Over the past two weeks, we considered “The first “P” of the Gospel: the Presence of Christ (an Introduction and the Hermeneutic” and two follow-up videos of practical application to encourage those who already rest in Jesus, “The Presence of Christ (Getting Real and Sharing Hope”. You can view those now or later. I won’t repeat the details of that information in this week’s video.
Today, we’ll consider several specific ways the presence of Christ helps us as leaders and counselors, especially when we’re trying to care for non-believers. Just in case you’ve not yet read other articles in tools4trenches.net, I’m defining leadership simply as equipping and encouraging others to follow us toward good goals. And counseling is simply helping those who are stuck or wayward to get back on track.
It’s one thing to talk to fellow believers in glorious detail about the gracious presence of Christ. It’s an entirely different matter to equip and encourage His people to lead and counsel nonbelievers whom the Lord has placed in their lives. Let’s consider the same general points in the video with more specific applications to us in those roles of leadership and counseling.
Because Christ initiated His covenantal presence with us, we can…
Go to others resting with confidence in Jesus’ work of grace, not our works. Let’s be blunt. The Lord has called His people to lead and counsel others, but too often we wait for non-believers to come to us. Yes, the Bible has a few examples of unbelievers asking for help from God’s people, but I can’t think of many instances when the person’s request wasn’t merely self-serving. If we are to serve them in ways that the Lord declares as truly good, we must take the initiative. We must set the direction and contents of our leadership or counsel. And we must expect mixed reactions to our gracious presence with them. We must go to where they are – often in difficult places, initially overlooking their faults in order to hear their hearts’ disposition, and help them with practical needs, but eventually call them to trust in the Lord and live for Him. If we fall short and do not lead and/or counsel them in Jesus’ grace for their holiness and service to Him, then we may be seeking a goal of mere peaceful coexistence with them rather than true confidence in Jesus’ work on the cross that results in taking up our own cross. That doesn’t mean our very first conversation with them should necessarily call them to repentance, faith, and service to the Lord, or that our every conversation after that should be only about deeply spiritual matters. Scripture seems clear that even the Lord Jesus’ first 12 years were spent in simple obedience to God and his parents, “increasing in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52). And, assuming that He started His public ministry in keeping with Jewish tradition, Jesus had only served in his father’s work as a carpenter until He was 30 years old – as a human being, that is. (Mark 6:3) The Apostle Paul also seems to have spent years before and between listening to others about the Lord before his ministry of talking to others about the Lord. (Galatians 1:15 – 2:2) But he did begin to lead and counsel them in Christ. And note that Paul experienced great successes (by God’s works of grace) and great suffering. We, too, must initiate with others and be content in Jesus with whatever blessed or difficult results He gives. (Philippians 4:12-13) When the Lord Jesus has come into our live, His Spirit will lead and counsel us to take up our cross and live sacrificially for others’ good as He defines good. And we will be confident in our worth secured by His work on the cross, not others’ positive or negative response to us.
When others come to you, rest in that same confidence in His presence by grace. Again, the Lord calls all of His people to lead and counsel, but we live as a minority people in this vast world of unbelievers, so they will come to us. Unbelieving family members will come to us for decisions, money, advice, comfort, etc. Non-Christian friends will come to us for similar things but with less expectation that we would exercise any “authority” as a husband or parent would in leading or counseling their family. Unbelieving and sometimes clearly ungodly co-workers still need our help with projects, and even strangers will occasionally ask for some of our time and help. And, of course, many of the above will be in positions of leadership or counseling over us. How will we respond? Will we be ready to show them the gracious presence of Christ in us? No….not completely. But that’s part of the beauty of God’s grace. Grace points to the Giver of the growing new life in us, not to ourselves as perfected examples of new life. And we can turn even our mistakes and inadequacies into opportunities for us to grow and show greater humility and honesty about our personal need for the Lord’s grace, and our commitment to them and Christ. All of these can actually help us to be a clearer witness of the One who came to call those who know they are unrighteous, not those who think they are spiritually healthy when they’re actually rotting inside. (Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, and Luke 5:32) It’s okay to serve them imperfectly. The righteous person falls over and over, but gets up again.(Proverbs 24:16) God’s Word reminds us that our spiritual race is not about how well we start or how fast we sprint but that we do not quit. (Matthew 24:13, 2 Timothy 4:7, Hebrews 12:1-3, etc.)
Give them your whole attention – freed from your fear or pride because of His presence. This one is so important. As you may have heard me say on previous videos, the reason many of us have so much trouble being present with others is because we’re struggling to be past or future with them. Even while they’re talking, we’re remembering one of our past sins or “successes” and expecting them to respond according to our past. Or we may be remembering one of their past sins or “successes”, and we’re fuming with vengeance or jealousy about all the reasons they don’t deserve or need our help. For similar reasons, instead of focusing on them here and now, we may be future-focused wondering how we can manipulate their response later. Resting in the fact that Jesus’ work secures our worth frees us not to worry about the past or future. His gracious death in our place covers the sins of our past, present, and future, and He sovereignly holds all time in His hands for the good of those who trust in Him. Resting in these truths can give us a greater heart of peace to relax and focus on their heart. For if we follow Jesus, we lead others by serving them and not for our own agenda. (Mark 10:45) We counsel them in the glory of Jesus’ grace on the cross, not for false glories of our “wisdom” or “strength” (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). We honor Christ because we know the true freedom of resting in Him.
Help them see all their concerns as 3 basic reflections of need for His presence.
- Our relationship with God, “Why should He help me when I’m so undeserving?” If an unbeliever comes to you already articulating that basic concern, that could actually be a very good sign. The Lord may already be working in them to convict them of their selfishness. That would be step toward their genuine repentance and faith. But what if an unbeliever is telling you that they have a “relationship with God” that’s not based on their complete trust in Jesus’ death on their behalf? You might consider asking them “How do you know what God thinks of your relationship with Him?” If they’re going to rest in the gracious presence of Jesus, they must see the sole authority of Truth as His Word, not our convincing reasoning, positive personality, the fame of another preacher or author, or anything else. Yes, we can and should answer their questions about the substance and reliability of what God says. We see examples of such with Moses in Exodus 4:1-9, Thomas in John 20:24-29, and the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Notice, too, that Moses, Thomas, and the Bereans were all leaders and counselors of God’s people. But the goal of their questions was trust in God’s Word, not in Moses’ staff, Thomas sense of proof, or the Bereans’ superior discernment. God’s Spirit always works with His Word, so if God’s Spirit is to transform them to trust Christ, their trust in Him must come by believing His Word. So use His Word. Ask them for their questions, go home and find specific passages that address the heart of their concern by pointing to Christ, and then talk with them about those passages. Each time, we must leave them to struggle with God, not us. For that’s who “Israel” is – “one who wrestles with God” – until they finally cling to Him as Jacob did (Genesis 32:22-32).
- Our relationship with our conscience, “How can I live with myself?” This question or unspoken sentiment can be a good sign, too. A conscience at complete peace is rare and comes either by being desensitized to any sense of wrong (1 Timothy 4:1-3) or by the genuine appeal to God and confidence in the cleansing work of Jesus (1 Peter 3:21). Yes, believers are to have that peace, but like a restless sleeper, we often toss and turn in our trust. Take heart, though. The fact that God’s Word has so many examples of godly people dealing with issues of conscience tells us that it’s a common struggle. But be aware – that struggle sometimes reaches extremes. As leaders or counselors, we might have unbelievers (and even believers) who are filled with deep depression and anxiety. Our first step must always be to care for their physical needs and safety. Even the Lord cared for the terrified and suicidal Elijah by giving him food, sleep, a completely safe talk with the Almighty Lord, and specific people to help him. (1 Kings 19:1-18) But then the Lord called Elijah to take action by faith in Him. When someone is struggling, some of the best leadership and counsel we can give is practical care and reasonable responsibilities so they can experience God’s work for His glory. We must not lead or counsel one extreme of pushing them with no care or the other extreme of coddling them with no responsibilities. The Lord calls us to work by resting in Him, not one or the other. When our people struggle with issues of conscience, we must help them with both, too.
- Our relationship with others, “Why or how should I love and help them?” This one may be the toughest of all, as it calls for our continual repentance. Any bitterness in us toward anyone – unbelievers or believers – always stems from the foolish belief that we deserve better (Acts 8:23, Romans 3:14, Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:15, etc.). Even God’s people do not “deserve” any good thing from Him or others. If we as individuals are not growing in many, clear manifestations of God’s Spirit in us, it is either because we have forgotten that we were sinful people cleansed only by Christ’s work, or we are not truly following Him by faith in Him. (2 Peter 1:3-11) It’s a strange reality but an equally sure blessing that the more we genuinely repent (believing our guilt, being remorseful, and actively turning from our sin toward serving Him), the more we see His holiness and grace. And the more we see His holiness and grace, the more we want to turn from every nuance of sin within us. And the cycle goes on, ever increasing our humility and purity. Thus, Moses’ frequent face-to-face talks with the Lord noted in Exodus 33:11, 34:29-35, and Deuteronomy 34:10 seem to one the main reasons he was described as the humblest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3) If you are to lead and counsel unbelievers in genuine love, you must not only see yourselves as equally unworthy, you must “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) For ultimately they are not our people. God created them, and we are to be stewards of His good news in Jesus that only He can re-created them by His grace.
And walk with them from their slavery, through struggle, to satisfaction and stumbling in Christ. The record of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, wandering through the wilderness, and entry into the Promised Land illustrates every believer’s journey with Jesus. His initiating presence breaks our bonds to sin, leads and counsels us on the way, and secures our final entry into His presence completely forever. As we care for others, we can expect them to have the same types of struggles that we did and often still do. They may not stumble in the same ways, but they will have the basic temptations common to all people. (1 Corinthians 10:13) So as we equip and encourage them to follow us as we follow Christ, we must show them the forgiveness, help, and commitment that we, too, want from Jesus. As we counsel the stuck and wayward to get back on track, we must point to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), not our outward example, opinions, or inner spirit. Anything good in us is a witness of Jesus’ work in us, and only He can always be graciously present with them.
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