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When applying Scripture to troubled souls, there has to be carefulness because it’s not always appropriate to map a Bible story over a person’s situation as though there are enough similarities to make that approach wise. No doubt, the Lord’s response to Job opened the sufferer’s eyes to help him see what was happening, and Job’s response was stellar: “Job put his hand over his mouth and said, ‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.'”
God’s stern counsel implies that He did not owe Job anything, and neither does He owe us but is that the proper approach for victims of cruelty? I suggested to my friend that as he continues to teach her about God’s love, he wants to think strategically about how to move her forward, practically speaking. It could take months for her to benefit in measurable ways from the transformative love of God, and implementing God’s counsel to Job could sabotage his aspirations for her. I’m not suggesting he was thinking in a formulaic way, though that could be a temptation with unchanging people. Truthfully, she may never get to where he wants her to be.
Only the Lord holds this kind of information (Deuteronomy 29:29). Her future outcome is in His mind, and He will not share those intentions with anyone. God’s desire for disciple-makers is to faithfully serve struggling souls as they wrestle through the torment of what has happened to them. We must not put time limits on their transformation. Traditional counseling can have limitations in that we may want to “speed up the process” because we’re working within an artificial construct.
You may be surprised to know that many Christians are angry at God, though I suspect most of them would never say it that way. Oftentimes, we recategorize our anger to lesser sounding offenses like disappointment with God. Though it is not wise to openly talk about anger at God, we must be honest with at least one other person about our most transparent perspectives about our trials. In a private setting, it’s a positive sign when the struggling soul feels vulnerable and optimistic enough to admit their struggle with God. The fact they will say the quiet part aloud is what you want. Sometimes our Christian propriety interferes with soul care’s hard and nasty work.
It is helpful for competent, courageous, andc compassionate friends to know the internal turmoil of others. Whenever a person is honest with me, though they are struggling and may even be sinning in how they communicate, I appreciate knowing where they are, rather than assuming they are something that they are not. Too often, disciple-makers assume where to begin caring for someone’s soul without calculating the true nature of the situation.
For example, a Christian victim of sin probably knows about God’s omnipotent ability and His everywhere presence. When they factor these things into their thinking, it is reasonable to ponder, “Where was God when all this crazy stuff went down?” I’ve thought similarly. April 08, 1988, my wife of nine years decided to leave with our two young children. They never returned. I’m still affected by that day more than three decades later. A dark cloud rolled over my life and never left. During the early years, I spent considerable time reading the Book of Job, wondering about God’s sovereignty and my suffering.
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For my sighing comes instead of my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes (Job 3:23-26).
Job said the thing he had feared had come upon him. I’m not sure if that has ever happened to you. It did for me. What a victim goes through cannot be thoroughly explained or understood unless you have been in their place and experienced a comparable pain. This perspective does not necessarily disqualify you from helping someone, but I do want to call attention to the complicatedness of victimness. They do not fully understand the complexity of what has happened to them. How could they? Who can know the mind of the Lord?
There is an element of faith that God calls us to walk, and when things like what happened to the victimized soul come, it can disrupt their faith in proportion to the size of their trouble. Their problems are mountainous, which means their ability to trust God will be proportionally challenging. God’s counsel to Job was perfect because God is perfect. He knew what Job needed during that “counseling season,” which lasted forty-two chapters. Please remember that we are not aware of the actual counseling time from the beginning of Job’s ordeal—chapter one—to the end, forty-two chapters later.
The part of the Lord’s counsel where He rebuked Job—chapter thirty-eight—could be appropriate at some juncture in the process. I remember when someone gave me Romans 8:28 as part of their counsel, which is a biblical goal for all of us. That passage presents beautiful counsel to the afflicted, but my heart was not in the place to receive it. My response to the “Romans 8:28 advice” was along these lines: “Has it ever occurred to you that I might not want all things to work together for good? I’m not interested in what the Lord is trying to do in my life. What I want is my family back.” My friend gave me good counsel, but it was the wrong time.
A couple of weeks ago, I talked with a sick friend telling me how some people are so “blessed” by her suffering. She understands what they are trying to say, and knows how difficult it is to speak into her unchangeable situation. She humorously but truthfully said, “I don’t want to be the poster girl for sickness so others can be grateful for their health or be encouraged by my illness. I’d rather they find another way to be grateful and encouraged.” She realizes her attitude is wrong, but she is also trying to be honest about what is going on in her thought life.
I’m not trying to change my friend; I’m trying to be a friend. I want to walk with her and her husband through her unchangeable situation. We are at the place where I can call attention to her bad attitude when it needs adjusting, and she receives my corrections with grace, but I can’t change her or her situation. I don’t try to. The first step in helping the struggling soul is creating an environment where everyone can be honest with each other. Even if they are not responding with the proper Bible answers, there is much encouragement to find with reciprocal transparency.
The Book of Job is not a one-size-fits-all template for doing things or how things will always conclude for trapped people. Job’s book was a unique historical moment between a man and his Creator. Not all counseling situations will play out that way, though it would be nice if they did. Some Christians are not in a place that recognizes they are doing better than they deserve; we all deserve eternal damnation. When Sovereign God rebuked Job, his heart had already begun to soften; his humility set the stage for how he responded to the strong counsel that God gave to him.
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? (Job 38:1-2).
Make sure you properly assess the person you’re caring for to see if you’re speaking to a humble or proud heart. You must discern where they are in their journey. If they are angry with God, there will be resistance to the raw counsel you see in the Book of Job. If there is a reluctance to God, for whatever reason, tread carefully. Let me put it this way: if they are not in chapter 38, where the Lord counseled Job, it’s not the time for you to advise them the way God counseled Job. Counseling is conditional on the heart of the person you’re counseling. The Lord knew Job was ready to gird up his loins and receive some stern and direct counsel. It worked, and Job experienced transformation.
As you know, the Lord grants repentance (2 Timothy 2:25). People are different, and each person needs counseling according to who they are and where they are, not who we think they should be or according to other people we know or even historical figures we find in the Bible. I know you know this, and I’m preaching to the choir, but a good reminder does not hurt. An unchanging friend needs our love through care and discernment.
Sometimes our friends need our admonition. Most of all, they need our friendship. I do not know how the “42 chapters” of trouble will play out for anyone. They may never come to the place of seeing what Job saw or responding the way Job did (Job 42:5-6, 10). They may always be angry with the Lord. Maybe in fifteen years or so, they will make some significant changes. These possibilities are His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29). We must become comfortable with this mystery while guarding our hearts against thinking about how we believe things should be and how things will be (James 4:13-17; Matthew 6:34).
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before (Job 42:10).
Patience will be our primary need as we serve our stuck friends (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Soul care is some of the most laborious work, especially when the individuals we love don’t seem to want to change—or when they are stuck, and though they would like to change, they just can’t. One thing that makes our work difficult is not being the ones who control the change process. We are the Lord’s water boys and girls, faithfully watering and sowing while asking the Father to provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-7). In this way, it is similar to parenting or any other relationship. We keep on plowing, keep on watering, keep on sowing, and keep on being patient.
Be encouraged. Live with the future expectation of the Lord restoring those you love (Psalm 23:3). It may come while you are working with them. It may not. If they have any theological moorings at all, they probably know the Lord is good, and He was there in their suffering, and He is working a good plan for their lives. I had limited awareness of this truth when my pain was most acute. But there was nothing I could do to change my thinking or the hurt. It was something I had to experience through painful perseverance; God had to take me on a dangerous journey, and no amount of counseling was going to change that.
No matter how many times I cried, my pain and circumstance never changed. Finally, out of sheer desperate torment, I blurted out my anger to the Lord. I don’t recommend this, but it did happen to me. If you or any other person had shown up during that time, there would have been nothing you could do for me other than be my praying, caring, persevering friend. I could not change. I was stuck. That was a long time ago. The residual effect of that suffering lingers today but in a different way. The good Lord turned my captivity from bitter hopelessness to a ministry that helps people. I’m glad you are there for your unchanging friends, and in some small way, I can serve them through you. That, my friend, is what makes all my suffering worth it.
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