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In this “How to Train” series, we describe practical ways in which believers worldwide use our tools to share the message of the gospel.
In this article, we look at how a clear understanding of the gospel can be an important step in helping individuals sort through life’s messes. We’ll consider how a biblical perspective on life can provide a framework for those walking through life’s valleys.
We also invite you to share your own experiences with us to benefit others. You can write to us via our contact form.
After two years of fighting, Rob and Janette were emotionally exhausted. They loved each other, but felt an enjoyable relationship was hopelessly beyond them. Self-help books had only given temporary relief. Their Christian faith had kept them together so far, but how much longer could they keep it up?
As a teenager, Emily had dived into the murky world of the occult. She had no idea that dabbling in witchcraft could damage her life. She viewed her life as evil and spiralling out of control. Later, she came to trust Jesus for her salvation, but couldn’t overcome the emotional baggage of her past. Her marriage was suffering and she and her husband began to feel desperate.
Everything had gone against Ian. He plummeted into despair after suffering a head injury at work. In a matter of weeks, he went from being robust and active, to walking with a cane and struggling to look after basic needs. He lost the job he loved and his co-workers, who he’d thought were good friends, deserted him. His wife left him, and finally, his children let him know they wanted nothing to do with him too. In despair, he called Dennis. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t put a bullet in my head.”
No doubt about it, life is messy. We don’t have to look very far to find those wading through broken relationships, addictions, depression; perhaps we need look no further than our own family to find a life spiralling downward. So where does the solution lie?
We are often guilty of looking for the “silver bullet,” the one perfect solution to the issue we’re facing. But life is just too complicated and messy for quick fixes. However, Scripture does teach us many principles that can provide guidance in the midst of the struggle. But even before those principles are put into practice, we believe it’s absolutely crucial that one have a clear grasp of the gospel message—that the foundations are solid before we try to shore up the crumbling façade.
LIFE IS HARD BECAUSE LIFE IS ABNORMAL
As Bible believers, we recognize that at the heart of every struggle is one important fact: life, as we know it, is abnormal. Suffering, pain and evil are abnormal. The terrible heartbreak that we may see in lives around us is abnormal. This was not how things were meant to be. There was a start to all the evil, pain and suffering. And there will be an end. And for this time in which evil exists, God has provided a solution to help us. There is hope.
People end up in counselling situations because something has gone wrong. Often, our first reaction is to find a quick solution. However, as any good doctor will tell you, there is wisdom in standing back to take in the big picture of a person’s overall health, before diving in to address any specific symptoms. Similarly, before we address a person’s individual difficulties, it is wise to step back and gain a good understanding of how God intended for life to function. We will briefly address how this “big picture” perspective helps us navigate the rough waters of life.
Consider Rob and Janette. They had spent many frustrating months trying to address the problems in their marriage, without success. Then they agreed to attend a By This Name study. When their understanding of the gospel was cleared up, their foundations became solid. When they learned to focus on God and his character, they found their minds renewed. Their obstacles and challenges did not disappear overnight, but they felt many of their problems were no longer relevant. As they renewed their walks with Christ, they found a unity together that they hadn’t experienced before. Now they had a unified foundation on which to build their marriage.
Every situation is complicated and requires the Lord’s wisdom and discernment, but we want to share how a clearly understood gospel provides the right biblical perspective to help a friend walk through the dark valley with hope. We provide some practical insights, gleaned from the testimonies of other wise believers, to guide you as you counsel your friend or family member through difficult times.
Let’s take a look at just one foundational fact to get a glimpse at how having the right biblical framework will affect our approach to life’s problems. When God first created the world, it was perfect. God declared mankind “very good.” At creation, God set up certain institutions—marriage, family, productive work and dominion over the earth. These things were created to give us joy and bring God glory. But when sin entered the picture, these institutions began to crumble. Within the first generation, Adam struggled to provide for his family and their home became the focal point of struggle for marital control. Their family was torn apart by envy and murder. Sin’s destructive nature infected all of life.
Throughout Scripture, when people turn their focus to God—to his character and his purposes for man—they begin to see how life was supposed to function. One example is Job, a man who lost everything—his children, home, wealth and, finally, his health. He was a perfect candidate for the counselling couch, but watch how God deals with him.
GOD COUNSELS JOB
Job’s friends had done their best to advise him, mostly by analyzing his troubles and trying to come up with solutions. In the end, Job found their words to be of little help. Then in Job 38-42, it is God’s response to him that gives us pause. God did not address Job’s crisis nor provide comforting practical advice. Instead, God directed Job to a deeper awareness and understanding of who He is.
Once Job had an accurate view of God, he came to a rightful reverence of his Creator. He learned to trust God’s wisdom, knowledge and sovereignty. In time, God restored what Job had lost. But don’t miss what God did. He directed Job away from his problems and made Job look at God, the one who had the power to do anything he wanted with the world. Job got the right perspective on life when he came to a proper understanding of God.
If this was how God chose to address the crippling difficulties that Job faced, then God’s way of “counselling” Job is a model for us as we help a troubled friend.
A correct grasp of the character of God and his plan for mankind can be achieved through a clear understanding of the gospel message. The right biblical perspective fills one with hope. Understanding the gospel doesn’t fix all of a person’s troubles overnight, but it does give the foundation from which one can begin to rebuild those areas of life that have crumbled.
START WITH THEIR BACKGROUND
GoodSeed has produced books that specifically address three of the most common worldviews.
By This Name is for those who adopt their own spirituality, making God out to be whatever they want. This is a common mindset in our postmodern, secular world. This book will likely be your most effective tool for explaining the gospel. It addresses many areas of confusion found in our culture. All that the Prophets have Spoken is for those from an Islamic cultural background. The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus is for those from a background influenced by Christianity or those familiar with the Bible.
The simplest way to lead a study is to read together. Get a copy of the book for yourself and one for your friend.
If you believe your friend is ready for a more formal study, consider using the Worldview Rethink curriculum. The curriculum begins with the same choice of the three books, but adds on a leader’s guide, videos, visual aids and a workbook. Having these additional aids helps to engage your friend more but use discernment to decide which is the most inviting way to share the gospel message.
You will need approximately 16 hours if you use By This Name (12–13 hours for the other two books).
Agree upon a regular time to get together (we suggest no less than one hour at a time), and read through the book together, moving through it as quickly as you can, but as slowly as your friend needs. Keep your sessions close (once or twice a week if possible). If you drag it out too long, your friend may lose interest or the gospel narrative becomes disjointed.
Plan on you reading aloud the commentary, while your friend reads aloud the Scripture verses. If you’re counselling a couple, then they can take turns reading the Scripture passages.
If you’re using the leader’s guide, then make use of the notes to prompt you on when to use a visual aid and when to play the videos. In addition, the leader’s guide has additional notes at the back that will help you gain confidence in leading.
Maintain an above-board relationship by being careful to teach those of the same sex. If the friend you desire to help is of the opposite sex, then ask a spouse to join you or teach in a group. Avoid being alone with a counsellee of the opposite sex.
The gospel is the starting point. Without it, every other solution is only a temporary Band-Aid. When your friend gains a clear understanding of the gospel and puts his trust in Jesus for salvation, he is on the right road. The biblical perspective brings clarity and provides hope.
In Ian’s case, his new life in Christ was marked by a deep peace from God. But while he found friendship and encouragement through a local church and in his newfound walk with Christ, his circumstances didn’t really change much. Ian’s ex-wife never came back to him. His health did not improve. Instead, Ian became gravely ill. Upon his deathbed, Dennis checked on how Ian was coping. He asked, “Ian, is God at peace about you?”
Ian nodded, “Yeah. He is.”
Dennis asked, “How in the world can you say that, with everything that’s happened?”
"I know God is at peace about me, because Jesus made peace for me."Ian replied, “I know God is at peace about me, because Jesus made peace for me.”
Ian passed away a few days later, but not before God graciously provided an important opportunity for him—his ex-wife and children visited him at the hospital and they had an emotional reconciliation.
Not only does the gospel give a person perspective and hope, the Holy Spirit renews one’s mind, providing clarity about life.
This was the case for Emily. Though she was a believer, her gospel understanding was fuzzy. But when her foundations were set right, she gained a clear perspective about her former life and she could deal with the baggage she’d brought into her marriage.
And for couples at odds with each other, suddenly having a like mind on this most important message brings a unity to their relationship.
This was the case for Rob and Janette, who were at odds in every area of their marriage. Once the gospel snapped into focus for them, they found something to unify them.
Janette said, “Ironically, all those self-help marriage techniques we tried accomplished the exact opposite of helping our marriage; ultimately they focused on conforming the marriage relationship to serve and justify our selfish attitudes and focus on each other’s faults more than focusing on our own. But [once we understood the gospel], we moved our focus onto the Lord and on his Word. We focused on serving Him and on sharing the reason why we believe what we believe. And all the issues in our marriage, we can honestly say we don’t know what happened to them—they just disappeared. It’s not that our marriage became perfect but the issues that bothered us weren’t important anymore as we focused on God. What became important was serving the Lord. And the Lord, somehow, some way, put us back together.”
Once your friend is clear on the gospel, her troubles won’t disappear overnight. But it is a giant first step towards managing life’s problems, not just the ones she currently faces, but also the unseen, future difficulties that will inevitably come.
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