When I was a new Christian in high school our youth group would have weekend retreats at which we would receive wonderful teaching and enjoy incredible fellowship. It was like a taste of heaven. Then we would come down from the mountaintop (both literally and figuratively) to face real life at home with our families and at school. Sometimes it was hard to come back to the real world.
Recently many of us were privileged to enjoy incredible mountaintop experiences. CCEF held their national conference in San Diego, followed by ACBC’s national conference in Los Angeles. Both conferences were a great blessing. We were built up as we heard the compassionate biblical approach to loss taken by the speakers at CCEF. It was also a great encouragement to hear the presenters at ACBC address the issues of mental illness with both compassion and biblical integrity. I was thrilled to see my mentor and IBCD’s founder, George Scipione, honored as the newest member of the Academy in ACBC.
While the sessions were wonderful, one of the best parts about these conferences is the fellowship with thousands of brothers and sisters who are committed to caring, gospel-centered biblical counseling. It was like a great reunion of very dear friends—a taste of heaven. I also am so thankful to God to see the renewed cooperation and fellowship between CCEF and ACBC (formerly NANC) which had begun as complementary organizations forty years ago. It was also wonderful to see many other groups which are committed to biblical counseling represented at both conferences and to be reminded of the growth of our movement as more seminaries and other equipping ministries share our commitment to biblical counseling.
But after a week on the mountaintop it was time to return home. The reality hit hard the following Monday morning when I was praying about my counseling load for Monday night. There’s the couple who have been married for forty years and yet live in constant conflict. There are issues of anger, control, and hoarding which they have been unable to resolve. They have been in and out of counseling through their church, in our center and with other counselors but so far there has been no breakthrough. In what new and fresh way can I proclaim the gospel to them? Why should I hope that it will work this time when it hasn’t worked before?
Then there is the church leader and his wife who have been embittered and angry toward one another for over a year. Recent events have exploded in such a way that their issues have been made known to the church. His future in ministry lies in the balance. As I pray about meeting with them, I am reminded that they already know what I need to tell them. They have counseled others in similar situations using the same verses and principles I have been trying to apply to them. The last time I met with them my heart was broken by their hardness as each pointed the finger at the other.
Then I have the young couple who have been married for just a year. She erupts in anger and he shuts down. Both wonder if they made a mistake by getting married. When they fail, each struggles with doubts about whether he/she is even a believer. It is emotionally exhausting to wrestle through these issues with them.
Then finally, I think about the couple who have been separated for two years because one of them was unfaithful. Another counselor and I helped them to work through many of the issues of repentance and forgiveness and by God’s grace they have made a lot of progress. Both have agreed to work toward full reconciliation and coming back together as husband and wife. But there have been some serious bumps in the road recently. Having lived separately for so long each seems a bit nervous about getting back together. New issues keep emerging. I ask God, “How can I help move this dear couple forward?”
It was hard on Monday morning, after coming down from the mountaintop, to contemplate the spiritual warfare in which I would be engaging for five hours (with student observers in each case). The conferences had been so delightful. We were reminded of the sufficiency of God’s Word and the privilege of offering it to others.
Sufficient in Christ Alone
Getting down into the trenches of counseling again seemed overwhelming. Who is sufficient for these things? As I prayed I was reminded that our sufficiency is in Christ, who told us, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
All of our training, skill and effort will not change people. We can do nothing apart from Christ. But as we abide in Him, He enables us to bear much fruit.
Because of the conferences it had been at least two weeks since I had seen my counselees. I was thankful that God had been working the lives of my counselees during my absence. In each case there had been spiritual growth and application of the gospel in their relationships. Hard hearts were being softened. Though I felt exhausted and insufficient, God helped me to open the Word in each hour and the Holy Spirit made my counselees receptive to God’s truth.
Biblical counseling is not ultimately our work. We seek to faithfully hold forth God’s Word to needy fellow pilgrims, praying that the Spirit will work to do what we cannot. It is a great privilege to participate in this work of God and to see all that He does.
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