by Bob Kellemen
Yesterday in the car I was listening to a Christian radio station (Moody Radio out of Chicago) and they had an interesting call-in question:
“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?”
Whatever age you are now, if you had a chance to go back to the you of age 16, what would you tell yourself about life? What biblical counsel would you offer the younger you?
How would you answer that question?
My “Gut Response”
My first response, my “gut response,” kind of surprised me:
“Life is hard, but God is good.”
When I was 16, I had been a Christian for just over one year. At that age I falsely assumed that with God, since all things were possible, therefore life would be easy.
Some 37 years later, I certainly would say that I’ve had a good life. God has graciously given me untold blessings: eternal salvation in Christ, a wonderful wife of 32 years, two young adult children I deeply love, a wonderful daughter-in-law and granddaughter, great ongoing relationships with my extended family and with friends, a great church where we worship and fellowship, a nice home perfect for entertaining, a life in ministry where I’ve been able to use my abilities and gifts, etc., etc., etc.
So, why would my first thought be to tell my younger self, “Life will be hard”?
Biblical Counsel: Sustaining—“Life Is Bad”
Well, Jesus promised us a hard life. “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).
His promise has come true in my life. Along with all the blessings, I have found that life has a way of knocking me down. Life in this fallen world is filled with hurts, disappointments, confusion. I sin against others. Others sin against me.
For example, as wonderful as ministry has been, like anyone who gives themselves to others, I have been hurt deeply by others (and I’ve hurt others deeply). In my 37 years since age 16, many times I have felt what the Apostle Paul felt. After telling the Corinthians about the hardships he had suffered, Paul admitted that the pressure felt like far more than he could endure. He confessed that in his heart he felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life.
I’m not saying this to “whine.” I’m simply saying that my 16-year-old self would have been helped by a major change in expectations. Assuming that God will make life easy is not helpful!
The historic biblical counseling approach that I follow and teach starts with sustaining, which empathizes with people by communicating, “Yes, life is bad. Yes, it’s normal to hurt.” I picture sustaining with the image of “climbing in the casket.” When someone like Paul feels the sentence of death, before we rush in with our “happiness all the time” mentality, we stop and experience their death-like, their casket-like hurt.
With the hurting “me of age 16,” I would be tempted to rush in with 1 Corinthians 10:13 and explain that God never tempts anyone beyond what they can bear. Well, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that, a few years later also wrote that he was under great pressure far beyond his ability to endure.” Both truths are equally true. I’d want to communicate both to the younger me.
Biblical Counsel: Healing—“God Is Good”
The biblical counseling approach I teach and practice continues with historic biblical healing which says, “It’s possible to hope.” So, taken together, we say, “It’s normal to hurt, but it’s possible to hope.”
I would say to the younger me:
“Along with your casket experiences, expect many resurrection experiences. Life is filled with daily mini-caskets of separation, of the death of expectations, even the death of dreams and some relationships. But life will also be filled with many daily mini-resurrections.”
That’s what Paul said when he spoke of himself and to himself. Right after saying that he “despaired even of life,” Paul continued: “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”
What image of God did Paul highlight in his self-counsel?
The dead-raising God.
The God of daily resurrections.
Yes, I would communicate to my younger self that “life will be hard. Life will sometimes feel like an inescapable coffin.” But I would never stop there. With my younger self, I would also say:
“But God is good. He’s good all the time. It may not feel like that. But focus on your image of God. See Him as the God who sees you, who cares for you, and who uses the hard things of life to make you a more Christ-dependent person.”
I’d want to communicate what Paul said to himself and the Corinthians.
“Through all the struggles and temptations of life, God is faithful. You can count on Him to raise the dead things in your life. Now, sometimes some of those dead things won’t be raised until the next life, until eternity. Sometimes some things, perhaps many things, won’t make sense until the next life. But don’t only look at life from an earthly perspective. Also look at life from God’s eternal perspective. When people intend things for evil and harm and hurt, God weaves all things together for good. Hope in God.”
“Hope in God.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self.
I’d also want to share with the younger me what Christ shared with His followers.
“Yes, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world. Focus on your relationship to Christ. In Him you can have peace.”
“Peace in Christ.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self.
Join the Conversation
“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?”
This week one of my coaching clients shared that her counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus. She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding. Is that true?
Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?
The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.
The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus on a few points from these verses to help us understand what Peter is teaching us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.
Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants Christians to know how to respond when the government or a slave owner misuses his power or is abusive, or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about, such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband those words would hold no weight.
First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people. Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages, a spouse who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or negative reactions and responses to his abuse.
It’s painful to keep quiet in these circumstances. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3). Not using our words to hurt others once they have hurt us, may indeed cause some internal suffering. But when we choose this path, God is honored.
Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating with our words or actions. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, when reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22, 23).
Next, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment. He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”
The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing-the-right-thing kind of good. Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop. Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).
In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse. Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse. (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.).
A wife who does good in these ways will suffer because her husband will not view her actions as good. Instead he will get angry, defensive, and likely retaliate against her for what she’s done. That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.
Lastly, Peter reminds wives that their unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey God’s word can be won by their respectful and pure conduct. But we must keep in mind that a godly wife’s godly actions may include implementing tough consequences for repetitive and unrepentant sin in the hopes that those actions influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors, repent, and come to Christ. God used that approach with hard hearted Israel when they repeatedly refused to heed his verbal warnings. Paul encourages us to do likewise (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 13).
When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.
When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows, we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage. This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he please with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles one to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel, or crush his spouse’s spirit with no consequences. To believe otherwise is to not know the heart or wisdom of God.
If Peter meant that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, her behavior would not be doing him good. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God.
Peter concludes his teaching about suffering with these words. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).
Let’s encourage suffering spouses do good rather than pretend or stay passive. There is a huge difference between the two.
by Paul Tripp
We're all treasure hunters. We all live to gain, maintain, keep, and enjoy things that are valuable to us. Our behavior in any given situation of life is our attempt to get what is valuable to us out of that situation. There are things in your life to which you have assigned importance, and once you have, you are no longer willing to live without them (these principles are laid out in Matthew 6:19–33).
Everyone does it. We live to possess and experience the things on which we’ve set our hearts. We’re always living for some kind of treasure. And every treasure you set your heart on and actively seek will give you some kind of return.
An argumentative moment is an investment in the treasure of being right, and from it you will get some kind of relational return. If you aggressively argue the other person into a corner, it’s not likely that the return on that investment will be his or her appreciation of you, nor will it be the desire to have similar conversations again!
If you invest in the treasure of willing service, you‘ll experience the return of appreciation, respect, and a deeper friendship. If it’s more valuable to have control than it is for your friend or spouse to feel heard, loved, and understood, then you’ll live with the return of that in the quality of your relationship.
Investment is inescapable; you do it everyday, and it's hard to get away from the return on the investments you’ve made.
How will you invest in your relationships today?
Paul David Tripp
Upon brief reflection it’s easy to see that the remedy du jour for treating depression solely with medication is based upon very specific assumptions: that its genesis is always within the body (primarily the brain) and that we do not have an inner, invisible mind that directs brain activity. If that is true, then anesthetizing uncomfortable feelings is the wisest choice. However, if Scripture teaches something different, specifically that we have both a brain and a mind (or inner man), then categorizing depression solely as a dysfunction of the brain and turning to medicine first (thereby silencing the emotional voice of the mind) will unavoidably impede the important heart-work that God-ordained suffering is meant to produce.
Of course, there might be times when medicines are a viable option, but because there are such wonderful graces at our disposal and because there are so many drawbacks with the use of anti-depressants, perhaps medicines should be considered the last line of defense, rather than the first.
Well, then, you might wonder, what is the scriptural cure for spiritual depression? This question begs another one: Should we assume that there will always be a cure for discomforts in this life? Isn’t it true that Christians recognize that suffering is part of what it means to live in this sad world? Don’t we believe suffering in itself is frequently beneficial to our lives, as it (and all things) come to us through the hands of a loving Father (Rom. 5:3–5)? Of course, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t seek to alleviate suffering when appropriate (1 Cor. 7:21), but rather to inject perspective into our search for wisdom. So let’s rephrase our quest: If there were a practical wisdom to help the depressed, where would we find it? In Jesus Christ, of course (1 Cor. 1:30).
“All progress in the Christian life depends upon a recapitulation of the original terms of one’s acceptance with God” (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, p. 27). This delightful quote points us to an enduring remedy for all our ills, even that of spiritual depression. Every step we take in our Christianity, especially as we learn to war against inclinations to be introverted, self-critical, angry, anxious, bitter, hopeless, unbelieving, or fainthearted, depends upon an intentional revisiting of the Gospel. After all, what does a sad person need more than to be gently, yet continually, reminded of the good news? Over and over again, we’ve got to remember His suffering on our behalf: His incarnation, sinless life, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, and ascension. In a nutshell, we have to intentionally consider Jesus, especially during those dark hours when we’re tempted to think only of ourselves. And although every one of us needs a daily dose of Gospel-recapitulation, those of us who feel the blows of Giant Despair need it even more.
What would this Gospel-recapitulation look like? It would simply look like encouraging the fainthearted with the truth about Jesus Christ. The depressed person needs a deep draught of encouragement, not trite banalities like, “Cheer up, things are bound to get better,” or “You’re not so bad. You’re really a wonderful person.” No, the depressed need strong medicine like, “God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that… we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9–10).
The counter-intuitive truth that the depressed person needs to hear isn’t “you’re really a wonderful person,” but rather, “you’re more sinful and flawed than you ever dared believe.” When he bemoans that he’s “such a failure,” we should agree with him, at least on one level. We should agree that we’re all failures to the point that the perfect Son of God had to die before we would be able to have fellowship with Him. Every one of us has utterly failed to love God or our neighbor. We fail not only because we don’t love as we should, but also because we think we should be able to. We don’t really believe God’s assessment of the depth of our depravity. We can be freed from over-scrupulous consciences, from the incessant viewing and reviewing of our disappointments, when we realize that we shouldn’t expect success or to be well-treated. No, we deserve failure, abandonment, and wrath. Here’s one powerfully freeing facet of the Gospel message: We will never live up to our own standards! Neither will anyone else! In fact, the deception that we should be able to do this flows from a proud belief in our own abilities, self-sufficiency, and self-righteousness — beliefs that fly right in the face of the Gospel. We’re not in need of minor adjustments; we’re desperate for an all-sufficient Redeemer. The depressed person should ask, “What do I think I deserve? What am I expecting of myself, of others? Do I really believe that I’m as sinful and weak as Scripture says I am? Do I believe that I should be successful, appreciated, or sinless?”
Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be,” also speaks directly to the depressed. In some ways, depression is a slow, painful death of desire, the heart-sickness that comes from repeatedly having hope deferred (Prov. 13:12). Hope that sustains the heart when pursuing a treasured desire has faded (or disappeared) in the depressed. What, then, do you treasure? What do you think would bring you happiness? Who or what are you worshiping? What would give your life meaning? Whose life do you covet?
The joyous truth is that perhaps this painful depression is the Lord’s way of revealing false gods to you: gods of success, romance, acceptance, security, reputation. Is your heart sick? What hoped-for desires have been withheld? Why do you love them like you do? Why has a loving God withheld them from you?
Bathing our soul in the Gospel message will powerfully transform the locus of our treasure. Rather than cherishing success or self-approval, we can learn to cherish the Lord because He’s lavished such love upon the undeserving (1 John 4:7–10). All-satisfying treasure is found in this Gospel message: “It’s true that I’m more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe, and that truth frees me from the delusion that I’ll ever be able to approve of myself; but I’m also more loved and welcomed than I ever dared hope, and that truth comforts and encourages me when my heart condemns me and my darling desires are all withheld. It assures me that although I struggle with accepting myself, the Holy King has declared me righteous. What I’ve really needed — forgiveness, welcome and enduring love, have all been given to me in Christ.
“This is the freeing truth you can learn through your depression: You weren’t created to love and worship anything more than you love and worship God; and when you do, you’ll feel bad. God has made you to feel pain when you’ve got other treasures that you’ve placed above Him. He wants you to treasure Him” (Elyse Fitzpatrick, Will Medicine Stop the Pain? p. 102).
We can fight against weariness, despair, and hopelessness when we consider Jesus, how he authored and, yes, even completed our faith (weak though it seems); how “for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” We are to “consider him… so that [we] may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:2–3). Rather than considering ourselves, our record, humiliation, and failure, we’re to consider Him.
The depressed person needs to repeatedly hear this lovely statement, “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” In Matthew’s gospel we read of a paralytic who was brought to Jesus by his friends. Although we don’t know who they were, we can surmise what they wanted. What were they hoping for? Healing, of course. This invalid and his friends were hoping that Jesus would enable him to walk. But Jesus had a different perspective on this man’s true need. Instead of saying initially, “Be healed. Rise and walk,” he said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2–3).
The depressed don’t simply need to feel better. They need a Redeemer who says, “Take heart, my son, my daughter; what you really need has been supplied. Life no longer need be about your goodness, success, righteousness, or failure. I’ve given you something infinitely more valuable than good feelings: your sins are forgiven.” This forgiveness permanently cleanses not only outward conspicuous sin, but also hidden unbelief, faithlessness, pride, self-sufficiency, and apathy. Rather than the Gospel being ancillary to the life of the depressed, everything else in life needs to be ancillary to it.
Like the paralytic’s friends, we must bring our fainthearted brothers and sisters to Jesus. His sweet truth is to be lovingly communicated to them through a wise and patient community of faith. Encouragement to believe Gospel truth rather than Satan’s lies and support to step out in faith, whether that means simply opening the blinds or taking a walk around the block, need to come to them through others who know they are just like the depressed: immeasurably unworthy but nevertheless immeasurably loved jars of clay filled with life-transforming treasure. In this way, the Gospel is not only recapitulated but reincarnated before the suffering.
The power to transform the depressed belongs to God alone, thus we trust that “he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:14, 16).
The Associates for Biblical Research is a Christian apologetics ministry dedicated to demonstrating the historical reliability of the Bible through archaeological and biblical research. Founded in 1969, ABR is unique as the only evangelical Christian organization conducting professional archaeological field work in Israel. For about the ministry of ABR, visit www.BibleArchaeology.org