of ministry, be sure to remember that your physical presence communicates more than any words ever could.
Logos is offering a copy of Henry Ironside’s book The Four Hundred Silent Years for free in the month of June. You can get a copy of it here. Here is the publisher’s description:
“History repeats itself in manifold ways,” writes Ironside in the introduction, “and he who is wise will not despise its instruction.” In The Four Hundred Silent Years, Ironside provides an easy-to-understand account of the period between the end of Malachi and the beginning of Matthew. In it, he provides not merely a chronological outline or a series of biological sketches, but traces the warnings of Ezra and Nehemiah, along with Josephus and other Jewish historians. He covers the end of the priestly rule, the days of the Maccabees, the end of the Asmonean Dynasty, and the Edomites. The final chapter is devoted to a brief commentary on the major writings of Jewish literature, including the Apocrypha. Ironside’s intention to draw practical lessons from the intertestamental period makes this the perfect book for anyone interested in an introduction to this important historical era and the implications for the modern church.
One of my favorite Christian organizations is CCEF, which houses and produces a treasure trove of materials for biblical counselors. CCEF also publishes the Journal of Biblical Counseling, which is a rich resource for pastors and counselors. The latest journal is available for download right now for FREE! Here’s a list of some of the articles that are covered in this edition:
Godly Intoxication: The Church Can Minister to Addicts by Tim Lane
What’s Right About Sex? by Winston Smith
How Does Scripture Change You? by David Powlison
Evaluating a Person with Suicidal Desires by Aaron Siorni & Mike Emlet
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Continue in what you have learned and become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14) because he knew some who had not continued.
We share his concerns. We share them especially for our children as they become increasingly independent. Statistics vary widely but one thing is clear, many children who were raised in Christian homes leave the faith they once professed.
We can’t make our children continue in the faith, but we aren’t left anxious and passive. We can give our children the privilege of being in a family where they are taught about, participate in, and witness life with Jesus.
Things you can do…
Here is a possible check-list for parents. No doubt, conversations with like-minded parents would add more.
Enjoy your children. Followers of Jesus Christ enjoy the Lord and enjoy one another. You can enjoy your children by always scanning for the good—the ways they reflect something of their Creator.
Look for opportunities to show humility, especially as children get older. “Will you forgive me?” continues to be one of the most powerful evidences that Jesus is alive and the Spirit has been given.
Identify the essentials of the faith. For example, everything that is important comes out of Christ and him crucified. Talk about this: “What’s the big deal with the death and resurrection of Jesus?” We want to answer that in our own words, and we want to answer it so our neighbor could understand it.
Follow the apostles’ strategy for biblical interpretation—everything is about Jesus. Not only was Jesus the focus of all their understanding of Scripture, he was also the way of change—all true change goes through him. Over the course of a few months in your home, would a bystander observe that you are talking about a person or talking about rules that seem unrelated to a person?
Discuss our curious historical moment. Jesus has come and his promises are certain, yet suffering and shame persist. We can know joy and peace, yet, since we follow the Suffering Servant, we expect to face lots of difficulties (more on this below).
Go big. Scripture is a story in cosmic terms with allegiances, powers, rescues, all on a huge scale. “Accept Jesus in your heart” is much too tame. The King of creation has spoken to us in Jesus. Once you know him you will want to say, “Jesus, I am with you. You are my Lord.”
Remember too, to teach about sin…and suffering
To these I would add—teach about sin; it’s very important. Do we all have a clear understanding of the human heart, and with it, a growing knowledge of sin? Sin, after all, is our biggest problem, and only a growing awareness of sin can lead us into humility before our King. And this is important too: conversations about sin must aim to be sweet. Though sin is not a good thing, we are greatly blessed when we are able to see it more clearly in our lives, are led away from it, and can enjoy forgiveness of sins.
And prepare them for suffering. A world filled with sinners leads to much suffering and many leave the faith because of it. They think God isn’t fair because he allows so much misery. The best preparation for the hard things we all face is the confession that we are sinners who have been rescued by his grace alone. This may seem like an odd way to prepare but when we humbly bow before the will of the Suffering Servant and trust him with gratitude, we will come to know that suffering will not have the final word.
My observation is that many people leave the faith because (1) they are angry that God brought misery into their lives or the life of a loved one, or (2) they simply want to do things that Scripture forbids, which often has something to do with sex, and it is too hard to simultaneously persist in sin and learn about Jesus.
The gospel of Jesus Christ reaches both of these.
Lord God, allow us to continue in the great grace we have received.
David Powlison has quickly become one of my favorite authors, speakers, and teachers. I am most familiar with Powlison from CCEF where he regularly appears on their podcasts, videos, etc. along with speaking at various conferences.
Seeing with New Eyes is the first book that I’ve read by Powlison and it was a true blessing. The book is somewhat eclectic ranging over a large number of topics, but the unifying theme of the book is that growth in the Christian life is about learning to see with new eyes.
The book begins with a quote from CS Lewis, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." The basic idea of the book is that growing in godliness is the process of learning to see things as they really are, learning to see our lives and the circumstances of our lives as God sees them. In other words, we need new eyes in order to see what God sees and to think as God thinks. Powlison writes, "This seeing, this gaze, means to wake us up from our fantasies, fictions, and nightmares to see things as they are in fact. God has the real take on things and God teaches us his gaze." The metaphor is a powerful one that I’ve found myself using time and again in pastoral counseling.
The content of the book is divided into two parts. Part one contains six chapters about how scripture opens blind eyes. This section is basically a series of expositions on various passages of Scripture with a very personal and applicational approach. His chapter on Psalm 131 – "Peace, Be Still" was especially helpful to me personally. Part two is about "Reinterpreting Life". This section covers a lot of ground from a powerful critique of the five love languages phenomenon to a series of x-ray questions intended to help the reader diagnose idols of the heart.
I think the only complaint that I have about the book is that while all of the material is very well written and thought provoking, it is kind of disjointed. There isn’t an especially clear argument being made here, but even with that this is an outstanding book and very helpful.
Paul Tripp has a great post over at the biblical counseling coalition’s blog about how the cross addresses marital issues. Tripp reminds us that 1) The cross tells us what’s wrong wit us, 2) The cross tells us how what’s wrong will get fixed, 3) The cross tells us our role in the work of personal change. Here’s one section that I found especially helpful:
As I sat in that restaurant that evening with my friends, I felt incredibly helpless, but not hopeless at all. The cross tells me that I have no power whatsoever to work the internal change of heart that is the key to lasting personal change. In other words, I have no ability at all to deliver people from their deepest problem; sin.
As I sat across from my friends, I knew that I didn’t bear the burden of being their redeemer. If I was to help them, it was profoundly important for me to know my place. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, the Apostle Paul uses the best possible word to define our place in God’s work of change. We are called to be nothing less than and surely nothing more than “ambassadors” of the One who suffered, died, and rose again so that change, real lasting personal change, would not just be a distant hope, but a realistic expectation of all who are bold enough to step into the arena of human difficulty and offer help. The cross reminds us that we are not the change agents, but representatives of the One who holds the power of real internal and interpersonal change in his hands.