Advancing Biblical Counseling Globally. Our mission is to foster collaborative relationships and to provide robust, relevant biblical resources that equip the Body of Christ to change lives with Christ’s changeless truth.
How can parents help their children to think rightly about themselves? Raising Kids in a “You Can Do It” World tackles the cultural message of autonomy and independence that is drilled into our children at every turn. Author Paul Tautges, himself an experienced father of ten, clearly, concisely, and effectively answers culture’s mantra by focusing specifically on the attributes of our Creator and His gospel provision as definitive for His creatures’ view of self.
Tautges writes from a biblical conviction that the character and work of God should be at the forefront in parenting, starting with the parents’ own faith. He is concerned about the disconnection between true faith, wisdom, and dependence upon God and the self-centered values parents teach their children. He writes, “Instead of helping kids to become confident, stable, and secure – because of humble dependency upon God and His wisdom – [children are told] they are independent, self-sufficient, self-directed, and self-governing…. [But] messages like these feed the inborn, natural elevation of self. Awareness of this cultural tension highlights how much we need to approach Christian parenting as intentional discipleship” (pp. 5-6).
The author leads parents on a journey following ten signposts, starting with the importance of parental self-examination to evaluate personal conversion and spiritual growth. He rightly points out that parents’ faith and practice profoundly impact their children. Without a biblical view of self, a parent will be unable to model and pass along a correct self-image to the next generation.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is central to this book, emphasizing the need for parents to acknowledge that we are all sinners, the cost God paid for our salvation, and the high cost of following Him. The key is to be authentic. “Our kids…need parents who know how desperately they need the Savior themselves” (p. 39). Christian parents are warned to beware of inoculating their children with a watered-down gospel. He urges parents to embrace their responsibility to share the gospel and cautions against trusting that a carnal child is saved simply because of a prayer, without considering whether the fruit of the Spirit is present.
Tautges does a good job of walking parents through the essentials of true faith: treasuring and fearing God, setting ‘awe’ in its correct context, integrating Scripture into every facet of life, promoting biblical authority structures and work ethics, and addressing heart attitudes toward sin and grace that “protect the marriage of punishment and mercy” (p. 25). He emphasizes making the local church a high priority and gives some practical tips for Saturday preparation to help families get to church on Sunday.
So, what does all of this have to do with self-image? A biblical view of God and self will steer a child away from self-reliance and self-congratulations to the One who is worthy of adoration, enabling the child to recognize identity there. Therefore, parents are exhorted to rethink how they communicate what is significant. “Our goal,” Tautges asserts, “should be to raise not self-confident children, but God-dependent adults” (p. 35). Tautges provides examples such as: “When our 10-year-old son makes a great play at first base, I could say, ‘Buddy, you are awesome!’ Or I could say, ‘Buddy, that was excellent. Isn’t God awesome to give you the ability to play baseball?’” (pp. 33-34).
Tautges is also careful to say that the phrase “You can do it!” can be used appropriately. He offers several examples to convey “With God’s help, you can do it!” to encourage boldness and security in the Lord, in the context of right thinking about God and self.
This brief book is a quick but important read for busy parents. It contains vital principles for building up a God-focused perspective on self—a view that our secular culture utterly fails to comprehend. Because a biblical view of self is so rarely taught, at first the reader may have some difficulty connecting the gospel message with the subject of self-issues. A counselor may find it helpful to explain the relevance of each signpost or to ask the counselee to write why each signpost is important for a biblical self-image, thus keeping the reader engaged and ultimately brought on board.
The Raising Kids series includes this booklet on self-image and three other booklets covering the topics of parenting in light of social media, living by grace, and navigating a hyper-sexualized world. Biblical Counseling Coalition Executive Director Curtis Solomon writes, “These short, easy-to-read books do not attempt to be exhaustive manuals on any one of the topics. Instead, they offer strategic insights that are both timeless and immediately applicable” (p. 2). Written in simple terms, this booklet is an important milestone for raising children with a biblical perspective about themselves: neither self-deprecating nor self-exalting, but grateful to our Redeemer for creating us and giving us life and purpose in Christ.
BCC Staff Note: Raising Kids in a “You Can Do It” World is available for purchase from Amazon.
Some people think that teachers have it easy because they don’t have to work a full year. Although it is true that school is in session for only ten months, it feels like thirteen months of work. By the time summer rolls around, most educators are crawling to the finish line and looking forward to a season of extended rest and refreshment. The joys and demands of caring for students and their families is a privileged opportunity. Being in education is a wonderful adventure, but it certainly can take its toll. The concept of burnout is a perennial issue among educators. The Bible speaks at length about the essential role of rest as a regular expression of the people of God (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:10-17; 33:12; Ps. 37:7; Matt. 6:25-34; 11:28, Heb. 4:3-11) for both their joy and God’s glory. There are certainly ways for our teachers to discipline their hearts and bodies for sustainable ministry during the school year, but that is for another post. We are in the summer months now (Eccl. 3:1), so here are some helpful tips for my beloved educators on how to invest well in a restful, healthy summer.
Remember the Lies of Summer
Summer is great, but it does not give you anything that you don’t already have in Christ. The exaggerated promise that summer is going to rebuild that which is broken down at the end of a long school year always underdelivers. Those overdue projects that the summer will provide resources and time to accomplish, the gift of solitude and uninterrupted time, and the adventure of travel to enlighten the soul are just a few of the half-truths of the summer. There are certainly extended opportunities to enjoy a different pace and to catch up on some projects, but the summer does not provide enough time to accomplish all that you desire. If not careful, it is easy as educators to move your good desires to expectant needs when your hope is placed in the promises of summer and not the promises of our Savior. Summertime is good, but it’s not the greatest. Having realistic expectations sets the heart to enjoy summer with gratitude and not demand.
Rest but Don’t Break
Enjoy longer mornings and slow lunches, but don’t disengage. There can be a temptation to let down once the demand of the school year subsides. Although the summertime does allow resting the weary mind that has been fully engaged in school life, it can also tempt the soul to disengage and be more susceptible to besetting sins. The Bible speaks of our Christian life as one that is engaged and purposeful, and this includes the summer months. This mindset keeps the heart diligent in a season of rest. As you consider the summer as a water break amid a long bike ride rather than the end of the race, you can keep focused as you enjoy a downcycle.
Strengthen Your Core
The demands of the school year can mean a steady rhythm of early mornings and late nights for the educator. These times of immersive community-building and deadlines can easily hinder or even handicap the regular disciplines of the Christian life. The life of an educator can be overwhelming at times, and seemingly, the easiest thing to give up first is personal wellness. The summer provides the opportunity to recapture the top core commitments to personal wellness: diet, exercise, sleep, personal devotion, and the fellowship of the saints. Take the time to immerse deeply into these core commitments. Enjoy preparing healthy foods, running a 5K, setting regular sleep patterns, prayerfully exploring the gospels, and inviting friends over for tea. Taking extended time to strengthen these core commitments ballast the heart to the unique demands of the school year and gives a greater appetite for those healthy expressions when the flesh brings false promises during times of weariness.
Reflect and Regroup
Take time at the end of the school year to look back on what the Lord has done in and through your life. Give unhurried time to consider life both inside and outside the classroom. What were some themes in your thinking and actions relating to your instruction to the students under your care? What were some of the challenges that moved you into greater places of faith and pursuit of your craft? What surprised you this year? As you look to do it all over again, what would you do differently? How would you prepare your heart as you look to engage in the lives of others? What new vista related to your craft could you incorporate to advance your student learning outcomes? Take time to consider anew the authority of Scripture and how it applies to every academic discipline and detail of life. Re-organize and begin to set goals for advancement in your area of discipline and identify placeholders for new work. This exercise in the summer months will help clear off the table of another full academic year and reset it for the development of new ideas and explorations when they become evident.
Learn Outside of Your Classroom
One of the most helpful ways to rejuvenate and inspire your thinking as you prepare to serve your students next year is to explore reading and research outside of your primary discipline. Cross-disciplinary reading and research invigorate a mind that is postured to engage with the material as a learner, not an instructor. The ability to place yourself in the mind of the student in areas of interest that have no perceived benefit other than the joy of exploration rebuilds confidence and joy in understanding all aspects of God’s creative order as an act of worship. This could be as simple as chasing down a link in a blog post, to wandering the aisles of a recommended used book store or researching for a seminar that you want to give. The idea is to enjoy a season of learning for the pure joy of it. This will give you unhurried reflections in all areas of academic discipline (even your own) and will remind you of the great privilege it is to be a part of the academy in the first place.
Plan for Re-entry
Begin your summer with the end in mind. This provides helpful guidelines for decision-making along the way. How many years have you headed into the fall surprised where all the time has gone and hurriedly preparing for the first day of school? Set a time in your summer calendar when you begin to re-engage in the design and implementation of the next school year. In my experience, you need a least a couple of weeks before the contract start date to walk through the process of becoming spiritually, physically, and mentally prepared to run the gauntlet of daily instruction and student development. Everyone is different, but take time to plan out when and how that process can be inaugurated. This will not only help with August-shock, but it will build your anticipation to jump back into the hearts and lives of the students under your care.
Happiest of summers, my beloved educators! These are remarkable days to be in the development of an education that is distinctly biblical. No matter how advanced the curriculum might be, true influence comes from the lives of the educators themselves. Thank you for what you do, and most importantly, how you do it. Rest well, and look forward to next year as we get to do it all over again…but not for a few more weeks.
Questions for Reflection
What are some dynamics that have helped you to be refreshed during the summer months? How can you be of encouragement to your fellow educators to rest well over the summer?
 To help in that regard, I could not more highly recommend David Murray’s book, Rest: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burn Out Culture (Wheaton, Crossway, 2017).
Curtis interviews Garrett Higbee, former Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition about his new ministry roles. Dr. Higbee shares about 12 Stones ministry and what a retreat there entails as well as his service consulting churches on developing soul care ministry.
Subscribe on iTunes or PodBean to find this and future episodes of 15:14 – A Podcast of the Biblical Counseling Coalition.
How can biblical counselors use Scripture according to God’s purposes in their ministry to others? While there are many places where God describes the uses of His Word (see Psalm 19:7-11 and Psalm 119), one passage stands out.
2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” This passage says a great deal about the Bible’s source: it is from God. To encounter God in His Word is to hear Him speak. God speaks, and what He says is the most important thing for a person to know. His Word supplies all that we need to know Him rightly and to live a life pleasing to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. Biblical counselors strive to look to the Word of God to help counselees embrace such truth so that their lives might, in turn, glorify Him.
But this passage also details four specific ways the Bible is profitable, or useful, for our lives: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” These four uses of Scripture give biblical counselors a clear roadmap for ministering God’s grace to others. They emphasize the importance of what we believe as the foundation for how we live, in turn showing us where our ministry focus should be in helping others. Together, these purposes of Scripture establish clear objectives for pursuing a life that pleases God.
Purpose #1: God’s Word Teaches Us What Is True
First, Scripture is useful for teaching us what is true: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching.” The Bible teaches us comprehensive truths about God, people, sin and its effects, and the hope that is found in Jesus Christ. Scripture speaks of God’s character, love, and grace, and of the enduring joy that comes from following Jesus through the trials of life as His people await His return. All that God’s Word says is true and authoritative and is, therefore, to be believed, trusted, cherished, and obeyed. Even in matters not directly addressed, Scripture equips people with an accurate and complete framework for rightly understanding all of human life before God. In a culture filled with competing truth claims and alternative narratives for understanding our lives, biblical counselors instruct their counselees with God’s Word so that they can know and believe what is true.
Purpose #2: God’s Word Exposes Wrong Beliefs
Second, God’s Word is useful for exposing wrongly held beliefs in one’s life: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable…for reproof.” As we read and reflect upon Scripture, God reveals areas in our lives where we have believed wrongly about Him, about ourselves, and about how the hope of the gospel is applied to our lives for salvation and sanctification. When Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that Scripture is useful “for reproof,” he has in mind what it means for someone to be convicted over such false beliefs, so that what he or she wrongly believes might come in line with the truth. In response to the snare of wrongly-held beliefs in one’s life, biblical counselors use Scripture to help their counselees through loving and gentle rebuke, so that they might repent of believing what is false and embrace what is true about God and His gospel.
Purpose #3: God’s Word Confronts Sin in Our Lives
Third, Scripture is useful for confronting sin in our lives: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable…for correction.” Whereas the preceding purpose relates to wrongly held beliefs in our inner person, “to correct” refers to confronting and correcting sinful behavior expressed externally in one’s life. Reproof and correction in this sense are connected uses of Scripture: as God uses His Word to expose wrong beliefs, He also confronts the sin in our lives that reflects the expression of those beliefs. Biblical counselors seek to use Scripture in this way as well, not only to help rescue their counselees from wrong belief but also to demonstrate how our actions reflect the true motivations of our hearts.
Purpose #4: God’s Word Equips Us in Godly Living
Fourth, and finally, Scripture is useful for equipping in godly living: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable…for training in righteousness.” This purpose of Scripture follows each of the other three. God, through His Word, instructs us in what is true, exposes our false beliefs, and confronts us in our sin. But Scripture’s usefulness continues, referring not only to growth in the knowledge of God but to the pursuit of godliness and a transformed life. God uses His Word to train us, teaching us what it is like to follow Jesus in daily life so that we will learn to observe all that He has commanded (Matt. 28:20). Amid the temptation toward inaction or apathy, biblical counselors help their counselees move toward the goal of Christlikeness so that they will not only know what is true but that their lives would reflect this truth as well.
Four Purposes, One Result
These four purposes of Scripture combine to produce one intended result: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added). The usefulness of God’s Word is meant to produce maturity and godliness in the lives of those we counsel, but also a growing capacity for ministry in the lives of other people. By God’s grace and help, those we counsel will one day counsel, disciple, or care for others. This result reflects what Paul himself says earlier in his letter to Timothy: “What you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also (2:2).” God speaks in His Word to instruct, to reprove, to confront, and to train so that those we counsel would bear fruit that leads to further disciple-making, for God’s glory.
Questions for Reflection
How has this discussion helped clarify the purposes of Scripture in your counseling ministry? What other purposes of Scripture would you identify beyond these four mentioned from 2 Timothy 3:16? How have these additional purposes helped you as you minister God’s truth to others?
Brady Goodwin serves as the Care Pastor at The Village Church in Dallas, Texas. He is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (D.Min., Biblical Counseling). He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife Aimee and their three children.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with a woman, Eugena (a pseudonym), who has been divorced for three years, but whose transition to a single life has been very difficult. Eugena has been a Christian for almost forty years. Her husband is a professing Christian as well, but he had an affair. They sought pastoral counseling, but it became clear to their pastor that her husband was not really committed to cutting off the relationship with the other woman. So, Eugena pursued a divorce—and with her divorce, she pursued bitterness.
Eugena stopped praying and stopped reading Scripture regularly. She continues involvement in her church, but emotionally, she feels distant from the Lord and most of the (married!) people she knows.
How the Beatitudes Extinguish Bitterness
What direction would you recommend for Eugena’s counseling? One approach is inspired by the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12. You would not necessarily start by drawing her attention to the Beatitudes directly, but you could keep them in mind as guidelines in counseling her.
The Beatitudes are statements about the privileged status (blessedness) a relationship with Christ confers upon believers. Certainly, Eugena does not feel “blessed” right now. But then few modern Americans would use “blessed” to describe themselves if they saw themselves as “poor in spirit,” mournful,” “persecuted,” or “hungry.” All this suggests that a different way of looking at life is needed to truly appreciate what Jesus is saying with these Beatitudes. Although Eugena won’t resonate initially with these statements of blessedness, as a child of God, they are nevertheless true for her. And that reality can help her, over time, to recover from her divorce and redirect her new life as a single woman toward God’s glorious kingdom purposes for her.
Here are examples of how the Beatitudes could be used to help Eugena extinguish her bitterness:
God’s Comfort Douses Bitterness
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4)
In a fallen world, there are so many causes for mourning because there are so many types of losses. Eugena has understandably mourned deeply for the losses she has suffered due to her husband’s sin and the divorce. You would do well to acknowledge these real losses with her. Empathy creates connection (cf. Rom. 12:15).
But it’s equally true that we must recognize the reality of God’s comforting presence in the midst of our suffering. Eugena’s husband left her; God her Father has not. To ignore this reality creates yet another cause for mourning!
Additionally, in this context, the particular cause for mourning Jesus likely had in mind was the recognition of what our sinfulness detracts from what God deserves—our honor, awe, obedience, worship, etc. And this is relevant for Eugena’s situation.
Eugena’s bitterness has produced a blind spot for her own contributions to the breakup of her marriage (perfectionism and nit-picky criticism of her husband). As long as she is blinded by bitterness, God’s comfort will also seem elusive to her.
Spiritual Poverty Douses Bitterness
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:3)
When Jesus refers to the “poor in spirit” he is emphasizing that our basic needs go much deeper than food and water (or the money to buy them). Fundamentally, as sinners, we desperately need God’s mercy and grace. The good news is that those who recognize this utter need of God’s mercy and grace are the ones who will receive them! Theirs is the kingdom of heaven; theirs is a secured relationship with God.
Eugena could be asked to reflect on that time in her life when she was first attracted to Jesus as Savior. That was a time when the reality of her sin—and her need for God’s mercy and grace—motivated a grateful embrace of the gospel. She needs to recover that precious attitude again.
Meekness Douses Bitterness
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5)
Bitterness and meekness are polar opposites. Bitterness is slow-burning anger that fuels vengeful desires, thoughts, and actions. It demands satisfaction of one’s personal sense of justice. In contrast to bitterness, meekness combines gentleness, humility, and submission to God’s authority. There is no demand for personal justice, but rather an acceptance that God’s justice will be served as He sees fit.
Eugena now thinks that she has lost everything by her husband’s unjust sexual exploits. Indeed, her losses are real, and her husband’s sins are unjust. But her bitterness has narrowed her perspective so much that she has lost sight of her full inheritance as a child of God. Her bitterness can never secure for her any future that compares to what God has promised.
Peacemaking Douses Bitterness
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt. 5:9)
Bitterness separates people from God and from other people. Bitterness gives the devil a “foothold” in our lives (Eph. 4:26-27). As long as Eugena nurtures her grudge, she looks more like Satan than her Savior (cf. Eph. 2:1-16).
Yet, Eugena was saved for more than this. It is possible for her to resist the devil so that he flees (cf. James 4:7). She might not be able to experience a restoration of her marriage, but for her part, she can make every effort to live at peace with her ex-husband (Rom. 12:17). She can start with disciplined prayer for his benefit (cf. Matt. 5:44; 1 Pet. 3:9). Beyond that, more tangible expressions of service can further reflect her role as a child of God.
Questions for Reflection
How might the other beatitudes from Matthew 5 help to transform Eugena’s heart attitude? If you were to use the Beatitudes to structure Eugena’s counseling, what questions or reservations from her would you anticipate? How would you respond to them?
 Jonathan Pennington says the Beatitudes are descriptions of and implicit invitations to a lifestyle that will result in full flourishing now and in the age to come. See Jonathan Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 144.
 What does it mean to be “blessed”? Clearly, Jesus presents the concept in a positive light, even though the conditions mentioned in most of the Beatitudes are consequences of living in a fallen world. Thus, it’s not helpful to equate “blessedness” with “happiness” per se. D. A. Carson suggests the fundamental idea is to be approved or to find approval. See D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World (Toronto: Global Christian Publishers, 1999), 16. I’ve tried to reflect this with “privileged status.”
In a culture that tells people who are suffering to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and stop their pity party—or to use their suffering to play the victim—this booklet offers a better way. That way is the way of the gospel.
In this insightful and compassionate booklet, the reader will find both theological truths and practical helps for suffering related to chronic illness. The authors offer a definition of chronic illness in chapter 1:
“First, from the medical perspective, chronic illness is defined as ‘an illness that lasts three months or more’” (p. 6).
The reader is given examples of the types of illness that are considered chronic, and some basic facts about diagnoses, medical treatments, insurance issues, and more. The reader gains insight into the hopelessness that often accompanies chronic illness.
The authors take the approach of viewing people as saints, sufferers, and sinners (p. 7). This approach is necessary so that the help offered is aimed at the whole person, not just one aspect of the person.
“In essence, God has provided resources necessary for us to live life well, whether we are temporarily experiencing life as a saint, sufferer, or sinner” (p. 8).
The second chapter tells us that it is good to hope, but that as important as medical care is, that is not where ultimate hope is found. Hope, the authors teach us, is found in God moment by moment. For those who are struggling with physical suffering, losing their dreams, feeling misunderstood, and feeling emotionally drained, trusting in the Lord can be difficult.
The authors’ teaching on hope is theological, and it is also practical. For those who feel paralyzed due to their emotions, for example, these practical steps are offered with thorough explanations of each one in the rest of the chapter:
Take Action (pp. 17-18)
The reader is instructed regarding how to correct wrong responses that lead to a sense of hopelessness, such as self-pity, anger, fear, and despair. There is also instruction regarding right responses, such as grief and asking for help. These practical tools are one of the strengths of this booklet as the counselee can gain insight into their responses to their illness, and the counselor or helper can use it as a guide for helping others.
There is much help here related to the need to focus on Truth. It can be common for those who struggle with illness to develop faulty thinking, such as thinking that God is punishing them or that their illness defines them. A biblical correction is given for the common faulty beliefs, as well as very practical steps that can be taken in order to maintain a healthy thought life and belief system. All of this content makes this book an asset for both counselee and counselor or caregiver.
Joy and Contentment
It is understandable how someone with ongoing pain and suffering might struggle with joy and contentment. This booklet devotes several pages to encouraging sufferers to be sure to find encouragers, to laugh, and to be thankful. The reader is reminded that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
“So let your pain and weakness drive you to Christ for strength. And as you do that, while your body may be “wasting away” physically, you will find your inner self slowly renewed.” ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day’” (2 Cor. 4:16) (p.32).
An Anchor Amidst Pain
This booklet is full of Truth spoken in love. It ends with some important Scriptural reminders to the reader that there is hope when things are difficult, even when circumstances do not change. Scriptural hope is an “anchor that you can cling to” (p. 37) in the midst of pain. The truths offered in the booklet affirming that God walks with you, He is faithful, Jesus understands, and several other encouragements are a comfort to the sufferer and critical to helping someone to navigate chronic illness.
This resource will help those with chronic illness respond to their suffering in a way that is good for them and glorifying to God. It is written with a gracious, understanding tone while offering solid and direct biblical counsel. There is Scripture throughout, along with practical ideas for saints, sufferers, and sinners who are dealing with chronic illness. I highly recommend this to anyone who has a chronic condition as well as to counselors, family members, and anyone whose life intersects with people who are suffering in this way.
Editor’s Note: Hope and Help for Chronic Illness can be purchased from Amazon.
A distinctive mark of God’s people should be an attitude of hope and eager expectation. After all, we’ve read the end of the story and know that our team wins. However, pessimism and discouragement are all too frequently found in the family of God. Sometimes this seems to be an innate characteristic, like being born an Eeyore. In other cases, even the most optimistic among us can be worn down by ongoing trials, the long slog of progressive sanctification, or the seeming lack of change in those we counsel. Regardless of the source, pessimism can cause the good news of God’s Word to sound flat and lifeless and can counter promises with rebuttals and refutations. Thankfully, Mary’s Song of Praise from Luke 1:46-55 holds helpful lessons for the pessimists among us.
Context for Mary’s Song
Mary has just learned from the angel Gabriel that she is about to give birth to the Son of God—news that is startling at best for this virgin betrothed to Joseph. The narrative indicates that she left quickly to visit her relative Elizabeth, who was also unexpectedly pregnant. After initial greetings, Mary breaks out in a song of praise, not unlike a musical where the action pauses so that the crescendo of emotion can be expressed in song. Mary is stirred by the greatness of the Lord and the wonder of the Son of the Most High coming into the world, and nothing less than a song from the heart will do. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” sings Mary (Luke 1:46-47).
Mary had a number of possible rebuttals to this “good news of great joy” (2:10). She was about to give birth out of wedlock—what would people assume about her? Even if she explained her situation, how many of her friends and acquaintances would believe her astounding story? The potential for shame and isolation would have been great. Would Joseph go through with his pledge to marry her? It appears that Mary left Nazareth before even finding out, and his refusal would add to her disgrace. She was potentially facing life as a single mom without the social acceptance or financial supports that single moms today have access to—a life of dishonor and poverty. Finally, like all mothers-to-be, she would experience the discomforts of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, and the challenges of raising a child. These are the realities of Mary’s “humble estate” (1:48), and we would understand if they consumed her thoughts.
Mary’s Source of Joy
Mary’s hope and joy are undoubtedly tied to knowing that she would give birth to the Son of God. As she proclaims, “From now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:48-49). But her joy is far from being merely circumstantial. She knows God, and her knowledge is not merely abstract but is tied to concrete experiences. She has been personally looked on and blessed by God (1:48-49) and is versed in His mercy to the generations (1:50, 53-55). For Mary, God at work was God doing something great, something worth stopping to sing about. Any trials she might experience are completely overshadowed by His exaltation of the humble, among whom she belonged (1:48, 52). The apostle Paul echoes Mary’s perspective when he reminds the Corinthian church that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).
At this point, Mary knows little about the specifics of her life as Jesus’ mother. Like the apostles, she had no understanding that He would be rejected, humiliated, and cruelly murdered without cause. Nor did she foresee His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. But God’s character guaranteed that whatever He had planned, it would be good. His past record gives Mary assurance of the future.
How much more reason do we have to rejoice, given our fuller knowledge of Jesus’ finished work on the cross? Further, God has added an additional two millennia of mercy and faithfulness toward His people, which can inform our hopes and overcome our discouragements.
Making Mary’s Song Our Song
As a “glass half-empty” person myself, I have used Mary’s song to help my counselees and myself battle pessimism in the following ways:
“Stop the Action” Praise — Interrupting your routine to give thanks and praise for God’s daily mercies keeps His power and goodness at the forefront of your mind, which is a mighty antidote to pessimism.
Source of Joy — Joy rooted only in circumstances is an iffy proposition in a fallen world. Rooting joy in God’s character and record of faithfulness is a more sure and stable source of joy.
Heart Posture — Mary rejoiced in God’s strength because she was among the humble that He exalted, rather than the proud and mighty that He scattered and brought down (Luke 1:51-52). Maintaining a humble posture before God gives warrant for eager expectation rather than pessimistic dread.
Echo Scripture — Mary’s Song of Praise has marked similarities to Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 2:1-10). In the same way, our praise should reflect the themes and content of God’s Word, keeping us from self-focus and error.
God’s Big Story — Living in light of God’s big story is essential as we face the trials and sufferings of this world which threaten to steal our hope and joy. We cannot lose sight of the reality that the victory is won, and our future is assured.
Learning from Mary’s Song helps us to say with the psalmist, “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being” (Ps. 104:33).
Questions for Reflection
When are you most afflicted by pessimism and discouragement? What other passages of Scripture support your striving for hope and joy in the Lord? In what specific ways do God’s character and work support this quest for you?
This episode of 15:14 is a sermon preached from 1 Corinthians 7:27-40 by Aaron Wojnicki, Pastor of Faith Community Church in Prospect, KY. Although this passage is often discussed and debated because of its seemingly obscure content, Aaron shows how the passage was intended by God to offer comfort and hope for those struggling with anxiety.
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As soon as I heard that David Powlison’s health was declining, I wanted to write a tribute to him while he was still living. But it wasn’t meant to be. He went home to be with our heavenly Father, in God’s timing, on June 7, 2019. Sometimes we grieve the loss of someone because of our deep relationship with them. Other times, we grieve because of that person’s influence for God’s kingdom, and that is beautiful in God’s sight. God used David to leave an indelible mark in biblical counseling and beyond.
As a woman who has worked mostly with men in the church, parachurch, and seminary communities for nearly twenty years, I deeply respect men who value the input of their female colleagues; the ones who aren’t awkward to be around. David was one of those men. Though I didn’t work closely with him or see him often, I learned a lot about him through several key encounters.
Think, Speak, and Write Thoughtfully
I first read David’s writings in 2003 when I was a student completing my master’s degree in biblical counseling. His articles and books continued to challenge me as I furthered my seminary education. Now, as a professor in women’s courses and biblical counseling, I require my students to read several of his writings. His article, “Cure of Souls (and the Modern Psychotherapies)” (2007), is a classic piece that exemplifies his scholarly mind. The principles in that article would benefit any Christian desiring to think critically and biblically.
David was an academic, but he was also a practitioner who applied biblical truths to common life issues. I have heard leaders comment on his ability to discern eye-opening truths in Scripture. In some ways, I can’t help but liken his intellect and writing to those of C.S. Lewis. Both men transcended their fields of expertise. They knew how to engage with the broader Christian audience. David knew how to explain complex ideas with eloquence yet with clarity and could appreciate a spectrum of views yet disagree respectfully. As an educator trying to teach students to be a light in a dark world and communicate clearly, I will miss David’s ability to model how to do that well.
Interact with People Graciously
In 2012, I participated in the second Biblical Counseling Coalition Leadership Retreat. Among the forty or so leaders, all were men—except for Amy Baker and me. I share this by way of context. As a female newcomer, I wasn’t sure what to expect but left the gathering after having encouraging and sharpening discussions. Undoubtedly, David and other members were part of the reason I felt welcomed. Interestingly, my memorable conversation with David happened after the retreat—at the airport.
David and I were in the same security line and started talking about my dissertation topic. As the screening procedures ended, I thought he would put on his shoes and go wherever he needed to be. Instead, he took out his notepad and took time to share his insights with me. I listened carefully, knowing of his experience as one of the early leaders of the biblical counseling movement. There we were, on a bench—in a random and modest location—where people were busily walking by to catch their flights, and I was having a serious dialogue about anthropology with David Powlison. It made a profound impression on me. David treated me with kindness and as a colleague, even though he possessed decades more knowledge and experience. I would see him repeat this manner of courtesy over and over with other men and women.
Please God Wholeheartedly
I will share one more memory of David’s Christlikeness. I was going through a difficult time in ministry when we saw each other at a conference. He made a comment about my situation that was sensitive and observant. It surprised me because it displayed the depth of his observational skills. I knew he had a keen mind, but that brief encounter was confirmation of a person who practiced what he wrote and taught for many years. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These qualities were the fruit of the Spirit in David’s life (Gal. 5:22-23). It was evident he belonged to Christ Jesus.
David was who he was because of God’s grace in his life and his devotion to God. He was a quiet and gentle man but spoke powerfully through his words and actions. He was loved by so many people and will be missed. Thank you, God, for your servant David Powlison.
What if there is a way we could guarantee that our lives will either be better or worse… easier or harder… more or less pleasant? In reality, we influence how suffering impacts our lives. Suffering is a common aspect of life—everyone has some measure of suffering. For some, the suffering overwhelms them, zaps their energy, continually weighs heavy on their minds, and crushes their spirit. For others, the suffering robs a fun day, causes frustration, and distracts them from fun activities. In either case, who wants to define life by suffering? Who wants to determine a good day based solely upon how much suffering affected them?
There is a better way.
We Receive Help from The Life of Job
The book of Job provides us help. As Job goes through incredible circumstances which produce even more incredible long-term suffering, we get to watch, listen, and engage with him in his suffering. God graciously provides us Job’s story as an example to us. In it, we learn about God, our circumstances, God’s grace, and even ourselves.
Remember the Big Picture of the Book of Job
Job undergoes suffering at every level of human existence. He is sinned against by others. He faces incredible natural disasters. He suffers loss. Furthermore, he experiences significant relationship difficulties. He suffers just like you and me—like all of us. In the midst of this suffering, he responds in various ways that are both helpful and not helpful. Throughout the story, God provides us help as we experience our own pressures and suffering (1 Cor. 10:1-13).
Job Points Us to Understand Wisdom
As Job discusses his plight with his three friends and ultimately with God, Job points us toward understanding and benefiting from wisdom (Job 28). He basically makes the following summary of wisdom for us. He begins by explaining that mankind cannot make sense of his world. In spite of man’s skills, he cannot discover wisdom (Job 28:1-12). In spite of man’s wealth, he cannot purchase wisdom (Job 28:13-22). Only God knows wisdom (Job 28:23-24); in fact, God knows wisdom thoroughly (Job 28:25-27). Thankfully, God tells us what wisdom is (Job 28:28).
Here is what God wants us to learn:
And to man He said,
“Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
The Fear of the Lord Is Wisdom
Job says that “the fear of the Lord is wisdom.” What does that mean? Essentially, wisdom is the skill or ability to apply what we know from or through the Bible to life situations. In this case, what we know is the fear of God, which means we respect and trust God as we observe God’s character and His work. To fear God is to hold Him in ultimate regard as God—respecting and trusting Him. God says this is ultimate wisdom. In other words, we have the skill or ability to work through life situations with discernment as we respect and trust God above all else.
To Depart from Evil Is Understanding
“To depart from evil is understanding” makes up the second half of Job’s explanation. Again, what does this functionally mean? He wants us to understand that wisdom applied to life results in skilled living or understanding. Thus, the wise person grows in the practice of discernment as he or she makes daily decisions based upon wisdom. Here, the wise person makes daily choices based upon respecting and trusting God (His character and work), which is fearing God.
When this takes place, the person’s daily decisions reflect his or her fear of God. This impacts what one says or does. For this reason, Job says that true understanding (the skill of living wisely in light of the fear of God) is departing from evil. To depart from evil is the negative sense. We could also say it this way, “Understanding is doing what honors God and not doing what dishonors God as we make daily decisions.” In this sense, we demonstrate understanding in the midst of life’s pressures, including all levels of suffering.
How Then Does This Make Our Lives Either Better or Worse?
I started with the following question: “What if there is a way we could guarantee that our lives will either be better or worse… easier or harder… more or less pleasant?” And the answer is, based upon the truth of this passage of Scripture, the Bible guarantees it. Our lives will either be better or worse, easier or harder, and more pleasant or less pleasant based upon how we respond to this truth from Job.
This truth is part of what Job was learning in the midst of his own suffering. He initially misunderstood God’s work in the world—and in his life specifically. He thought that God only brought suffering in someone’s life when they deserved it. He figured that if he were to legalistically follow all the rules then God would spare him from all suffering.
However, as he endures this incredible suffering, he learns that truly we live with understanding in the midst of our circumstances (suffering) as we respond based upon our trust in and respect for God’s character and works.
Consider This Illustration
If we were to use a simple illustration of the sun, a fruit tree, and its roots, we can see how all this works out to make our lives either better or worse.
The heat of the sun represents the pressures in our lives, which includes our suffering. As we go through suffering, it brings heat to the roots of our tree. These roots represent our hearts. As the heat engages the roots, this combination produces fruit, which represents our behavior.
In the midst of the heat of life (suffering), this verse teaches us to fear the Lord which is wisdom. In other words, we trust and respect God while in the midst of the pressures of life.
When our heart fears the Lord, it produces a life of understanding as fruit. Understanding has a particular fruit—a lifestyle that shuns evil, according to this verse. It could also be described as a lifestyle of words and actions that honor God instead of dishonoring God.
As we live this kind of life, the result is either more or less pressure in life. If we choose to honor God (live with understanding), our lives are less complicated by the depth, guilt, and confusion of sinful responses. If we choose to dishonor God in our suffering, our lives will reflect all the complications that come with sin.
How Is Life Better or Worse?
Life is better when we fear God in the midst of suffering. As we respect and trust God, it gives us the ability to live with understanding, which means that we will choose to respond to our suffering in ways that honor God instead of dishonoring Him. As we do, the pressure will lessen whether or not the circumstances actually change. As the pressure decreases, our lives are better, easier, and more pleasant because we keep from complicating our circumstances by our own sinful choices. We live with peace, confidence, and courage as we experience suffering rather than guilt, confusion, and all manner of evil (cf., James 3:13-18).
In conclusion, what rules our heart today will directly impact our day. If we fear God (wisdom) and honor Him in our responses to our pressure (understanding), then we will enjoy more joy, peace, contentment, and blessings. Our lives will be better, easier, and more pleasant.
Questions for Reflection
In the midst of your suffering, how are you responding? Are your responses based upon God’s wisdom that flows out of fear of God and respect for Him? Or are your responses based upon your own wisdom?
Have you considered your heart’s desire in the midst of suffering? Does your heart reflect a deep love and respect for God, a desire to become like Christ, and a love for and loyalty to your Savior? Or does your heart reflect a greater affection for some other desire, a love of another savior, or loyalty to your own will?
Reflect on the connection between your behavior and your heart. Do you see the connections? Can you think of times where a godly response made your suffering easier or times when an ungodly response made your suffering harder?